Talmud / Tisha be'Av

Talmud Gittin 55b – 56a: “Kamtza & Bar Kamtza”

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The destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans (70 CE)
Photo: Temple Institute Jerusalem
B”H
Tomorrow (Monday) night, the Jewish world is entering Tisha be’Av (9th Av) and this day of mourning is very much connected to the famous Talmudic teaching of “Kamtza and Bar Kamtza”. The Gemara (Rabbinic discussions) in Gittin 55b – 56a teaches us that, as a result of the incident involving Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, Jerusalem was destroyed.
A certain man, who had a friend named KAMTZA and an enemy named BAR KAMTZA, made a banquet. He told his attendant: “Go and bring KAMTZA to join me at the banquet”. The attendant went and mistakenly brought him BAR KAMTZA. When the host arrived at the banquet and found Bar Kamtza sitting there, he said to Bar Kamtza: “Look here, that man (you) is the enemy of that man (me). What do you want here ? – Get up and get out !” Bar Kamtza said to him: “Since I have come, let me stay, and I will give you of whatever I eat and drink”.
The host said to Bar Kamtza: “No, I will not let you stay !”
Bar Kamtza said: “I will give you the value of half your banquet”.
Again the host said no.
Bar Kamtza: “I will give you the value of your entire banquet”.
The host said NO. He grabbed Bar Kamtza and threw him out.
Bar Kamtza said to himself: “Since the Rabbis were seated at the banquet and did not rebuke him for the way he treated me, it is evident that what he did was acceptable to them. I will go and spread slander against the Rabbis in the royal palace.
He went to Caesar (the term is sometimes used for a Roman emperor but also for those acting as his representative) and told him that the Jews have rebelled against Rome. Bar Kamtza said to Caesar: “Send them an animal as a sacrifice and see whether they offer it in their Temple !”
Caesar went and sent a fine calf with Bar Kamtza. As he was going to Jerusalem, Bar Kamtza caused a blemish in the calf’s upper lip, or, as some say, he caused a cataract in the eye. The Rabbis considered offering it for the sake of peaceful relations with the Roman government. Rabbi Zechariya ben Avkulas said to them, “But people will then say that blemished animals may be offered on the Altar !”
The Rabbis considered killing Bar Kamtza so that he would not be able to go and tell Caesar that the offering had been refused. Rabbi Zechariya said to them, “But people will then say that one who blemishes consecrated animals is put to death !”
Rabbi Yochanan said: “The tolerance displayed by Rabbi Zechariya ben Avkulas in refusing to have Bar Kamtza put to death destroyed our Temple, burnt down our Sanctuary and exiled us from our land.
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Commentaries:
It states in Talmud Yoma 9b that the Second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred (Sinat Chinam).
The Talmudic commentator Maharsha states that the Rabbis were not in a position to speak up when the man threw out Bar Kamtza because of the host’s great power.
Rashi states that a Gentile (in this case CAESAR) may voluntarily bring offerings to be sacrificed on the Altar in the Temple, the same as a Jew.
It is a Biblically prohibited to blemish an animal designated as an offering (Talmud Bechorot 33b). The prohibition carries the penalty of lashes; it is not a capital offense. People might mistakenly assume that Bar Kamtza was executed for violating this prohibition (Rashi).
In fact, the destruction of the Temple had already been Divinely decreed. This incident was effective only in causing the destruction to take place at that particular time. As far as the Temple was concerned, Caesar would have spared it had his sacrifice been offered in it. Now that his sacrifice was refused, he decided to destroy the Temple, arguing that it served him no purpose (the Maharsha).
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