Cain and Abel

Classic tale of brothers and murder.

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It is fairly obvious that the Midrash uses the original narrative as a paradigm for human conflict. Why do people engage in violence and what are the basic causes of war? One reason is disputes over land and property, another is arguments over women, and a third disagreements over religion.

In the Jewish tradition Cain is a bad character and Abel a virtuous one, but occasionally there is to be found, if not a justification of Cain's act, at least an attempt to understand it on the grounds that Cain had had no experience of killing or death and must have been unaware of the seriousness of what he was doing. Cain also features as one of the biblical characters who admitted their fault and hence is a prototype of the penitent, although his repentance is sometimes described as less than totally sincere.

In kabbalah Cain's soul belongs to the Sura Ahara, the demonic side while Abel's soul came down to earth again as the soul of Moses. There is a legend (Zohar, (i. 9b] that Cain's descendants live in the netherworld as two-headed monsters. This legend was known in the Middle Ages in the non-Jewish world as well.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.