Kamtza and Bar Kamtza

In honor of the destruction of Jerusalem that occurred and is mourned during this time of year, I present you the infamous short story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza.  Whether or not the story occurred exactly – or at all – as recorded in the Talmud, the story serves as an important lesson on a) how petty discord can bring about horrible consequences, and b) what happens when leaders, in this case rabbis, don’t speak up.

The destruction of Jerusalem came through a Kamtza and a Bar Kamtza in this way:

A certain man had a friend Kamtza and an enemy Bar Kamtza. He once made a party and said to his servant, “Go and bring Kamtza.” The man went and brought Bar Kamtza.

When the man [who gave the party] found him there, he said, “You’re my enemy; what do you want here? Get out!”

Said the other: “Since I am here, let me stay, and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink.”

He said, “I won’t!”

“Then let me give you half the cost of the party.”

“No!” said the other.

“Then let me pay for the whole party!”

He still said, “No!” and he took him by the hand and put him out.

Said the other, “Since the Rabbis were sitting there and did not stop him, this shows that they agreed with him. I will go and inform against them to the [Roman] government.”

He went and said to the emperor, “The Jews are rebelling against you.”

He said, “How can I tell?”

He said to him: “Send them an offering and see whether they will offer it [on the altar].”

So he sent with him a fine calf. While on the way he [Bar Kamtza] made a blemish on its upper lip, or as some say on the white of its eye, in a place where we [Jews] count it a blemish but they [the Romans] do not. The Rabbis were inclined to offer it in order not to offend the government.

Said R. Zechariah b. Abkulas to them: “People will say that blemished animals are offered on the altar.”

They then proposed to kill Bar Kamza so that he should not go and inform against them, but Rabbi Zechariah b. Abkulas said to them, “Is one who makes a blemish on consecrated animals to be put to death?”

Rabbi Yochanan thereupon remarked: “Through the scrupulousness of Rabbi Zechariah b. Abkulas our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt and we ourselves exiled from our land.”

He [the Roman emperor] then sent against them Vespasian the Caesar who came and besieged Jerusalem for three years….                                                         (Babylonian Talmud: Gittin 55b-56a)

And the rest was history.


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