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Between Kamza and Bar Kamzora – Part III

BS”D

As the awake reader might have noticed, the title have changed slightly during the three posts on this account, from being between Bar Kamza and Bar Kamzora, over Kamza and Bar Kamza, and now Kamza and Bar Kamzora. This is on purpose, presenting the first of our differences, namely the names of the reason of confusion, the names of the one supposed to be invited and the one being invited. In both accounts are we presented for four persons right away, namely the wealthy man holdning the banquet, his friend, the servant supposed to invite his friend, and the one being invited instead of the friend. In either versions are we told the names of the wealthy man or his servant, but whereas the friend is called Bar Kamza in the Midrashic version, his name is Kamza in the Talmudic version, while the one being invited is Bar Kamzora in the Midrashic version and Bar Kamza in the Talmudic version. Or – maybe not correctly put, but nevertheless interesting – Bar Kamza is the friend in the Midrashic account, but the enemy in the Talmudic account.

Let’s repeat the two accounts, presenting them next to each other in order to make it easier to compare:

On account of Kamza and Bar Kamza was Jerusalem destroyed.
A tale is told of one of the wealthy men of Jerusalem who made a banquet, inviting everyone.
He said to his servant, “Go and bring me my friend Bar Kamza.” There was a man whose friend was Kamza, and whose enemy was Bar Kamza. He made a banquet, and said to his servant, “God and bring me Kamza.”
He went and brought him his enemy, Bar Kamzora. He went and brought him Bar Kamza.
He entered (the banquet) and found him sitting among the guests. He came and saw him sitting there, and said to him:
He said to him, “Get up and get out of here.” ”Since you are my enemy, what are you looking for here? Get out!
He replied, “I will pay the cost of the meal; but don’t throw me out in shame.” He said to him, ”Since I am already here, let me alone, and I will pay you for what I eat and drink.”
He said to him, “You have no choice but to get out of here.” He said to him: ”No.”
He replied, “I will pay for the entire banquet; but don’t throw me out in shame.” He said to him: ”I will pay you half the cost of the banquet.”
He said to him, “You have no choice but to get out of here.” He said to him: ”No.”
He replied, “I will pay you double; but don’t throw me out in shame.” He said to him: ”I will pay you the entire cost of the banquet.”
He said to him, “You have no choice but to get out of here.” He said to him: ”No.”
He picked him up and threw him out.
R. Zecharia b. Avqulos, who was capable of protesting, was there, but he didn’t protest.
Upon leaving, he said, “I get thrown out in shame, and let them sit there in peace?!” He said: ”Since those Rabbis were sitting there and did not protest, I will go and slander them.
He went down to the king; and said to him, “Those sacrifices that you send them – they eat them.” He went and said to the king, ”The Jews have revolted against you!”
He rebuked him saying, “That’s slander; you wish to denigrate them.” He said to him, ”How can this be proven?”
He said to him, “Send the sacrifices with me, and send along a trustworthy man, and you’ll find out the truth.” He said to him, ”Send them a sacrifice, and see if they will offer it.”
He sent a trustworthy man with him along with the sacrifices. He sent with him a three-year calf.
He arose at night and placed unnoticeable blemished on (the sacrifices). As he went, he placed a blemish on the lip (some say, the eyelid) – a place which is a blemish for us, but not for them.
When the priest saw them, he didn’t offer them as sacrifice, saying, The Rabbis considered offering it as a sacrifice for the peace of the kingdom.
“I’m not offering them (now); tomorrow I will offer them.” R. Zechariah b. Avqulos said to them, ”They will say, ’Blemished animals are (permitted) to be offered on the altar’!”
A day went by, and he didn’t offer them; another day went by, and he didn’t offer them. They considered killing him[1], so he would not go and tell
At which he sent word to the king, “What that Jew told you is true.” R. Zechariah b. Avqulos said to them, ”They will say, ’He who puts a blemish on a sacrificial animal deserves the death penalty’!”
Immediately he sent out to destroy the Temple.
That is what people say, “Between Kamza and Kamzora was the sanctuary destroyed.”
R. Yose said, “The timidity of R. Zecharia b. Avqulos burned down the temple.” R. Yohanan said, ”The timidity of R. Zechariah b. Avqulos destroyed our house, burned our Temple, and exiled us from our land.”

The accounts are agreeing on what happened upon the wealthy man seeing Bar Kamza/ora, with some differences, the Talmudic version having the wealthy man asking Bar Kamza what he is doing there, before telling him to leave, and Bar Kamzora being more generous with his offers than those of Bar Kamza.

Then we have R. Zechariah b. Avqulos. For those of you who read Hebrew/Aramaic, you might notice the differences in the Aramaic texts in his name, being Avqalis (אבקליס) in the Midrash and Avqulos (אבקולס) in the Talmud. It is not of great importance, but nevertheless interesting. What is important in this regard is the mentioning of him. In the Midrash he seems to have been added, only being mentioned in the Hebrew verses, not in the Aramaic verses, whereas in the Talmud we don’t have the same verses, except the final verse. Instead he takes part in a Halachic discussion with the Rabbis, on whether to sacrifice the animal or to kill Bar Kamza, where he is being the “stubborn” one, not accepting to let go of the rules, even for the sake of “peace of the kingdom.”

It is interesting to see how the two versions differ on his role, but still put negative focus on him, either by not objecting to the treatment of Bar Kamzora or in being too timid in dealing with the sacrifices, when so much was at stake.

Another thing which is interesting is that in the Midrash it is R. Yose blaming R. Zechariah for being overly timid, while it is R. Yohanan in the Talmud. Or maybe both actually did it? There is also a slight difference in the accusations, so it would be possible that they both reacted to his timidity, though in different times and/or places, though I believe that it is more plausible that it is the same statement being prescribed to either one or them.

On the part of Bar Kamza/ora leaving the banquet we have an interesting exchange; in the Talmud we see the exchange ending with Bar Kamza being thrown out, which doesn’t happen in the Midrash, where we are left without the ending. On the other hand, the Midrash then has the inserted verse about R. Zechariah not objecting, and then we see the reverse: In the Midrash we then learn that he indeed got thrown out, whereas in the Talmud we learn that the Rabbis did not object. So we have the crossing of accounts, the same thing happening, but the ‘not objecting’ is mentioned first in the Midrash, where it is mentioned second in the Talmud, and the throwing out is mentioned first in the Talmud, whereas it is mentioned second in the Midrash.

Then we have the meeting with the king. Where the Midrashic king seems to be more skeptic, the Talmudic king are more concerned with how Bar Kamza’s accusations can be proven. And in the Midrash there is focus on the man sent with Bar Kamzora, while it is the sacrifices being in focus in the Talmud, which is obvious taking the further story into account. In the Midrash we are presented with the reaction of the king, whereas the Rabbis are in focus in the Talmud. We suddenly follow two different narratives on the same happening, with the same unfortunate outcome; the destruction of the Temple. But we are left ignorant on R. Zechariah’s role in the whole story in the Midrash, and this might be why we had to insert the two Hebrew verses about him in the Midrash, since it doesn’t explain us what the Talmud does; namely that R. Zechariah was among the rabbis, and that he was the reason why the sacrifices were not brought to the alter in the end, making the king’s servant run to the king and tell him what we had witnessed, leading to the king believing the accusations.

One of my readers, the blogger Olive Twist (check the blog), asked some interesting questions, namely what happened with the animal, whether the account can be considered a true historical event, and what year this happened.

What happened with the animal I have already guessed, but let’s consider the possibility of this being a “true historical event.”

We know for a fact that sacrifices were brought for the wellbeing of the Roman emperor, and that the Roman prefect oversaw that this was done satisfactory. We can also be rather sure that there were sects among the Jews, who were not on good terms, and we can maybe see this account in this light, since – I believe – it is clear that the wealthy man were either among or at least positive to the Rabbis, whereas Bar Kamza/ora might have been among their opponents. I can’t say for sure which group he belonged to, but he was most likely not among the Pharisees (the Rabbis).

If we look at when this event happened, I would expect it to have happened within the last couple of years before the riots in the year 70 CE[2], though I don’t believe this account to be the direct reason for the Romans destroying the Temple, that is most definitely because of the rebellion in 70 CE.

But the most important question we have to ask ourselves here is, what is the story trying to tell us? Imagine that you are a religious believing Jew in the first centuries after the destruction of the Temple. You look at the state of the Jews, and ask why? Why did G-D allow this to happen? Why did He allow His home to be destroyed? You have to be able to give an explanation, because there must be some reason. In Jewish tradition the destruction of the Temples as well as the exiles are always caused as punishment, and this is the story’s explanation, that we were punished for Rabbis being too timid, not objecting when people are being done wrong, on confusions among people, on baseless hatred and the lack of understanding. This is indeed the “official” traditional Jewish reason for the destruction of the second Temple, Sinat Hinam, baseless hatred.


[1] Bar Kamza.

[2] This is actually mentioned in the Talmudic text, though it is presented as a made up accusation, but notice the differences, in the Talmud, where the accusation is that the Jews are rebelling, the “king” does not directly doubt it, it wasn’t something unlikely.


1 Comment

  1. Olive Twist says:

    This is like an arrow directly to the heart of the matter! I admire how you tied it all together right at the end. I had a feeling that there was more to this story. At first, I wondered if it was an allegorical story to illustrate a certain spiritual precept.

    Thanks for this!

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