Abraham Sacrificing his Son Issac: My conversation with Rabbi Stern
I had the opportunity to have lunch with a fascinating man, an Orthodox Rabbi and theologian. Most of our conversation was taken up with discussing the differences, and many surprising similarities, between the traditional Abrahamic religions and Buddhism. During this discussion we discussed the idea of “sacrifice” and what it means to “fear God”.
In Western traditions including Christianity, Judaism, to a lesser degree Islam as well as Celtic, Germanic, Roman, Greek and other “pagan traditions” we have this idea of sacrifice. That is destroying something we as human beings desire to appease our God or Gods. The sacrifice of animals was common but so also was human sacrifice. Many of these traditions in ancient times sacrificed human beings especially children.
I mentioned to Rabbi Stern that from a Buddhist perspective any “God” which demanded a murder would be considered evil. His response was to say that the story of Abraham and Issac was meant to illustrate to these still very primitive desert people that God, unlike the gods of Canaan no longer condoned human sacrifice. So, in Jewish eyes the story of Abraham and Issac was a story of God’s mercy not one of God’s cruelty.