כ״ו בשבט ה׳תשע״ו (February 5, 2016)

Gittin 55a-b: And On Account of This, Jerusalem was Destroyed

One of the lengthiest collections of aggadata – of stories – that appears in the Gemara is the anthology of stories in our Gemara that discuss the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. This begins on our daf with the famous story of Kamtza and bar Kamtza whose activities led to the eventual hurban – the destruction of Jerusalem.

The story begins with a simple mix-up and disagreement. An unnamed individual was friends with someone named Kamtza and enemies with another person whose name was bar Kamtza. The servant who was commanded to invite Kamtza to a party mistakenly delivered the invitation to bar Kamtza, who, upon coming to the party, was rebuffed by the host who insisted that he leave. No amount of cajoling, or, for that matter, offering to pay for his meal – or even the entire party – could convince the host to allow bar Kamtza to “save face” and remain. Bar Kamtza’s reaction was to lay the blame for his embarrassment squarely on the leadership who sat through this interchange without coming to his defense. In an attempt to punish them he went to Rome and accused them of fomenting rebellion against the Roman authorities. According to the Gemara, this accusation led to the eventual siege around Jerusalem.

One popular question that is raised when discussing this story is why Kamtza’s name appears at all. It was, after all, bar Kamtza’s actions that led to the destruction! On a simple level the Gemara is trying to tell us that a simple thing – the similarity of names and confusion that that caused – brought about the destruction of the Temple. The Maharshal explains on a deeper level that this is connected with the well-known idea that the second Temple was destroyed because of sinat hinam – or hatred that has no basis. Sinat hinam leads not only to arguments between individuals (like bar Kamtza and the host of the party) but also to divisions in society and the creation of groups whose sole purpose is to further those divisions. Because of his involvement with such groups, Kamtza was also involved in sinat hinam and, ultimately, the hurban.

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