Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Tragic Story of Bar Kamtza

According to Jewish tradition, God allowed the Second Temple to be destroyed because of Sinat Chinam, senseless hatred between the people of Israel who were unable to get along with one another. As proof of the destructive force of Sinat Chinam, the Talmud records the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, and connects it to a path that led to the destruction of the Temple and the fall of Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, a wealthy man was making a large party. The man instructed his servant to bring an invitation to his friend Kamtza. By mistake, however, the servant brought the invitation to a man named Bar Kamtza, who happened to be on bad terms with the host. Bar Kamtza arrived at the party, and the host immediately instructed him to leave. Bar Kamtza, not wanting to be embarrassed, offered to reimburse the host for whatever he consumed. The host continued to refuse, even as Bar Kamtza offered to pay for half, and then all, of the party. Then, in front of all the guests, including many respected sages who made no move to interfere, the host physically removed Bar Kamtza from the party. 

Angry and humiliated, Bar Kamtza took his revenge by telling the Roman Emperor that the Jewish people were rebelling and that they would reject any offering that the Emperor would send to be brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. When the Emperor sent a fine calf, Bar Kamtza waylaid it and made a tiny, almost unnoticeable blemish, that would make it an unacceptable as a sacrifice.   

The sages debated what to do and seemed inclined to offer the calf on the altar of the Temple and avoid antagonizing the already tense relationship with Rome. Rabbi Zecharia ben Abkulas, however, worried that people would come to believe that it was permitted to offer a blemished animal. The calf was not sacrificed. Rabbi Yochanan thus remarked: "Through the scrupulousness of Rabbi Zecharia ben Abkulas, our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt and we ourselves exiled from our land” (Talmud Gittin 56a).

This Treat was last posted on July 24, 2015.


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