'AḳEDAH, ("The binding or sacrifice of Isaac"):
By: Max Landsberg
This Biblical incident plays an important part in the Jewish liturgy. The earliest allusion to it in prayer occurs in the Mishnah (Ta'anit, ii. 4) in the litany for public fast-days, "May He who answered Abraham on Mount Moriah listen to our supplication." In the Gemara (R. H. 16a) the use of a ram's horn on New-year's Day is explained as a reminder of the ram which was offered in place of Isaac. Hence the following passage was inserted in the musaf arranged by Rab in the third century (Zunz, "S. P." p. 81; B. Beer, "Leben Abraham's," p. 186) for that day (see Gen. R. lvi.; Lev. R. xxxvi.):
"Remember in our favor, O Lord our God, the oath which Thou hast sworn to our father Abraham on Mount Moriah; consider the binding of his son Isaac upon the altar when he suppressed his love in order to do Thy will with a whole heart! Thus may Thy love suppress Thy wrath against us, and through Thy great goodness may the heat of Thine anger be turned away from Thy people, Thy city, and Thy heritage! . . . Remember to-day in mercy in favor of his seed the binding of Isaac."
Gen. xxii. was taken as the Biblical lesson for the second day of the New-year festival (Meg. 31a; compare Rashi, ad loc.).
In the course of time ever greater importance was attributed to the 'AḲedah. The haggadistic literature is full of allusions to it; the claim to forgiveness on its account was inserted in the daily morning prayer; and a piece called "'AḲedah" was added to the liturgy of each of the penitential days among the German Jews.
Before the first blasts of the shofar are sounded there is sung in the Sephardic liturgy a hymn which narrates the 'AḲedah; this was written by Judah ben Samuel ibn Abbas, rabbi in Fez in the twelfth century.
This turn given to the attempted sacrifice of Isaac is certainly in conflict with the prophetic spirit. The occurrence is never again mentioned in the Bible; and even in the Talmud voices are raised in condemnation of its conception as a claim to atonement. The injunctions in Jer. xix. 5 and in Micah, vi. 7 against the sacrifice of children are explained as referring to the sacrifice of Isaac (Ta'anit, 4a; YalḲ., Micah, § 555).
These protests were silenced by the persecutions in which Jewish fathers and mothers were so often driven to slaughter their own children in order to save them from baptism. This sacrifice is regarded as a parallel to that of Abraham (Zunz, "S. P." pp. 136-138). The influence of the Christian dogma of atonement by vicarious suffering and death, it has been suggested, induced the Jews to regard the willingness of Isaac also to be sacrificed in the light of a voluntary offering of his life for the atonement of his descendants (Geiger's "Jüd. Zeit." x. 170; "Nachgelassene Schriften," v. 352).
From the point of view of some advocates of reformed Judaism the great importance of the Biblical story of Abraham's attempted sacrifice of Isaac consists in the lesson that God does not desire such a sacrifice; accordingly many American reform rituals have abolished the 'AḲedah prayers. At the same time stress is laid even by reformers on the typical character of the story as expressing the spirit of martyrdom which permeates Jewish history and has maintained the Jewish faith.
- L. Dukes, Zur Kenntniss d. Neuhebr. Poesie, 1842, pp. 57, 145;
- A. Wiener, Die Opfer-und Akedagebete, Breslau, 1869.