Our Torah class in school is studying the Akeidah. What different approaches do the commentators take in interpreting it (e.g. Rashbam says it was a punishment; lehavdil, Kierkegaard says it was about the teleological suspension of the ethical, etc.)? They can be modern or ancient.

  • 1
    Your question will probably go over better if you take out the references to non-Jewish interpretations. – Isaac Moses Jan 25 '11 at 21:48
  • 2
    Is the reference to K. that objectionable, though? It was my understanding - someone correct me if I'm wrong - that R' J.B. Soloveitchik used some of his ideas. At any rate, I don't see a reason to downvote the question just because of that. – Alex Jan 25 '11 at 23:18
  • 3
    Perhaps adding a "Lehavdil" between Rashbam and , Lehavdil, Kierkegaard would make it more acceptable. – Yahu Jan 26 '11 at 1:55
  • 2
    Adding Lehavdil was a good start, though I'd reword the opening of the question. Instead of asking about "Meforshim", maybe ask about "commentators, including classical Meforshim and modern philosophers". But quoting Christian philosophers is probably not going to go over well without a clear distinction separating one particular point of the philosopher's interpretation from his overall theological theme (ie, Christianity). – Seth J Apr 7 '11 at 14:41

Rashi cites three underlying causes: (a) a Heavenly accusation that Avraham had shown insufficient gratitude to G-d for the gift of a son, so Hashem gave him the opportunity to demonstrate that he would indeed be willing to give up that very same son at G-d's command; (b) Yishmael's contention that his conscious decision to be circumcised (at age 13) outweighed Yitzchak's unknowing entry into this covenant at 8 days, so Yitzchak retorted that he would be willing to sacrifice his entire body should G-d so desire; (c) it provides a clear justification for G-d's special relationship with Avraham, now that everyone could see how deep was Avraham's allegiance to Him.

Ramban and other commentaries see it as a test - a means to grant Avraham the extra merit of action, on top of his good intentions.

R' J.H. Hertz, in his commentary on Chumash (I don't recall whether this is his own idea, or whether he's quoting someone else) explains that this also marks the Torah's first salvo in the war against human sacrifice, since in any other society of the time, the "god" would have had him go through with it, whereas here Hashem stopped him from carrying it out.

  • I was zoche to hear over Pesach that an idea similar to R' Hertz's interpretation can be found in Benayahu on the Torah Parshat Bo (by the Ben Ish Chai). – Chanoch May 13 '11 at 14:46

See Shalom Spiegel's famous study "The Last Trial: On the Legends and Lore of the Command to Abraham to Offer Isaac As a Sacrifice : The Akedah" which discusses many different perspectives on the Akedah, mostly from midrashic sources. In particular, he brought to light the important notion, contained in many medieval sources (with earlier precedents) that Abraham indeed killed Isaac and was only prevented from killing him a second time (after he was brought back to life) by the angel (and Spiegel discusses how this particular understanding connected with the perspective of different medieval Jewish communities on their contemporary persecutions). It is not directly philosophical, but the midrashic understandings he cites implicitly provide a new philosophical perspective on the Akedah.


I heard (but do not have the citation) that the Izhbitzer says in Mei Hashilo'ach that Hashem was presenting Avraham with doubt by placing him in a situation that did not have a clear solution. The unclarity was a test of Avraham's character.


Its clear that the simple explanation is that this was the ultimate test - would Avraham listen to God no matter what- even if God told him to sacrifice his son.

That is why the akeida starts off "and God tested [נִסָּה] Avraham", and after Avraham passes the test, God tells him "...כִּי, יַעַן אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ אֶת-הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה, וְלֹא חָשַׂכְתָּ, אֶת-בִּנְךָ אֶת-יְחִידֶךָ." Chazal in many places emphasize that it was the ultimate test. For example, they comment on " קַח-נָא " that God was saying please pass this test, or people will think you only passes the earlier ones because they were easy.

  • Ari, Welcome to mi.yodeya, and thanks very much for sharing this insight! Your answer would be even more valuable if you could provide a source to back it up. I look forward to seeing you around. – Isaac Moses Apr 7 '11 at 16:06

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .