by Roy Doliner
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?
To read Yael's paper on the challenges of producing this play, published in the theological journal Perichoresis, click here.
Cast and Crew
Dale David Boccacio Honor -- Schlomo (spring run)
Jonathan Cohen -- Ramon (fall run)
Roy Doliner -- Schlomo (fall run)
Daniel Fliegler -- Brother Daniel
Artie Fischer -- Guillermo
Shalem Goldstein -- Levi
Shmuel Goldstein -- King James I of Aragon
Sraya Goldstein -- Yitzchak
David Golinkin -- Nachmanides
Scott Kuperberg -- Gershon
Yisrael Levitt -- Ramon (spring run) / Brother Israel (fall run)
Howard Metz -- Pablo Christiani
Aharon Naiman -- Thomas
Bernard Valier -- King's Guard
Jonathan Cohen -- Music Direction
Sara Newman -- Props
Johanna Schreier -- Costumes
Dan Weizenbluth -- Sound and Light
Yael Valier -- Direction and Design
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
Kudos and Controversy
An enthusiastic preview of Divine Right in the Jerusalem Post:
The Times of Israel reviewer came to the Divine Right dress rehearsal and wrote this recommendation: http://www.timesofisrael.com/centuries-later-nahmanides-medieval-drama-plays-out-on-stage/
A plug for Divine Right in Haaretz: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.787471
This Times of Israel reviewer loved Divine Right... "The cast was superb. Even the actors with minor roles put great effort and thought into their characters and performance... to create something spectacular."
This audience member thinks we got Divine Right all wrong:
My husband and I, along with some friends, viewed the production last week. I was especially pleased because I had always wondered about the debate between the Ramban and the Church and never took the time to research it. The production was well done and thought provoking.
One criticism however. I was particularly disturbed by the Pablo Christiano character making so many references to having been physically abused by his father and teachers in their efforts to teach him Torah. Goodness only knows what took place in Medieval times when all of society, Jew and Christian, was harsh with children. Still, it is inappropriate to single out this one character, without any evidence or proof, as suggesting abuse a parent, rabbis and teachers in the Jewish community as a reason for the Pablo character to turn against the Ramban in particular and the Jewish community in general. While abuse did occur and still occurs, it is not pervasive in our culture as it is in other cultures or communities. Secondly, at a time when the Church is being confronted for having tolerated physical and especially sexual abuse, it is especially appalling to see this script play out on stage. What are non Jews to think and come away with? You are giving Pablo an excuse for his behavior. Pablo does not need an excuse. His having converted and left the Jewish fold is enough information.
I felt very uncomfortable with his dialogue. I felt he slandered Jews, rabbis and Jewish teachers. Our literature does not reflect such a point of view. In fact, quite the opposite. It is forbidden to hit a fellow Jew, to cause him injury, to cause him pain. Only in the nineteenth century Yiddish literature do we find repeated references to the physical abuses inflicted on children by the MELAMED in the CHEDER system.
I would strongly suggest that you change and improve the text of Pablo Christiano's remarks especially if this play is performed for a non Jewish audience. Christians already have sufficient negative stereotypical behavior to hold against Jews, why add another especially one so unfounded?
And this audience member disagrees:
...Also, I did love the addition of the priests' "daddy issues". In my years as a counter missionary, I've tried to turn the anger and sometimes even vicious hatred towards missionaries, and help people realize that it's often us who is the issue. Before we blame others, it's important to look ourselves in the mirror. Pablo Christiani was a perfect example of that. It was infighting, and division among our own community that ostracized him, alienated him.... and the result was that we created one of our own worst enemies, simply because of how we chose to treat each other. It was during that time too, that we chose to focus on what divides us, rather than the good we have in common, and can do together to better our world. Jewish unity is desperately needed in our world today, when we have the left and the right at each others throats, the reform movement making their place in Israel, women of the wall and this egalitarian section debate... the divisive issues are endless.
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: