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Between Bar Kamza and Bar Kamzora


Though it’s not totally related to the former comparative studies of the Talmuds, this post is sort of related, though the comparison will be between a story, as it is presented in the Eichah Rabbah 4,2 (Midrash to Lamentations) and in Talmud Bavli, Gittin 55b-56a.

The story is about why the second Temple was destroyed, or at least so it appears. The two stories do put weight on different details though, and these details interest me, so I thought it fitting to share it with the rest of you. In order to make it easier to read and keep it somewhat concise, I will go through it three parts, first presenting the Midrash, then the text from the Talmud, and then finally comparing them.

Now, the Eichah Rabbah is – as the Talmud – a rabbinic text, being one of the oldest Midrashim, from the first part of the fifth century, so it’s dating from the same time as the Talmud more or less, which makes the two approaches to the story even more interesting.

I’m not sure whether the whole account presented in the Midrash is authored at the same time, since three of the sentences are written in Hebrew, whereas the rest of the account is written in Aramaic. I’ll point it out when we get there. The Midrashic account goes like this:

A tale is told of one of the wealthy men of Jerusalem who made a banquet, inviting everyone.

מעשה באדם אחד מגדולי ירושלים שעשה סעודה והיזמין את הכל.

He said to his servant, “Go and bring me my friend Bar Kamza.”

אמ’ לטלייה: זיל ואייתי לי בר כמצא רחמי.

He went and brought him his enemy, Bar Kamzora.

אזל ואייתי ליה בר כמצורא סנאיה.

He entered (the banquet) and found him sitting among the guests.

על ואשכחיה דיתיב בין אריסטייה.

He said to him, “Get up and get out of here.”

אמ’ ליה: קום פוק לך מן הכה.

He replied, “I will pay the cost of the meal; but don’t throw me out in shame.”

אמ’ ליה: אנא יהב טימי דסעודה ולא תפקין בבוסרן.

He said to him, “You have no choice but to get out of here.”

אמ’ ליה: לית אפשר דלא נפקת מן הבא.

He replied, “I will pay for the entire banquet; but don’t throw me out in shame.”

אמ’ ליה: אנא יהב טימי כל הדין אריצטון ולא תפקין בבוסרן.

He said to him, “You have no choice but to get out of here.”

אמ’ ליה: לית אפשר דלא נפקת מן הבא.

He replied, “I will pay you double; but don’t throw me out in shame.”

אמ’ ליה: אנא יהב בדיפלה ולא תפקין בבוסרן.

He said to him, “You have no choice but to get out of here.”

אמ’ ליה: לית אפשר דלא נפקת מן הבא.

R. Zecharia b. Avqulos, who was capable of protesting, was there, but he didn’t protest.

והיה שם ר’ זכריה בר אבקליס שהיה ספיק בידו למחות ולא מיחה.

Upon leaving, he said, “I get thrown out in shame, and let them sit there in peace?!”

מן דנפיק אמ’: מה אנה נפק בבוסרן ושביק להון יתבין שליות!?

He went down to the king; and said to him,

נחת ליה לגב מלכה.

“Those sacrifices that you send them – they eat them.”

אזל ואמ’ ליה: אילין קורבניא דאת משלח להון – אינון אכלין להון.

He rebuked him saying, “That’s slander; you wish to denigrate them.”

נזף ביה. ואמ’ ליה: מילא בישא אמרת, דאת בעי למימר שם ביש עליהון.

He said to him, “Send the sacrifices with me, and send along a trustworthy man, and you’ll find out the truth.”

אמ’ ליה: שלח עימי קורבניאושלח עימי ברנש מהימן ואת קיים על קושטא.

He sent a trustworthy man with him along with the sacrifices.

שלח עימיה ברנש מהימן ושלח עימיה קורבניא.

He arose at night and placed unnoticeable blemished on (the sacrifices).

קם הוא בליליה ויהב בהון מומין דלא מנכרין.

When the priest saw them, he didn’t offer them as sacrifice, saying,

כיון דחמא יתהון כהנא לא קריבינון

“I’m not offering them (now); tomorrow I will offer them.”

אמ’ ליה: לית אנה מקריב להון, מחר אנה מקריב להון.

A day went by, and he didn’t offer them; another day went by, and he didn’t offer them.

אתא יומא ולא קריבינון. אתא יומא ולא קריבינון.

At which he sent word to the king, “What that Jew told you is true.”

מיד שלח ואמ’ למלכא: ההיא מילתא דאמר לך ההוא יהודאה קשיט הוא.

Immediately he sent out to destroy the Temple.

מיד שלח ואחריב היכלה.

That is what people say, “Between Kamza and Kamzora was the sanctuary destroyed.”

היא דא דביריאתא אמרין: בין כמצא ובין כמצורא חרב מקדשא.

R. Yose said, “The timidity of R. Zecharia b. Avqulos burned down the temple.”

א’ ר’ יוסי: עינוונות של ר’ זכריה בר אבקליס היא רפה את היכל.

We have a number of persons being presented for us here: A man being among the upper class in Jerusalem, his servant, Bar Kamza, Bar Kamzora, R. Zecharia b. Avqulos, the king, and the priest.

The priest is most likely R. Zecharia b. Avqulos, who himself was a priest[1], which would explain R. Yose’s statement being stated here in two forms.

What is going on here? We see the wealthy man, without name, wanting to make a banquet. He tells his servant to bring an invitation to his friend, Bar Kamza, but by mistake the servants confuses Bar Kamza and Bar Kamzora, who then comes instead. When the man sees Bar Kamzora, he tells him to leave, something that is shameful to Bar Kamzora, and he in return offers to pay for his meal, the banquet and double the price of the banquet, but to no vain. Apparently that is too much for him, so he decides to bring them in discredit with the king, who at first doesn’t believe in his intentions, but accept to check out if Bar Kamzora’s claim, that the guests are eating the king’s sacrifices, instead of sacrificing them, is really true. At night Bar Kamzora makes blemishes on the sacrifices, making them unfit for sacrifices. When checking the animals, the priest denies to sacrifice them, but instead of stating that outright and explain why, he tells them that he will do it the next day, which he does not do in the end. After a couple of days, the man going with Bar Kamzora, returns to the king and tells him that Bar Kamzora was right, which angers the king enough to send people out to destroy the Temple.

There are some notes that have to be added here.

  • The king is most likely the Roman prefect.
  • Regarding the sacrifices, when they were brought to the Temple, they had to be without wounds. Even a small unseeing wound, would be enough to render it unfit for slaughter. It was practice to bring sacrifices for the Roman emperors during the time of the Second Temple, not for his divinity, but for his success and health.
  • The first verse, and the two verses mentioning R. Zecharia b. Avqulos are in Hebrew, whereas the rest of the text is in Aramaic. I have a feeling that the Hebrew verses are put in later, in order to give a teaching, though the sentences themselves might be older than the text, at least the ones about R. Zecharia. We see for example a version of the texts, which appears in the Tosefta (in tractate Shabbat 21:3), though in a slightly different version and a different context.

If we leave out the Hebrew parts, then the text is stating that the confusion between Bar Kamza and Bar Kamzora is what brought the destruction of the Temple, though one could point to Bar Kamzora’s need for revenge, the wealthy man’s stubbornness, or the priest’s lack of explaining what was wrong (and, I might guess, though it probably is influenced by me being rather moderate in comparison, the king’s overreaction on the news).

With the Hebrew text though, the “blame” changes, being more or less directly and totally put on R. Zecharia, who first didn’t react to the humiliation of Bar Kamzora, and later was overly zealous in his denying to bring the sacrifice to the altar.

Saying all this I have to admit that there are points which I haven’t dealt with, which I have somehow answered, based on material and knowledge I haven’t shared with you yet, but that will come from the coming posts, so bear over with me.

All the best

[1] See for example Josephus’ ”War of the Jews,” where he mentions ”a certain Zacharia, son of Amphicalleus, being of priestly descent.” The Hebrew name of the rabbi is ‘ben Avqalis’ or “son of Avqalis,” which in its Latin form is changed to Amphicalleus.

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