The state of Israel has never yet found peace since its foundation. Young soldiers still die in the struggle for the continued existence of their country.When the son of Maneshe Kadishman was conscripted for military service, his father experienced the anxiety of all fathers for the life of their sons. The inner conflict between fulfillment of a duty towards the state, the people or the community on the one hand and individual well—being on the other hand was already portrayed in the biblical story of lsaac’s sacrifice. In relation to this image with which he was particularly familiar, because he and his son stood as models in 1973 for the sculpture Isaacs Sacrifice by George Segal (1), he now faced his own acute personal situation. Through the sublimation as art he was able to generalize his personal problem to the extent that it is now comprehensible for any observer or at least opens his mind to think about solutions of his own.
The dramatic story in the first book of Moses with “its suggestive power of the unspoken, demanding brooding depth and interpretation”(2) has lost nothing of its impact even to the present day. Theologists, philosophers, psychologists, poets, musicians and sculptors have studied this sacrifice and interpreted its meaning, each their own way. The discussion of the sacrifice of Abraham has never ceased from the time as far back as traceable in Jewish bible interpretations and since the gospel writings and the Epistles of the Apostles(3) in the New Testament. The mental distress induced by this story is the same, whether experienced in the 4th century after Christ by the ecclesiastical father Gregor von Nyssa or in the 19th century by Soren Kierkegaard. Gregor von Nyssa was unable to read it “without shedding tears;”(4) Kirkegaard struggles with the question of human guilt involvement between duty and responsibility: “Countless generations have known the story of Abraham by heart, word for word; how many sleepless nights did this cause?” (5) But in his treatise Fear and Trembling he admits perplexed: “I cannot understand Abraham, in a certain sense I cannot learn anything from him except amazement.” (6)
The oldest post-biblical writings which have survived to the present day, such as the Jubilees Book(7) from the 2nd century after Christ, the book on Abraham by Philo the Elder(8) from the 1st century after Christ and the book Jewish Archaeological Relics by Flavius Josephus(9) shortly after the beginning of the new counting of the years, tell of Abraham and of Isaac willing to be sacrificed, as do the numerous Jewish sayings which have developed over the generations by word of mouth(10). Countless interpretations followed in the Midrashim during rabbi times. The story of Genesis is thereby supplemented with a wealth of details(11), because the brief form in the Bible left so many questions open.
The Christian literature on this subject is extremely proliferous too, but of course the interpretation is different in theological understanding, because for Christians the Bible they call the “Old Testament” cannot be read without reference to the “New Testament” in which the old covenant of God with Abraham is succeeded by the new covenant through Christ. Whereas the “Old Testament” retains its validity for Christians too, it is nevertheless only the prelude for the “New”. Abraham, who is prepared to sacrifice his son, is seen as the great example for the believer; his sacrifice of Isaac is seen as the precursor of the sacrifice of Christ by his Godly Father. Through subordination of the “Old Testament” under the “New Testament,” the story of Genesis has for Christians lost the significance for fundamental existence which it has for Judaism.
With this sacrifice the history of Israel is linked in a very special and direct manner in the past, present and future. The status of the chosen people and the promised land(12) as well as the future redemption(13) are based on this story. The present seemingly irresolvable problems of the State of Israel with its Islamic neighbors stand in tragic correspondence to Abraham’s sacrifice which each of the two religions claims for itself, because this story is found not only in the Bible, but in the same form in the Koran too(14). However, according to the majority interpretation the sacrificed person in the Koran is not Isaac, but instead Ismael, the first son of Abraham born of Hagar, who became through this sacrifice the specially chosen original father of the Moslems.
Wars fought for territory pervade human history from the earliest times and are still common today. Those who die in battle are called “war sacrifices” in literal translation of the German equivalent for war victims, expressing that their death was a sacrifice for the state, for society, for an ideology. This is to be seen against the background of the common conception of all human societies, that there must be a reason for the death of a person, a justification through a higher-ranking moral value. The question of ranking ethical laws is certainly different according to the initial assumptions of the questioner. If he assumes a moral code and order given by God, he will assess the question differently than if the initial assumptions were based on order defined by human beings. Conflicts which cannot be resolved unambiguously can arise in both systems. The classical example of this is the tragic hero of ancient tragedies who become guilty regardless which choice he makes.