The Story of Kamza and Bar Kamza
Yom Kippur 5772 October 7/8, 2011
Rabbi Ronne Friedman, Temple Israel, Boston
One of the most monumental catastrophes of Jewish history was the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in the latter half of the first Christian century. Just as the prophets of ancient Israel had attempted to interpret the reasons for the destruction of the first Temple 650 years earlier, the rabbis of the Talmud struggled to provide a theological rationale for the second devastation, one that would preserve group identity in an era of loss and exile.
A Talmudic story that purports to explain the reason that the Temple was destroyed tells us of a certain unidentified man who “had a friend named Kamza and an enemy by the name of Bar Kamza. This man threw a party and said to his servant, go and bring Kamza back to the party. The servant, however, went and brought Bar Kamza. When the host found Bar Kamza there at his party, he said, “Look, you gossip about me; what are you doing here? Get out.” Bar Kamza replied: “Since I am here, let me stay, and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink.” The host said, “I won’t.” Bar Kamza then said, “Let me give you half the cost of the party.” “No,” said the host. “Then let me pay for the whole party.” The host still refused, and he took Bar Kamza by the arm and put him out.
Bar Kamza said to himself, “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 Government. He went and said to the Emperor of Rome, the Jews are rebelling against you….” As a result of this, the Temple was destroyed.
1 Note from this incident, the Talmud concludes, how serious a thing it is to put a person to shame, for God took up the cause of Bar Kamza, and as a result God destroyed His own House and burnt His own Temple (and we ourselves have been exiled from the land.)
2 The rabbis seize upon this most painful historical event in their experience, the destruction of the Temple, and identify it as a divine consequence of the humiliation of an enemy.