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Emptiness and Void!

BS”D

 

In the second verse of the Torah, which deals with the creation, we find the expression “והארץ היתה תהו ובהו” – The earth was in utter chaos. The problem I have with this statement is that I don’t feel that I fully appreciate the meaning of the expression “Tohu vaVohu.”

The roots of the two words, Tahah (תהה) and Bahah (בהה), make it all even more difficult, having Tahah meaning to wonder, to be amazed, to be dumbfounded, to ponder or to reflect, while Bahah means to stare into space, to daydream, or to gaze. The thing is, the expression “Tohu vaVohu” has always been understood as utter chaos, or without form, and still is. If we look at the four most used English Jewish translations,[1] we will see the expression being translated as follows:

Astonishingly empty’ (Judaica Press and Artscroll), and ’unformed and void’ (Soncino and JPS)

Checking a number of Christian translations, we reach the same understanding of the words, meaning without form, empty, or void.[2]

This is also the sense left us when we relate to various commentators, e.g. Rashi who writes that Tohu “is an expression of astonishment and desolation, that a person wonders and is astonished at the emptiness therein.” This is an interpretation which leans on the meaning of Tahah, though he doesn’t relate to the second part of the expression, Bohu. Ibn ‘Ezra understands the expression as “empty waste,” while Nahmanides states that the “lower prime matter, after its creation from nothingness, was completely prime matter, that is matter without substance.” So also here are we dealing with understandings of the expression as something without form or, as Nahmanides express it, substance. Contrary the other commentators Nahmanides attempts to translate Bohu on its own, explaining that it consists of ‘bo’ and ‘hu,’ that is “is in him,” relating to the idea of a being. I would suspect that he somehow attempts to relate it to Bahah, ‘seeing’ something that will be in ‘it,’ that which still is without form.

Onkelos, the Aramaic Targum found with any Hebrew Bible, which was written in the beginning of the second century, translates the expression as “צדיא וריקניא” –Tzadya w’Reqanya, meaning something desolate and empty, also dealing with the same meaning. The Midrash (Bereshit Rabbah) takes another approach, relating the Tohu vaVohu to evilness and wrongdoing, though still in the negative understanding of void and waste.

When we look at other Biblical passages using the words, then we find Tohu ten places, all relating to something being vain, void or confusion, while Bohu is found three times, relating to emptiness.

So by now we have established that the understanding of Tohu vaVohu means something astonishing/confusing emptiness, void, desolate being without form or something in that regards. For me, when I read this expression, I get the idea of a world still not being formed or ‘expressed,’ sort of speaking. Something has to be added, we are still viewing something not yet decided on.

That said, I still don’t feel that I have the full understanding of the expression itself, nor of the words. They escape me, my full understanding of them. I need to approach them closer, but how? Also their relations to their roots, how can they change their meaning like that? Do they change meaning at all? Something I’m sure of is that this isn’t the last time I’m going to deal with this subject.


[1] Artscroll, Soncino, Judaica Press, and JPS.

[2] See for example KJV and NIV.

Two recommendations

BS”D

 

Once in a while I try to find new interesting blogs, and sometimes I am lucky. Today I feel myself really lucky, having found two blogs, one called The Talmud Blog, publishing mainly articles on the study of the Talmud, and another called The Immanent Frame, publishing articles on the interdisciplinary perspectives on secularism, religion, and the public sphere. I highly recommend any with interest in the subjects to visit either or both, they are seriously goldmines.

Especially one writer, Lena Salaymah, who writes on The Immanent Frame, wrote an article for The Talmud Blog, where she explains her motives for and thoughts on studying and researching Near Eastern Legal Culture. For my readers it will come as no surprise that exactly that is my focus.

The article is interesting and well-written, explaining and putting words on many thoughts I have myself, but which I haven’t been able to express as well as Salaymah does it. Especially when she writes about “proto-Semitic” that “as a metaphor, “proto-Semitic” offers a useful heuristic for thinking through how we approach the study of Jewish and Islamic law.  If you imagine scholars of Jewish law articulating their ideas in Hebrew and Aramaic, while scholars of Islamic law articulate their ideas in Arabic, then my objective is to converse with both groups of scholars in a meta-language (proto-Semitic) that engages both legal traditions.  Just as “proto-Semitic” is the common ancestor of the Semitic language family, Near Eastern legal culture is the shared antecedent of Jewish and Islamic legal systems,” do I feel that she puts the finger precisely on my own thoughts.

After I wrote my assignment on Ibrahim as an early Monotheist (which I will publish later on), did I feel too that we are dealing with a common Middle Eastern – or maybe rather Near Eastern – expression, more than we are talking about a “Jewish” on the one hand and a “Muslim” on the other. Of course, I’m not attempting to say that the two religions are basically the same, though there are many similarities to be find, they are not only products of their original geographical homes, and even so there would have been differences, but they are also that, products of their original geographical homes, and therefore – of course – have many similar expressions and thoughts.

I am looking forward to see what results she must create from her coming works, and I hope that you also will find it interesting, at least some of you.

Anyway, take a look of the blogs, I can highly recommend it.

The Talmud Blog

Thoughts on Near Eastern Legal Culture – Guest blog by Lena Salaymah on The Talmud Blog

The Immanent Frame

What’s Going On?

BS”D

 

As I hope you have noticed it has been some time since my last post. I am sorry for that, but the last couple of weeks have simply been too busy and packed, among other things with the conclusion of my assignments and the beginning of the new semester.

When I have received my grades I will most likely share one or more of my assignments, or at least tell about them, so for those interested, there is something to look forwards to!

My new semester offers both the continuation of some old courses, as well as the introduction of some new ones. Early Christianity and Early Islamic Texts are continuing, though with the unfortunate change in the former, that Dr. Paula Fredriksen is not going to teach us anyway, so we are continuing under Dr. David Satran (who definitely is a good teacher, no doubt). The focus in the new semester will be on Augustine, so I’m looking forward to spend some time on one of the biggest Christian thinkers. If any of you out there can recommend any material on him, then please let me know.

Hebrew is also being continued, though on a new level, which also introduce me to a course on Jewish Texts. On Hebrew. High level Hebrew. Just hope that it’s not going to be too high, though I do speak Hebrew I’m still not used to it in an Academic context, but I’ll guess that will change now.

The new courses are Medieval Jewish Exegesis, with focus on Rashi, Rashbam, and Ibn ‘Ezra, Z”L, going to be interesting, and after the first class I can see that it’s certainly is going to teach me a lot of new things. Stay tuned for that one. I also am going to begin a course in History and Archaeology of Muslim Jerusalem, something I really am looking forwards to, but we are waiting for the first class, because of strikes (big dislike). And finally a course called “The Battle over the Bible!” on Jewish, Christian, and Muslim polemics and interpretation of the Bible. Definitely also going to be interesting, already having discussed whether the Rabbis believed that they had the exact original text being revealed in their hands (they didn’t!), so also a course I’m going to relate to a lot.

 

What else will I be focusing on this semester? Since I’m going to write a seminar paper on Fiqh, Islamic Jurisprudence, there probably will be some focus on that, as well as gender studies in Judaism and Islam, since my focus will be on that in context of religious law the next coming semesters (I think). I’m working on Langmuir’s and Geertz’ theories of Religion, so I’ll probably also deal a little with that.

Besides that it’ll probably be whatever comes to my mind, as normal.

 

That’s it I think. Take care out there!

Abraham as an Early Monotheist

BS”D

 

Yet another post on Avraham Avinu, A”S. I know it, I’m going crazy, but there’s a reason. As you know, I’ve been writing that I’m doing an assignment on him for one of my exams, and where the other courses haven’t been so extensive or focused on one theme, it has been easier (or just more compelling) to go really deep with my studies on Avraham Avinu, A”S.

I will be going on with my posts on him for a little more time, but there will also be presentations of other exams I’m doing, for example in Early Christianity and Approaching Classical Jewish Texts. The exam in the course in Early Islamic Texts has been given, orally, and didn’t take so much, since the course continues into next semester. The same is the case with the course in Early Christianity, which does have a shorter written assignment on some six to eight pages. I’ll present that within a couple of days, there are some interesting things there. I still haven’t received that questions for Approaching Classical Jewish Texts, so I can’t share my thoughts on that one with you yet.

 

Anyway. I’ve made a habit of making a working paper when I have to deal with assignments, and this is also the case with this assignment. Sometimes they are given as presentation to the teacher or incorporated in the introduction for the assignment itself. This one is mostly for my own though, so I don’t feel bad about sharing it with you, so you can see what I will be focusing on in my assignment.

When I studied on University of Copenhagen, I usually put my assignments up after evaluation, but I’m not sure I’m allowed to do that now though I don’t see how it should be a problem. If there won’t be any problems in it, I will share my assignments with you, as soon as they have been evaluated.

Here’s my working paper – feel free to comment:

 

Abraham as an Early Monotheist

 

Abraham plays a very central role both in Judaism and Islam. Many examples on this can be mentioned, but just to mention two examples, one from Judaism, one from Islam, then we can think of the Jewish convert receiving the title of “ben Avraham” (son of Abraham), or the way he is described in Quran as Hanif and being the only one called “Khalilat Allah” (friend of Allah). Abraham is a role model in both religions, one being emphasized in attempts to console and bringing Arabs and Jews together, focusing on his role as forefather for both people. Therefore it could be interesting to see how he is described as a faithful role model for the two people.

What I found interesting in this relation is to find out how he is described in early Islamic literature, and then see if we can find Jewish sources for these descriptions, or whether he is described in a genuine Islamic way. Where we find Jewish sources, it could be interesting to see how far back they are depicted, and whether there has been any evolution in them. This is to see if it is the same Abraham the Muslims and the Jews are focusing on as a role model at all, or whether there are related to two different forefathers.

The questions I will attempt to answer are to be presented as:

What are the main points presented about Abraham in early Islamic literature in regards to him being an early monotheist? Are there any examples of these representations of him in pre-Islamic Jewish sources, and if there are, do we find any evolution in these?

 

My approach will thus be to find accounts in early Islamic literature, depicting Abraham as a monotheist, then to see if I can find any similar accounts in earlier Jewish literature, starting with later Jewish literature and then working my way back, to end with Biblical account of Abraham.

What I will not be dealing with, are the questions on whether there has been later Islamic influence on Jewish thoughts on Abraham, since part of my approach is to find examples on Jewish thoughts in Islamic presentation of Abraham, as well as examples being purely Islamic.

I will do this by doing comparative analysis between the texts, but in order to get to a better understanding of the meaning applied to certain terms, as well as finding elements which can be said to be similar or where they differ from each other. This point is also important in order to determine whether Ibrahim is depicted as Avraham from an earlier or later stage of Jewish literature.

It will be done in various stages, starting by finding the Quranic meaning of Abraham as a Hanif, finding Quranic accounts relating to this meaning, comparing this with later similar Islamic representations, and then working backwards through Jewish literature, to see if and where those representations can be found and when they can be found. When this is done, I believe it will possible to determine how Abraham is described in early Islamic literature, where we can speculate on Jewish influence, when the Jewish representations have first evolved, and finally what can be said to be pure Islamic description of Abraham.

What I will not be doing here, is relating to Christian sources, unless it is needed, so when I state that I will find “pure Islamic descriptions of Abraham,” it is with the reservation that this can be found in Christian sources, rather than being “purely Islamic.” Also in this, even if not found in Christian sources, it might be found in pre-Islamic Arabic legends on Abraham.

I will be using a number of sources, a list of which can be found in the end of the assignment, the primary sources being found among following literature:

The Quran – Yusufali’s translation unless otherwise stated.

 Ahadith – Here only Sahih Bukhari and Muslim.

Sirat al-Nabawiyya – Here only Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari’s History.

Piyutim.

The Talmud – Primarily the Babylonian Talmud.

Midrashim – Primarily Bereshit Rabbah.

Targumim – here only Targum Onkelos and Targum Jonathan.

Rewritten bibles – here only book of Jubilees, Josephus’ “Antiquities,” and Philo’s “On Abraham.”

The Bible – The JPS 1999 translation unless otherwise stated.

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.

Between Kamza and Bar Kamza – Part II

BS”D

 

The next part of the account on Kamtza and Bar Kamtza we are going to deal with, is from the Talmud Bavli, namely in Gitin 55b-56a.

As is the case with the Midrash, also here we have two overarching parts, the one about the banquet, and the one of Bar Kamza’s revenge.

 

On account of Kamza and Bar Kamza was Jerusalem destroyed.

אקמצא ובר קמצא חרוב ירושלים.

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.”

דההוא גברא דרחמיה קמצא ובעיל דבביה בר קמצא עבד סעודתא. אמר ליה לשמעיה: זיל אייתי לי קמצא.

He went and brought him Bar Kamza.

אזל אייתי ליה בר קמצא.

He came and saw him sitting there, and said to him:

אתא, אשכחיה דהוה יתיב, אמר ליה:

”Since you are my enemy, what are you looking for here? Get out!

מכדי ההוא גברא בעיל דבביה דההוא גברא הוא, מאי בעית הכא? קום פוק!

He said to him, ”Since I am already here, let me alone, and I will pay you for what I eat and drink.”

אמר ליה: הואיל ואתאי, שיבקן, ויבנא לך דמי דאכילנא ושתינא.

He said to him: ”No.”

אמר ליה: לא.

He said to him: ”I will pay you half the cost of the banquet.”

אמר ליה: יהיבנא לך דמי פלגא דסעודתיך.

He said to him: ”No.”

אמר ליה: לא.

He said to him: ”I will pay you the entire cost of the banquet.”

אמר ליה: יהיבנא לך דמי כולא סעודתיך.

He said to him: ”No.”

אמר ליה: לא.

He picked him up and threw him out.

נקטיה בידיה ואפקיה.

 

He said: ”Since those Rabbis were sitting there and did not protest, I will go and slander them.

אמר: הואיל והוו יתבי רבנן ולא מחו ביה, איזיל איכול בהו קורצא בי מלכא.

He went and said to the king, ”The Jews have revolted against you!”

אזל, אמר ליה לקיסר: מרדו בך יהודאי!

He said to him, ”How can this be proven?”

אמר ליה: מי יימר?

He said to him, ”Send them a sacrifice, and see if they will offer it.”

אמר ליה: שדר להו קורבנא, חזית אי מקרבי ליה.

He sent with him a three-year calf.

אזל שדר בידיה עגלא תלתא.

 

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.

בהדי דקאתי, שדא ביה מומא בניב שפתים (ואמרי לה: בדוקין שבעין) – דוכתא דלדידן מומא, ולדידהו לאו מומא.

The Rabbis considered offering it as a sacrifice for the peace of the kingdom.

סבור רבנן לקרוביה משום שלום מלכות.

R. Zechariah b. Avqulos said to them, ”They will say, ’Blemished animals are (permitted) to be offered on the altar’!”

אמר להו ר’ זכריה בן אבקולס: יאמרו, בעלי מומין קרבין לגבי מזבח.

They considered killing him[1], so he would not go and tell

סבור למיקטליה דלא ליזיל ולימא.

R. Zechariah b. Avqulos said to them, ”They will say, ’He who puts a blemish on a sacrificial animal deserves the death penalty’!”

אמר להו ר’ זכריה בן אבקולס: יאמרו: מטיל מום בקדשים יהרג.

 

R. Yohanan said, ”The timidity of R. Zechariah b. Avqulos destroyed our house, burned our Temple, and exiled us from our land.”

אמר ר’ יוחנן: ענוותנותו של ר’ זכריה בן אבקולס החריבה את ביתנו ושרפה את היכלנו והגליתנו מארצנו.

 

 

What is going on?

 

A man, who has a friend, Kamza, and an enemy, Bar Kamza, decides to hold a banquet, and wishes to invite his friend, Kamza. His servants misunderstands and thinks that he asks for Bar Kamza, and brings him instead. When the man hosting the banquet sees Bar Kamza, he wonders why his enemy is there. In order to mock him maybe? He then tells him to leave, something Bar Kamza attempts to convince him is not needed, first by stating that he will pay for his meal, then for half the banquet, and then for all the banquet, but the man hosting the banquet is adamant.

Upon being thrown out, Bar Kamza feels let down by the Rabbis, who are apparently taking part in the banquet, not objecting on the man hosting the banquet being obstinate, so he goes to the “king” (the Aramaic text has Qaisar, how to precisely translate this term I am not so sure) and accuses “the Jews” for having revolted, something he wants to prove by bringing a sacrifice, which he will make sure will be rejected.

Being faced with the blemished sacrifice, and the obvious threat against peace in refusing to bring the sacrifice, the Rabbis discuss whether they should offer it anyway “for the peace of the kingdom.” R. Zechariah jumps in an disagree, stating that that would make people think that blemished animals are permitted for sacrifice,” an argument the Rabbis apparently accept, for then to discuss whether they should kill Bar Kamza, again having R. Zechariah objecting, stating that that would make people think that there is a death penalty on putting blemishes on animals.

The text ends with R. Yohanan stating that the timidity of R. Zechariah was the cause of the destruction of “their house,”[2] the Temple, as well as the exile, though the introducing verse states that it is because of the confusion of Kamza and Bar Kamza.

 


[1] Bar Kamza.

[2] I am not sure what is meant by ”our house” here, since the Temple is mentioned also, but I’m thinking that it might be a reference to the Sanhedrin, the religious high court, which was situated at the Temple.

Between Bar Kamza and Bar Kamzora

BS”D

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.