A Journey to the End of the Millennium - Synopsis
Scene i The Wedding
The coast of Tangier, North Africa, Summer, 998
Preparations are at hand for the wedding of Ben Attar, a rich Jewish merchant, to his second young wife. Abu Lutfi, Ben Attar's Muslim friend and business partner, is in charge of building the canopy. Bet Attar eagerly awaits the arrival of Abulafia, his nephew, who is also his partner in selling merchandize to Christians in France. Abulafia had left his homeland after his wife committed suicide after giving birth to a dead child. Ben Attar vows that his love for his first wife will only grow once he marries his second wife. Abulafia eventually arrives, still bereaving his dead wife, stating that he will never return to his homeland. The Rabbi blesses Bet Attar and his second wife.
Scene ii The Repulsion
Marca d'Espagne, near Barcelona. The border between Muslim Spain and Christian France. Autumn 999.
Abulafia awaits Bet Attar and Abu Lutfi. When they arrive, Abulafia tells them, to their astonishment, that he is resigning from the partnership because of the demand of his wife Esther Mina, a Jewish widow whom he met in Paris and who comes from Worms in Germany. Esther Mina found out that the Jewish sages in Worms had decreed that a Jew is not allowed to have more than one wife. Bet Attar begs Abulafia to reconsider, but to no avail.
Scene iii The Rabbi
Tangier, Spring 1000
Ben Attar decides to sail to Paris in order to persuade Esther Mina to reconsider her decision and renew the business and family ties with his nephew. He invites Elbaz, a Rabbi from Siviglia, to join him and help him prove, through precedents from the scriptures, that a Jew is indeed allowed to marry two wives. The young bachelor Rabbi demands that Ben Attar bring his two wives along in order to prove to the Jews of Paris that a man can indeed live in peace and harmony with two wives.
Scene iv The Ship
Abu Lutfi and his Muslim sailors guide the ship on its way from Tangier to Paris, a small and shabby town at the time. Ben Attar makes love to his first wife and then to his second wife during the journey.
Scene v Paris
Upon his arrival in Paris, Bet Attar meets Levinas, Esther Mina's brother, who shows him the way to their home. Esther Mina tries to prevent the uninvited guests from entering her home, yet Abulafia welcomes the guests .Ben Attar and Elbaz demand a rabbinical trial in order not to annul the partnership. At night, in Esther Mina's home, Bet Attar helps his two wives to wash after the long journey. The three believe that their love will win in the upcoming trial and convince one and all of the legitimacy of bigamy. Esther Mina bemoans her fate and is angry with the guests who invaded her home and with her husband's welcoming manner.
Scene vi The Trial
Vila le Juif, a Jewish vineyard on the outskirts of Paris, a few days later.
While everybody is preparing for the trial, a major issue that has to be resolved concerns the members of the jury who will decide its outcome. Levinas has brought three biblical scholars, but Elbaz refuses and eventually, all agree that a jury of ten, all of whom will be chosen randomly, will try the case. Esther Mina demands that women as well will be selected for the jury. Abu Lutfi selects the three biblical scholars as well as seven women who comprise the jury.
Ben Attar argues that Jewish history has many precedents of men with more than one wife. Elbaz reinforces the argument saying that it is always better that the second wife will be a reality rather than just a mere imagination. Esther Mina argues that Abulafia's first wife committed suicide only because she knew that a second wife is a reality. In summing up, Elbaz asks that Jews living in Christian lands will respect the customs of Jews living in Muslim countries. The verdict is given after a short time and it is unanimous in favor of the Jews from the south and against Esther Mina.
Scene vii The Verdict
Esther Mina is absolutely shocked and decides to divorce Abulafia if he resumes the partnership and ties with his family. Abulafia begs Ben Attar to give up their partnership, but now that he has won the trial Ben Attar demands that the partnership will be resumed. Elbaz and Esther Mina agree to yet another trial, this time in her hometown, Worms. Esther Mina promises to accept any verdict that will be decreed in that second trial.
Scene viii Ashkenaz
All set out on the journey to Worms.
Scene ix The Excommunication
Morning Prayers in Worms
Elbaz suggests new tactics for the second trial. He prefers one sole arbitrator, as he believes that a single man will hesitate to decree the annulment of the partnership and the destruction of familial bonds. Elbaz finds an arbitrator who interrogates the two wives. The First Wife claims that if a man is married to just one wife he is constantly worried that he will not be able to fulfill his sexual duties to her, yet once he has two wives he renews himself time and again and both wives are happy. The Second Wife says that just as a man can and should have more than one wife, so a woman should have two husbands. The arbitrator is shocked at this statement and decrees excommunication on Ben Attar and the Jews from Africa.
Scene x The PartnershipThe Second Wife realizes that her daring words had brought about the excommunication and out of despair she runs to the swamps of the Black Forest. Ben Attar tries to search for her, yet all the Jews of Worms, including Elbaz, cannot help him because of the excommunication. Ben Attar goes to the swamps himself where he finds his Second Wife who is bemoaning her fate. She suggests to Ben Attar that he should divorce her and thus dissolve the excommunication and renew the partnership, yet he refuses. Out of desperation the Second Wife drowns in the swamps. Thus the excommunication is annulled and the partnership is renewed, even if the price is tragic and bitter.