Divine Right Synopsis
What happens when the world's most powerful and most tolerant nation is overtaken by religious fanaticism? That is exactly what happened in the year 1263 in Barcelona, when the fledgling Holy Inquisition began to flex its newfound power there. A public disputation – a show trial along the lines of the McCarthy hearings or the Stalinist Purge kangaroo courts – was convened in Barcelona with one objective: to put an entire religion on trial. Judaism was publicly attacked and vilified by the Church with its well-prepared prosecution, while its court-appointed defender, the famous rabbi and physician Moses Nachmanides (The Ramban), had to answer by himself and without notes. In the balance was his very life, the safety of the holy texts and of the community, and the future of religious freedom.
Based on extant versions of the disputation, one written by the Church in Latin and the other in Hebrew by Nachmanides himself, the play examines theological questions that are still relevant today: Is there only one Truth? What if one's conscience contradicts religious law? Can and should different religions find common ground in order to work together?
Roy Doliner (Playwright) is the first playwright to win a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for a project outside of the U.S. Divine Right was honored with gala readings at the Jewish Museum of NY and the Center for Jewish History & Sephardic Society. You can read more at RoyDoliner.com
Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo, Founder and Dean of the David Cardozo Academy.
Dr. Hannah Davidson, professor of Jewish History at the Ono Academic College (Jerusalem campus) and the Schechter Institute.
Lic. Theol. Father Martin Kleespies studied Roman Catholic Theology in Mainz and Rome and has been working in parishes in Europe and South America since 1985.
Father David Mark Neuhaus, instructor in Scripture at the Seminary of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, in the Religious Studies Department at Bethlehem University, and at the Salesian Theologate in Jerusalem.
Dr. Faydra Shapiro Jewish-Christian relations specialist, author of Christian Zionism: Navigating the Jewish-Christian Border
As the award winning playwright David Henry Hwang once wrote, a dramatist's job is not to parrot dry information, but to tell a "truer truth."
Divine Right is a case in point. It was necessary to take some dramatic liberties in order to render the story accessible and more theatrical. For example, the star prosecutor for the Inquisition Pablo
Christiani was actually about the same age as Nachmanides. Some liberties were taken with the Ramban's family members as well, clearly for dramatic purposes. The numbering of the Bible into chapter and verse as quoted here had not yet been imposed on the Hebrew Bible by the Catholic Church. In fact, the Church imposed the numbered verses quoted in the play over three centuries later, in 1571.
As for the trial itself, some of the points of argument were too obscure and not very dramatic. I substituted them with similar arguments still used by missionaries such as Jews for Jesus to this very day. However, the basic facts are all there: the Inquisition did indeed put the Jewish faith on trial in a four-day disputation in 1263, Nachmanides was indeed the only defendant in the history of the Inquisition to have his say, and the end of the play portrays the outcome of the trial exactly as it happened.
A basic overview of the trial and the times:
An English translation of parts of the Ramban's own report of the trial to the Spanish Jewish community:
The Ramban's report in the original Hebrew:
An English translation of the anonymous Church report of the Disputation, from the Latin:
A Dominican rebuttal of the common portrayal of the Dominican position during the disputation:
An examination by Dr. Hannah Davidson, in Hebrew, of the authenticity of the Ramban's opinion that Aggadic writings need not be believed literally, as he expressed it during the disputation:
OFF THE DERECH DOLOROSA
by TOM DUDZICK
Off the Derech Dolorosa is a comedy about serious stuff. The play introduces Mary, a plucky new teacher and novice at St. Aloysius Elementary, who does battle with her Mother Superior, a staunch defender of the traditional religious path. As Mary and Mother Superior struggle in their different ways to keep a third grade student in the school, and on the straight path, Mary puts her future as a nun in serious jeopardy when she dares teach the children her personal views of God and the commandments. Mother Superior fears Mary’s teaching will lead her students onto the path to damnation, and Mary’s dream of Sisterhood is further threatened with the untimely arrival of a childhood sweetheart who suddenly declares his love. Will Mary give up her dream of Sisterhood in the face of all the challenges to her unorthodox views?
This comedy may have been written about Catholics in the USA, but the debate about how to educate our children, how to handle religious change, how to navigate conflicts between the rule of law and the rule of compassion, and how to love God with our eyes wide open are as relevant in Jerusalem as in Buffalo, NY. After each performance, we'll explore these questions with our guest scholars.
Rabbanit Nechama Goldman Barash made aliyah from Philadelphia over 20 years ago after graduating from Stern College. She studied for three years in Matan’s Advanced Talmud Institute and finished a master’s degree in Talmud at Bar-Ilan University. She is a graduate of Nishmat’s Yoetzet Halacha program. Currently, she is studying in Matan’s new Hilchata program, which is an advanced program in the area of Jewish law. Rabbanit Barash teaches at Pardes Institute.
Ittay Flescher is an atheist Secular Humanist Jewish leader and activist who founded Ayeka, the first secular yeshiva in Melbourne. He presents on the subject of Secular Humanism, Israel, Zionism and Jewish Identity at dozens of schools, public events and Limmud conferences around the world. After 15 years of high school and adult education experience in Australia, Ittay made Aliyah in 2018 with his family. Ittay is passionate about understanding history, interfaith dialogue, and human rights, lecturing on these topics through the arts on a regular basis.
Rabbanit Rivka Rappaport is the Founder and Dean of the Ahavat Yisrael National Haredi (Hardal) system of schools (known simply as "Rappaport") which includes schools for girls and boys in several cities. Rabbanit Rappaport established her school system with the strong belief that loving God and every Jew should be the very first principle of a Jewish education. She asserts that a person who is hared to fulfill God’s will (fulfills God's will with awe and trembling) should by definition be concerned with the welfare of all the People in Israel, and should contribute to that welfare. This is the fundamental philosophy of her school system, in which she still actively teaches. Rabbanit Rappaport is informally involved in interfaith relations.
Rabbanit Shani Taragin advocated for a more accurate and nuanced portrayal of religious conservatism than the one we frequently see in the arts in general, and in Off the Derech Dolorosa in particular. We discussed the Mother Superior strawman and building a less flimsy view of tradition. Why would an intelligent, compassionate, sophisticated, and open person choose tradition unreservedly?
Rabbanit Taragin completed a B.A. and M.A. in Tanach and Talmud at Bar-Ilan University. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D in Tanach while serving as Ram for Tanach in Midreshet Lindenbaum. Rabbanit Taragin also teaches collegiates and adults at MaTaN, Migdal Oz, Sha'alvim for Women, Lander's College, and the Womens' Beit Midrash in Efrat and Ramat Shilo. She is a graduate of Nishmat’s Keren Ariel Program for certification as a halachic advisor in issues of taharat hamishpacha. Rabbanit Taragin lectures and leads Tanach tours throughout Israel and serves on the local religious council dealing with issues of Jewish law and education.
Dr. Debbie Weissman is an Orthodox feminist interfaith pioneer. She made aliyah in 1972 and earned her Ph.D. from Hebrew University, with a thesis focusing on the social history of Jewish women’s education. Most of her adult life has centered around education, working with local community organizations and a range of international organizations. Dr. Weissman has taught on the faculty of numerous Christian educational a centers and is one of the founding members of Kehillat Yedidya, halakhically-based community, equally concerned about traditional Jewish values, social justice, and democracy in Israeli society. Between 2008 and 2014, Dr. Weissman broke ground, serving two terms as the first Jewish woman President of the International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ). In 2017, Dr. Weissman published her autobiography, Memoirs of a Hopeful Pessimist: A Life of Activism Through Dialogue (Ktav Publishing). Dr. Weissman’s is the recipient of major awards, including the ICCJ’s 2014 Interfaith Gold Medallion.
Off the Derech Dolorosa's summer run included the following scholars:
Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Founder and Dean of the David Cardozo Academy. A native of the Spanish-Portuguese Jewish community of Holland, Rabbi Cardozo holds a doctorate in philosophy and received rabbinic ordination from the Gateshead Talmudic College, subsequently studying at the Institute for Higher Rabbinical Studies and at the Mir Yeshiva. In addition to teaching Jewish audiences, Rabbi Lopes Cardozo often lectures to non-Jewish groups, including Christian leaders, about comparative religion and the fundamentals of Judaism.
Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz, an activist and founder of institutions and organizations, including Yeshivat Sulam Yaakov, Hashgacha Pratit, the independent kashrut supervision organization, and lately, Hatuna Pratit, the independent marriage ceremony initiative. Rabbi Leibowitz just finished his term as a councilor in the pluralistic Yerushalmim party.
Rabbanit Dr. Jennie Rosenfeld, one of the first Orthodox female rabbis, and the first female communal spiritual leader of an Orthodox community in Israel, in Efrat, appointed by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. Rabbanit Rosenfeld is the author of The Newlywed's Guide to Physical Intimacy, a sexual education book aimed at Orthodox Jews.
Dr. Elana Sztokman, a feminist educator and activist. Dr. Sztokman has served as the director of the National Council of Jewish Women in Australia, and as the Executive Director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. She also founded the Center for Jewish Feminism. Currently, Dr. Sztokman is studying to become a Reform rabbi.
CAST AND CREW
Lighting Design - Charles B. Davies
Set Design - Yosef Goldstein
Props Design - Sara Newman
Costume Design - Joanna Schreier
Direction - Yael Valier
Father Stanley - Rabbi Artie Fischer
Mother Regina - Bakol Ruben Gellar
Sister Felicia - Shlomit Kovalski
Mary - Devorah Levine
Joe - Howard Metz
by S.Y. Agnon
Theater and Theology was invited to present an original adaptation of S.Y. Agnon's novella, The Outcast, as part of an evening celebrating the completion by Jeffrey Saks of the S.Y. Agnon Library in 15 volumes. We were privileged to perform at the historic Tmol Shilshom Cafe, Jerusalem. The evening was arranged by Agnon House and The Toby Press.
Scholars from the Toby Press
Editor of the series: Rabbi Jeffrey Saks
Editor in Chief, Maggid Books: Gila Fine
Illustrator: Shai Charka
Yehudah Dov Ber Zirkind
Directed by Yael Valier
...a brilliant performance across the board! Fascinating to see so many yeshiva issues in a convent setting.
Rabbi Jonathan Cohen
... a beautiful production...
I enjoyed it immensely.
Father David Neuhaus
A treat for the heart and mind. Touches on raw nerves if you care about the truth, God, and the Jewish People.
Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz
Go see this amazing production!
Professor John Hilton, Brigham Young University
Entertaining and thought-provoking!
Dr. Daniel Polisar
It was really good! It stays with you for a couple of days afterwards, or more.
Father William Russel
Outstanding job! Dr. Elana Sztokman
Excellent acting, and it brought up so many important issues.
Boy, did I love Off the Derech Dolorosa! Miriam Metzinger
Theater and Theology is marvelous, really interesting.
Stephen Laughton, Playwright of One Jewish Boy,
Old Red Lion Theater, London