The story of Kamtza and bar Kamtza - Livre d'Or








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livredor
The story of Kamtza and bar Kamtza
Sunday, 14 August 2005 at 07:11 pm
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Today it was so unreasonably hot that hatam_soferet's (unlit) havdalah candle melted. We stayed in her room where there is air-conditioning, and studied some Gemara relevant to today's fast of Tisha b'Av.

The scene is this: some rabbis are discussing the events of around 70 CE (a generation or so after Jesus' death). Judea was under Roman occupation, and in 70, the Romans decided to take action to end the political trouble and fomenting rebellion in the province. This culminated in the destruction of the (second) Temple, the centre of Jewish worship, and the whole city of Jerusalem was also razed and the Jewish population relocated. This is one of the major tragedies that is commemorated by today's fast. R Jochanan tells the following story:

Once there was a man who had a good friend named Kamtza and a mortal enemy named bar Kamtza. He threw a party, and told his servant to invite his friend Kamtza, but the servant invited his enemy bar Kamtza. When the host saw bar Kamtza sitting there at his party, he was furious.

"What are you doing here?!", he cried. "Get out of my house!"

Bar Kamtza begged to be allowed to stay, offering to pay for whatever he ate and drank. No way, said the host. Bar Kamtza offered to pay half the cost of the party. Still no way. He offered to pay the whole cost of the party. No! The host had bar Kamtza seized and bodily thrown out of his house.

Bar Kamtza saw the rabbis, the community leaders, sitting at the party and watching this happen. None of them said anything, so bar Kamtza thought they must be ok with him being treated this way. He decided to become an informer and approached the Roman authorities. He had a report made to Caesar saying that the Jews were planning a rebellion. His Roman contact was cynical: "Sez who?". Bar Kamtza replied, "If you don't believe me, why don't you send them a sacrifice for the glory of the Empire, and see if they offer the sacrifice or not."

The Romans gave bar Kamtza a three-year-old calf for sacrifice. He took the calf and deliberately made a blemish in its mouth or eye, so that the Jews would consider the animal unfit for sacrifice but the Romans would still see it as acceptable for sacrifice. Now the Jewish community had a dilemma: should they sacrifice the blemished animal in the hope that the Romans would leave them alone, or should they follow Jewish law correctly and refuse to sacrifice it, risking terrible reprisals?

Most of the rabbis favoured sacrificing the blemished animal anyway, given the political situation. Or maybe they should refuse to sacrifice it and kill bar Kamtza so that he couldn't make his damaging report to the Roman authorities. R Zechariah the son of Avkoulos protested: they couldn't give the impression that they were the sort of people who went around sacrificing blemished animals, and they couldn't give the impression that they were the sort of people who would kill someone for a trivial offence like making a blemish on a sacrficial animal.

Because of this, the Temple was destroyed, and Jerusalem was burned, and the Jews were sent into exile.

So the question is, whose fault is it that Jerusalem was destroyed? Answers in comments please! Not doing a poll because I want to know your reasoning. I've heard it said you can deduce a lot about someone's character from whom they blame in this story.

(The story is my paraphrase of a chunk from Gittin 55b. And yes, some of you have played this one before. Oh, and R Jochanan says it's R Zechariah b Avkoulos' fault for being excessively pious, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's right.)


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rho: default
From:rho
Date:August 15th, 2005 12:48 am (UTC)
44 minutes after journal entry, 01:48 am (rho's time)
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I say it's the fault of the Romans who actually did the destroying. Regardless of what anyone else had or had not done, they still had the choice either to destroy or not to destroy. Ultimately, everyone is responsible for their own actions, and their own actions only, so I don't think I could lay the blame elsewhere. That's not to say that I think everyone else in the story acted without fault, I just don't think they're the ones responsible.
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(no subject) - compilerbitch (8/15/05 07:33 am)
livredor: teapot
From:livredor
Date:August 15th, 2005 01:54 pm (UTC)
13 hours after journal entry, 02:54 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Wow, if this game was supposed to show something about people's character it really worked very well with you! This is a very you way of looking at the situation, abstracting it to this sort of level.

Basically, I'd say you're blaming the impersonal forces of history here. You start by agreeing with rho that the Romans are responsible for their own actions, but then you go on to argue that the conflict was inevitably going to happen because of all the parameters in play in that situation. I think one could take this line of thought further and say that had the Romans not occupied Judea, some other empire would have done so and the outcome would likely have been the same. That part of the world is just too militarily and economically critical for the Jews to be left alone to get on with their Jewish lives – it's not like things are any different now, 2000 years on!

The percolation theory stuff is very interesting. I think it's extremely clear just from reading the New Testament that Judea in the first century was very close to the flashpoint. High levels of discontent in the society would be a good reason why the Romans reacted so very strongly to Jesus and the early Christians, for example.
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(no subject) - compilerbitch (8/15/05 02:09 pm)
livredor: portrait
From:livredor
Date:August 15th, 2005 02:48 pm (UTC)
14 hours after journal entry, 03:48 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Ooh, I like those examples. Thinking about how morality applies to populations is very much at the forefront of my mind at this time of year. The basic way the story is told is that the Jews (as a population) did bad things, like worshipping false gods and gratuitously hating eachother, and that's why God had to punish us with exile and destruction. But that's very problematic for me, because it's pretty obvious that in a situation like that, some good and many innocent people are going to suffer.
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(no subject) - compilerbitch (8/15/05 02:59 pm)
lumiere: default
From:lumiere
Date:August 17th, 2005 03:39 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 08:39 am (lumiere's time)
(Link)
The difference between snowflakes and any moral view of people is free will: the snowflakes have no choices, and people do.

Choice matters: whether to be inhospitable, to throw rocks, or to injure an animal for revenge. Those choices affect the settings for other choices; they might have interesting consequences.

We can argue whether some kind of probability theory applies to individual choices, and if so, we can look for statistical theories of mass behavior, i.e., Asimov's psychohistory, but ignoring those choices, and people's ability to make unlikely decisions (e.g., tzadiks), removes the moral culpability from the mass behavior, and makes it seem inevitable, mere history working itself out.

In this case, there are two questions we're discussing. First, in the instance, who was to blame for the destruction of Jerusalem, whether bar Kamtza in the story, or Nero in the history? Second, was the destruction inevitable given the situation at the time?

Regarding inevitability, we see that, since people make choices, the destruction is not inevitable until it has happened. Up until then, different (albeit surprising) choices could have averted it, the weather could have destroyed the Roman army's ability to make war, or other non-human factors could have come into play to prevent Jerusalem's destruction. And even were it aparently inevitable, that would not remove moral culpability for contributing to it, as we may generalize from the Jewish law that holds that murder is wrong even if the victim was already doomed, even if performed under threat of death, even if it is part of an attempt to save another life.

And on that reading, everyone in the story, and in the history, shares in the blame, from the the servant, to bar Kamtza, to the rabbis, to Caesar and the Roman generals, to the Roman soliders who followed orders. Everyone chose, and those choices resulted in what happened. Change the choices, and the story changes. Change a sufficient set of choices, and the second temple would still stand today.
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livredor: likeness
From:livredor
Date:August 20th, 2005 05:26 pm (UTC)
5 days after journal entry, 06:26 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Oh, I'd forgotten about the psychohistory concept of Asimov's! That's a really useful example of dealing with individual free will versus predictable population behaviour. Thanks for bringing that up.

Your more general points about blame and morality are cool too, really rigorously thought out. I think if you bring inevitability into things the issue gets convoluted, but you have a very powerful argument that bar Kamtza is still to blame even if the Romans were going to destroy Jerusalem anyway. And yes, everyone does share part of the blame, but that's somewhat of a fence-sitting option ;-)
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lumiere: default
From:lumiere
Date:August 18th, 2005 10:45 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 03:45 pm (lumiere's time)
(Link)
vorona quoted Maimonides today:
Each person must see himself as though the entire world were held in balance
and any deed he might do could tip the scales.


Given what we know about nonlinear systems, for certain crucial choices, that choice can tip the scales. And often we only realize the choice was crucial afterward.
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livredor: words
From:livredor
Date:August 20th, 2005 10:10 pm (UTC)
5 days after journal entry, 11:10 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Mm, I really like that view of morality / theology, yes. And this is a lovely way of linking that moral viewpoint to compilerbitch's systems model. I like to think that my moral approach has some kind of practically realistic basis.
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livredor: p53
From:livredor
Date:August 20th, 2005 03:38 pm (UTC)
5 days after journal entry, 04:38 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
I really like where you're going with this snowflake / avalanche metaphor, partly cos the concept of a 'god of snowflakes' is very cute! And it's a very interesting point about human psychology; people don't in general tend to have a good intuition for what sort of things can 'just happen' and it's very common to find people looking for spurious reasons. Some people turn to religious explanations but that's only one of several options.

Also, the way you're connecting individual behaviour with population consequences sounds very solid to me. Nice!
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lethargic_man: reflect
From:lethargic_man
Date:August 15th, 2005 03:41 pm (UTC)
15 hours after journal entry, 04:41 pm (lethargic_man's time)
(Link)
Well, Sinas chinom (baseless hatred) is a pretty good explanation of what caused the destruction of the Second Temple; as regards the destruction of the first, I'm not prepared to buy it. The OT is polemical and moralising, and blind to the wider historical context. It fails completely to make the necessary distinction between good king and good Israelite, thus King Menashe is portrayed as a very bad man, who suppressed the Israelite religion and filled the land with blood from one end to the other, whereas in actuality he was a master of realpolitik who managed to put the destruction of Judah off for another generation by swallowing his national pride and sucking up to the neighbouring superpowers.

The Bible inveighs against placing your trust in the Egyptians or Assyrians, but the fact of the matter was these two powers were sparring off against each other in a way which made it very difficult for the kingdom straddling the nomansland between the to survive. And whilst allying with the Egyptians turned out to be the bad thing to do, I don't think this could have been known in advance. Egypt had been a superpower in the region there for thousands of years; the thought that it might get conquered and have its power permanently broken was probably a pretty unthinkable one at the time.
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lumiere: default
From:lumiere
Date:August 17th, 2005 03:10 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 08:10 am (lumiere's time)
(Link)
Would neutrality have been a viable approach then? Vacate a route between the two powers, and remind each how bad it would be to allow the other to conquer you?

Naturally, it's a what-if, but those can be fun.
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lethargic_man: default
From:lethargic_man
Date:August 17th, 2005 08:48 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 09:48 pm (lethargic_man's time)
(Link)
Would neutrality have been a viable approach then? Vacate a route between the two powers, and remind each how bad it would be to allow the other to conquer you?

Not really; it's difficult to vacate a route when you're straddling the land bridge between continents. As for your second point, I think that would have been playing with fire, as each power would find out what you were saying to the other.

This was an era when long-established empires were succumbing to other players: first the Assyrians to the Neo-Babylonians, then the Babylonians to the Persians, then the Egyptians to the Persians; and when the one empire fell, there'd be no one to protect you from the other.
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lumiere: default
From:lumiere
Date:August 18th, 2005 08:05 am (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 01:05 am (lumiere's time)
(Link)
Mmm, yes, that play would require at least three adjacent empires to pull off, where the alliance of the others could defeat any individual empire.
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livredor: likeness
From:livredor
Date:August 15th, 2005 01:45 pm (UTC)
13 hours after journal entry, 02:45 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
I think you can make a very strong argument for it being the fault of the Romans, yeah. And I like the philosophical basis you give for that opinion: people are responsible for their own actions.

But it's certainly true that the Romans only acted as they did in response to the political situation. I agree it's still basically their fault, morally, but they didn't just spontaneously and arbitrarily destroy the Temple, they acted to prevent a revolt and hold their empire together. The Roman empire was big and there were only two cities, Carthage and Jerusalem, that got the utter destruction treatment. A lot of Roman provinces, including of course Britain, managed to coexist quite happily with Roman occupation. So maybe the Jews share some of the blame for the way they responded to occupation?
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(no subject) - compilerbitch (8/15/05 02:12 pm)
livredor: teapot
From:livredor
Date:August 15th, 2005 02:52 pm (UTC)
14 hours after journal entry, 03:52 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
OK, having the kind of social organization which tends to lead to instability is clearly not a moral fault as such. But the original story does seem to be talking a bit about the general social structures that were in place. The whole setup is very heavy on social drama (in the LJ sense), isn't it? I mean, this host has some kind of ongoing feud with bar Kamtza and they have a big public row, which has all kinds of repercussions because of the way their social networks are so heavily connected. Reminds me of *cough* certain groups of people we both know, n'est-ce pas?
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rho: default
From:rho
Date:August 15th, 2005 02:57 pm (UTC)
14 hours after journal entry, 03:57 pm (rho's time)
(Link)
Certainly the Jews contributed to things, yes, but then so did lots of other things/people/events. For instance, who's to say that the Romans weren't more eager to quash any uprisings early because of the events with Boudicca from about ten years previously, leading to decreased tolerance? Does that mean that it was Boudicca's fault? I'd say no.

If we're trying to follow strict causal chains then we have to consider all sorts of different events. Power struggles in the Roman senate leading to a particular man being in charge in Jerusalem at the time. His feeling of how a show of weakness or strength would reflect on him in those power struggles. The rise of Christianity, and resultant increases in intolerance from the Romans to religions other than their own. The famous butterfly which flapped its wings to alter weather patterns to cause a storm, to delay a ship, to make a delivery late, to sour the disposition of an officer, to....

You get my point, I'm sure. The Roman empire was vast, and decidedly non-linear, and the causal chains for any single event are hopelessly tangled and complicated.

Ultimately, though, I reject this sort of causality. The first reason is that it's inherently unsatisfying, because it means that pretty much everyone was responsible for everything. The second reason moves into the thorny free will and determinism debate. If I say it was the fault of Bar Kamtza, the host, or R Zechariah (or Boudicca, or Jesus, or the butterfly) then what I'm essentially saying (imo) is "this person altered the course of history, and set it down an irreversible path; from this point on the destruction of Jerusalem became inevitable". And I reject that, because that would mean that the Romans acted in a purely deterministic sense without any free will.

From a scientific standpoint, I'm not entirely sure where I stand on the issue, but when we're talking in terms of blame, fault and responsibility, we have to act as if it exists; if it doesn't then nobody is to blame, since all we have is history panning out as it was always going to.

So with that in mind, the only people who I can reasonably pin the blame on are the people who actually performed the actions themselves. (As an aside, I realise that this absolves people in government or command of responsibility for things done under their order. I reconcile this by saying that to tell someone to do something morally wrong is also morally wrong itself.)

For instance, consider R Zechariah. One could say that he was well aware that his actions could lead to the destruction of Jerusalem, and therefore that he was culpable. But I don't think that this argument holds water. For instance, I know that if I gave more money to charity, then it could probably be used to save lives. Or, to put it another way, I am aware that there's a high probability that hoarding my money could cause people to die. Does that make their deaths my fault, or does the blame stay with the people who pulled the triggers, or the government officials hoarding resources and starving their populace?

As I said, I don't think that the Jews involved in the story acted faultlessly. They certainly caused harm, but the harm that they caused was not the destruction of Jerusalem, so I don't think they can be blamed for that.
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pthalogreen: default
From:pthalogreen
Date:August 15th, 2005 09:28 am (UTC)
9 hours after journal entry, 11:28 am (pthalogreen's time)
(Link)
Because of this, the Temple was destroyed, and Jerusalem was burned, and the Jews were sent into exile.

Because of what? You don't say what they actually decided. That might affect the answer.
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livredor: letters
From:livredor
Date:August 15th, 2005 01:58 pm (UTC)
13 hours after journal entry, 02:58 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
That was quite deliberate! The text says it was "because of confusing Kamtza with bar Kamtza", which I take to mean, this whole incident that I just described. That's why I decided to represent it by a pronoun without a clear referent.

I did also mention that R Jochanan, the guy allegedly telling this story, thinks that it was because of "the excessive piety of R Zechariah"; if you want to go with authorial intent (which is always complicated in this sort of literature, but anyway), then that's the answer. My point is though that it's quite possible for someone reading this text to disagree with R Jochanan's interpretation.
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pthalogreen: default
From:pthalogreen
Date:August 15th, 2005 02:05 pm (UTC)
14 hours after journal entry, 04:05 pm (pthalogreen's time)
(Link)
Oh. What I was hoping for was did they decide to sacrifice the animal or not. I was thinking that the missing bit between those paragraphs would say that they decided to sacrifice it or decided not to sacrifice it. Personally, I would've said "this animal is unfit my Jewish laws for sacrifice because this man here has damaged it but here is one of our own that we are willing to sacrifice it is unblemished and fine and good and you can sacrifice your lamb which is fit by your laws for such a sacrifice together and we can all be happy.

So I was thinking it would turn out to be "because of the decision not to sacrifice the animal" or "because of the decision to sacrifice the animal" would be the end cause
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livredor: words
From:livredor
Date:August 15th, 2005 02:19 pm (UTC)
14 hours after journal entry, 03:19 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Oh, sorry, I misunderstood your question! I think the implication is that they decided to follow R Zechariah's view and refused to sacrifice the animal, and this led the Romans to believe they were about to rebel against Roman rule, and so the Romans destroyed everything. So this means you're going to vote for "the decision not to sacrifice the animal", I guess.

The trouble is that "the decision" is an impersonal thing. Is it R Zechariah's fault for presenting the argument, or the fault of the rest of the leaders for being swayed by his argument? (Could still be the fault of the Romans for not being tolerant enough to understand that the Jews have different laws about sacrifice from them, or the fault of bar Kamtza for setting up the whole rigged test of Jewish loyalty in the first place.)

I really like your solution. Very Baha'i, very working for unity! I think the problem with that approach is that it isn't always very workable when there's a huge imbalance of power. The occupied people can't negotiate on an equal level and make compromises with the occupiers who have a vast empire and army to enforce their way of doing things. (Can the abused wife make compromises and work for unity with her abusive husband? Should she? It's a hard question, isn't it?)
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pthalogreen: default
From:pthalogreen
Date:August 15th, 2005 03:34 pm (UTC)
15 hours after journal entry, 05:34 pm (pthalogreen's time)
(Link)
No, I just wanted to have all of the facts before making my decision. :)

I think in situations such as these it's difficult and wrong to place the blame on one specific person. The Romans did not know the Jewish laws or understand them and were under the impression that refusing to sacrifice the animal meant that they were planning to rebel. This information was incorrect, but it's what they had to work with. They made the ultimate choice and they have the responsibility for that but they did not have all the information at hand. They still could have tried to investigate the matter further.

The leaders who decided not to sacrifice the animal also did not have enough information available to make this decision. They did not know what was being planned or what was expected of them.

Bar Kamtza is at blame for a lot of what happened because in making such a big deal out of things, he brought ruin not only for his one enemy but for himself and his loved ones. Certainly they too were hurt by the outcome of this.

The original event, the mistake in inviting him and not the other guy to the thing was possibly the catalyst for the whole thing, but I certainly don't think we should consider whether our choice of party guests will bring about the downfall of the whole nation! There are too many variables and we cannot see that far ahead, how people will react to things. That's why it's important to nip things in the bud before they blow up.

You make a good point about the position of the occupied people in this whole mess and I agree that they are not in a position of power to make the Romans do whatever they wish. But they do have the option to ask and to learn as much as they can about the situation and offer solutions which the occupiers can accept or dismiss.

With the abused wife situation, it is often prudent for her to do what her husband asks of her to spare his anger and often to keep her alive. If you are attacked by a rapist, sometimes you are not strong enough to fight him off and get away and you have to submit and keep him pacified so as to get away alive at the first possible opportunity. It is not good to stay in this position for prolonged periods of time, but it is necessary to do it a little for survival. In this way, I do think the leaders should have sacrificed the animal if there was no choice for a bettter solution and while they made the sacrifice, to pray to God to see the entirity of the situation and to forgive the blemish on the animal in light of the circumstances.

And then there's the whole argument that if this is the way things worked out then maybe that's the way God intended because it was time for something new and greater to be built upon the ashes of an old civilisation or something, but I'm not sure what I think of that perspective.
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lethargic_man: reflect
From:lethargic_man
Date:August 15th, 2005 09:40 am (UTC)
9 hours after journal entry, 10:40 am (lethargic_man's time)
(Link)
Abban's. (Sorry, joke for rysmiel's benefit.

From my perspective, forget your Mishnaic parables and look at the history books. It was clearly the fault of lots of people. (Indeed, there's more answers to who started the Judaean revolt than who killed Jesus of Nazareth.)

However, I would single out in particular Gessus Florus, the last, appalling, Roman governor of Judaea; also the Jewish fundamentalists (Zealots and other movements) who provoked the rebellion and fanned its flames when the moderates wanted to make up with the Romans, then went on to wrest power in Jerusalem and put the moderate leaders to death, and then burned the city's stores, in order to encourage people to fight to relieve the siege of Jerusalem rather than negotiate a peace.

The real question, I think, was: why did the Roman occupation lead to the rise of the fundamentalists? To be sure, there was always going to be a clash between the Jewish and Roman worldviews, but until the last few decades, it was a low-level one. There was not any significant violence until about 30 CE; and it was only since then that the fundamentalists became a major influence.
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livredor: ewe
From:livredor
Date:August 15th, 2005 02:09 pm (UTC)
14 hours after journal entry, 03:09 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
From my perspective, forget your Mishnaic parables and look at the history books.
Thank you for reacting entirely in character! Though to be pedantic this is Gemara, not Mishnah, but anyway.

The thing is, I think the nimshal of this piece is pretty close to the sorts of conclusions you're drawing from your rational, historical approach. It was the fault of lots of people: yeah, that's why we have a whole parable where lots of people do blameworthy things! It was the fault of an appalling Roman governor: in the parable, they are represented by "Caesar", waiting to seize on the slightest excuse to move against Jerusalem. Presumably you weren't expecting Gemara to actually name names, were you? Caesar in this story may well be Gessus Florus; it can hardly mean the actual Caesar in Rome. It's the fault of the fundamentalists and Zealots: surely they are represented by R Zechariah, refusing to make any accommodation with Rome but insisting on the exact detail of the sacrificial laws even if it meant destruction.

And I think the parable is even considering the question of why there was such violent opposition to the Roman occupation at this particular time. Clearly, the Jewish community had really awful leadership, the rabbis being unable or unwilling to prevent the humiliation of a member of the community, and unable to stand up to the fundamentalists even though they have great superiority of numbers. And the fractured, unstable situation caused by bad leadership led to people like bar Kamtza becoming so disaffected they turned traitor.
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lethargic_man: reflect
From:lethargic_man
Date:August 15th, 2005 08:38 pm (UTC)
20 hours after journal entry, 09:38 pm (lethargic_man's time)
(Link)
Presumably you weren't expecting Gemara to actually name names, were you?

Why not? The Talmud does elsewhere (Gittin 56 for example names Vespasian (rendering it "Espasianos", as Hebrew at that time lacked the /w/ sound).) The Gemara was written several centuries later and outside of the Roman Empire, so there was no danger from misaligning the Romans. More likely the details had been forgotten. I think it's best to admit that this is a parable and not intended to represent what actually happened. Which is, as far as I can gather (the broad outline from the Judaica, the details from the Net of a Thousand Lies):

A delegation of Jews protested against a pagan sacrifice that was set deliberately in front of a synagogue in Caesarea. Florus promised the Jews his aid but reneged. He arrested the Jews who came to Sebaste for his aid and plundered 17 talents from the Temple treasury. The Jews responded by collecting money in the streets of Jerusalem "for the indigent procurator". Florus demanded those responsible to be handed over for punishment.

Berenice, sister of Agrippa II, tried to intercede. Florus ordered his soldiers to sack Jerusalem. For a while the leading citizens were able to calm the people but when Florus led his troops on the city, the Jews rose in arms.

In an act of defiance, the son of high priest Eleazar ben Hanania ceased prayers and sacrifices dedicated to the Roman Emperor at the Temple and subsequently led a successful attack on the Roman garrison stationed in Jerusalem. [This Eleazar seems to have been a Zealot though his father the High Priest was a moderate.] Gittin 56a attributes this act, which was as formal a start to the revolt as it got, to Zechariah ben Avkilus, whom Josephus describes as the second most prominent leader of the Zealots.

The pro-Roman king Agrippa II and his sister Berenice fled Jerusalem to Galilee, where later they gave themselves up to Romans. Cestius Gallus, the legate of Syria, brought reinforcements to restore order, but lost nearly his entire legion (about 6,000 soldiers) at Beit-Horon while retreating. A provisional government was set up which united under its rule the whole of Jewish Erez Israel.

The emperor Nero could not remain indifferent to events in Judaea and dispatched a huge Roman army under the command of Vespasian to suppress the revolt.

Antipas of the house of Herod tried to stop the rebels at the outbreak of the revolt and was killed by the Zealots.

Joshua b. Gamla and Anan b. Anan castigated the powers in Jerusalem for their indifference to this and incites them against the Zealots. The Zealots, who had control of the Temple Mount, gained that of the whole of Jerusalem with the help of an Idumaean army and put to death these two, along with Goryon b. Joseph. Exeunt moderates, and any chance of making up with the Romans.
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rysmiel: vacant and in pensive mood
From:rysmiel
Date:August 15th, 2005 08:04 pm (UTC)
20 hours after journal entry, 04:04 pm (rysmiel's time)
(Link)
The real question, I think, was: why did the Roman occupation lead to the rise of the fundamentalists? To be sure, there was always going to be a clash between the Jewish and Roman worldviews, but until the last few decades, it was a low-level one. There was not any significant violence until about 30 CE; and it was only since then that the fundamentalists became a major influence.

There seems to be a tendency for religions to do what would in other times be considered peculiar things when interacting with an overwhelmingly large society in the process of losing momentum in some ways, which is something I would really like to know enough about to think about systemically. Apart from the situation currently under discussion, with which I'm not very familiar other than through reading your journal and the particular bit of in-that-context weirdness that became Christianity, I'm thinking of the spread of things like Mithraism and similar mystery cults that ended up with Christianity becoming the state religion of Rome; of the religious extrems arising around the Russian Revolution, Rasputin being the best known example; of the way in which the variety of existing Native American religions seem to fit onto something like this pattern if one views them as splinters/fringe outgrowths in the context of a presumed established religion in the mound-builder culture [ which connects on to what I was saying to livredor last week about spiking ecosystems as a consequence of collapse ]; and in a more than slightly scary way, to the metastasis of effectively post-Christian religion in the US in the moment, much of which still claims the name of Christianity. I think there's something real here, but I have too few pieces of the picture to say anything about it with any degree of certainty.
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lethargic_man: default
From:lethargic_man
Date:August 15th, 2005 08:36 pm (UTC)
20 hours after journal entry, 09:36 pm (lethargic_man's time)
(Link)
Gosh; I started disagreeing with you there, but by the time I got to the end I'd found myself coming around to your view. Let me know if you manage to make more of a synthesis of that.
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kassrachel: ehyeh
From:kassrachel
Date:August 15th, 2005 11:33 am (UTC)
11 hours after journal entry
(Link)
Bearing in mind that my approach to Tisha b'Av is unorthodox (I regard it as a day for mourning our distance from God, for which the destruction of the Temple is a useful synecdoche -- but I wouldn't undo the Diaspora and return to Temple sacrifice even if we could)...

I think it was the host's fault. His behavior showed a complete lack of compassion, which set the whole bitter chain in motion.

(That said, it's also bar Kamtza's fault, for taking such a minor slight and turning it into such a tragedy.)
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livredor: words
From:livredor
Date:August 15th, 2005 02:34 pm (UTC)
14 hours after journal entry, 03:34 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Bearing in mind that my approach to Tisha b'Av is unorthodox
Very much with you on that one! I think the orthodox (Orthodox?) answer to the question is: Because of our sins we were exiled from our land..., which I really struggle with and I came to this piece from the starting point of that moral difficulty.

I regard it as a day for mourning our distance from God, for which the destruction of the Temple is a useful synecdoche -- but I wouldn't undo the Diaspora and return to Temple sacrifice even if we could)...
I have a lot of time for that approach, thank you. (Plus you used the word synecdoche in a reasonable sentence, which is very cool!) I think what I'm mourning is more gratuitous hatred than the destruction of the Temple per se. I do agree with you about reversing the Diaspora and rebuilding the Temple, but even with that approach it's possible to regret and mourn the human misery our ancestors suffered when the destruction actually happened.

I think it was the host's fault. His behavior showed a complete lack of compassion, which set the whole bitter chain in motion.
I agree the host behaved very reprehsensibly. And I think in metaphorical terms he represents a population that had lost touch with the basic moral values of hospitality and courtesy and, yes, compassion. But he couldn't possibly have known that being rude to a guest would lead to the destruction of Jerusalem. He still shouldn't have done it, but I'm not sure he can be blamed, even if it was his action that, on a physical level, started the escalating consequences.

(That said, it's also bar Kamtza's fault, for taking such a minor slight and turning it into such a tragedy.)
He acted much more knowingly than the host; he deliberately intended to provoke the Romans into taking catastrophic action. I'm not sure what he went through was a minor slight; he was publicly humiliated in front of the community leaders! His reaction was certainly not reasonable, but was it really disproportionate? I think he did have a right to be upset.

Interestingly, the person who taught me this originally (unfortunately I can't now remember who it was) said that children typically pick bar Kamtza whereas teenagers typically pick the host. Children are more likely to be looking for an obvious, personal villain, and bar Kamtza makes an appropriate bad guy like the ones that show up in fairy tales or cartoons. Whereas teenagers are likely to be exquisitely sensitive to social exclusion and humiliation.
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lumiere: default
From:lumiere
Date:August 15th, 2005 03:43 pm (UTC)
15 hours after journal entry, 08:43 am (lumiere's time)
(Link)
There's a huge biblical focus on hospitality, both in story--Avram feeding the angels, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah--and in the mitzvot, particularly those regarding strangers and remembering that we were strangers in a strange land. Given that context, blame falls on all who were present at the party for lack of hospitality to bar Kamtza, and we have seen with Sodom that G-d will destroy a city on on the basis of a widespread lack of hospitality.

If the rabbis knew the Romans were using the sacrificial animal as a test, and I read the story as indicating they may well have, then the commandment to save a life even if it means breaking other commandments may also come into play, and if so, then the rabbis are at fault for agreeing with R Zechariah. R Zechariah is not at fault for arguing the position he did; the others are at fault for agreeing.
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livredor: words
From:livredor
Date:August 15th, 2005 08:38 pm (UTC)
20 hours after journal entry, 09:38 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Ooh, hospitality, good point. The whole setup seems to be treating hospitality as the foundation of a morally decent society. And I like the comparison with Sodom; probably not one that would fly very well in traditional circles, but it's a very nice connection.

I think the rabbis did know that the sacrifice was a political test. If it was just a blemished animal there would be no real debate: obviously they wouldn't sacrifice it. And the fact they also suggested killing bar Kamtza in order to prevent him from informing on them any further does strongly imply that they knew that there would be really bad consequences to refusing the sacrifice.

It's also a good point that they should have made saving life take priority over correctness in bringing sacrifices (and certainly over worrying about giving a false impression by agreeing to offer an unfit sacrifice!) However, this is first century so it's before the halachic position on that had become fixed. And there seems to have been something of a pro-martyrdom atmosphere at the time, something else that fits in with the idea that there was a lot of fanaticism and internal trouble. I mean, you know about R Akiba and his parable of the fox and the fish and what happened to him in the end, right?

Also like the view that R Zechariah was right to present his argument even if the argument was itself wrong in the long term. That's the way the system is supposed to be working, isn't it? R Jochanan blames R Zechariah, but really, if he was in a minority of one the other rabbis should certainly have overruled him.
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lumiere: default
From:lumiere
Date:August 17th, 2005 02:59 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 07:59 am (lumiere's time)
(Link)
I do know what happened to R Akiba, but I do not recall the parable. Please, remind me?

Certainly that's how I think debates are supposed to work: you bring up arguments, even the ones you don't agree with, in order to evaluate them properly.

I'm going to tie in hospitality with the statistical views of history that others have mentioned, but I'll do it in a comment over there.

Also, thanks for the discussion. It's fascinating.
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beckyzoole: default
From:beckyzoole
Date:August 15th, 2005 04:00 pm (UTC)
15 hours after journal entry, 11:00 am (beckyzoole's time)
(Link)
Given the parameters of the story, I blame the rabbis that led the Jewish community. (Although outside of the story I would blame the Romans for misgoverning and mismanaging the province, leading to rebellion and the response.)

It seems to me that the rabbis were halachically obligated to sacrifice the animal to save lives. Moreover, I have always wondered why they didn't just substitute a different calf. The substitution could have been done surreptitiously, or even openly with a bit of subservient explanation that only the best would do for Caesar.

The rabbis were more concerned with their reputations than for the safety of the people. They showed themselves to be unfit leaders. Into that power vacuum came Zealots and rebels, followed inexorably by destruction and death.
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livredor: words
From:livredor
Date:August 15th, 2005 08:54 pm (UTC)
20 hours after journal entry, 09:54 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Given the parameters of the story, I blame the rabbis that led the Jewish community.
A nice distinction, yes. This story is after all part of rabbinic literature and I think the rabbis of the Gemara would connect themselves with the rabbis in the story. (Factually, I'm not sure the rabbis really had much direct power before the destruction of the Temple; the real leaders may have been the priests and lay authorities.) So either they're saying: we screwed up, or: our predecessors were bad leaders but we've learnt better now.

Although outside of the story I would blame the Romans for misgoverning and mismanaging the province, leading to rebellion and the response.)
I think you're possibly right there. The story itself doesn't really allow for the explanation: there was nothing we could do about it, it was just the Romans being nasty. They're working in the mindset that the Temple was destroyed because of something that we, the Israelites, did wrong. It's interesting that nobody so far has chosen to blame God, because that's an option that does quite often come up when this story is being discussed!

It seems to me that the rabbis were halachically obligated to sacrifice the animal to save lives.
OK, so you agree with lumiere's view on this. There's a lot to be said for that argument, yes.

Moreover, I have always wondered why they didn't just substitute a different calf.
Very good suggestion! I think at least part of the reason is that they were poor leaders, they really weren't thinking creatively or even really looking for ways to avert the Roman crackdown. They certainly have other options besides the ones they discuss in the story.

The rabbis were more concerned with their reputations than for the safety of the people. They showed themselves to be unfit leaders.
Yes, very much so! This is close to the reasoning hatam_soferet came up with when we were studying this together. She's had far too much personal experience of a Jewish leadership who care more about their reputation for being really frum than the exigencies of the situation. And I do think it's very telling that the argument is not: it would be wrong to sacrifice a blemished animal / kill bar Kamtza, but rather: people might think we were the sort of people who...

Into that power vacuum came Zealots and rebels, followed inexorably by destruction and death.
That quite nicely synthesizes the more religious view with the more historical, rationalist one, I think. Also, the rabbis were already terrible leaders at the beginning of the story, when they failed to speak up against bar Kamtza's humiliation.
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beckyzoole: default
From:beckyzoole
Date:August 18th, 2005 07:04 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 02:04 pm (beckyzoole's time)
(Link)
On further thought, I'm starting to see the host and Bar Kamtza as analogous to the leadership of the Jewish people at the time.

Bar Kamtza was infuriated because he was humiliated -- it was how he looked to others, what other people thought of him, that was most important. This parallels what the rabbis said "Do we want people to think we're the kind of people who'd..." etc.

Bar Kamtza made suggestions to save face (paying the host, etc), just as the rabbis made suggestions to get around the problem Bar Kamtza had created. But neither Bar Kamtza nor the rabbis could swallow their pride enough to make the peace-making, appeasing gestures that seem obvious to me. (Just go home, Bar Kamtza! Just substitute a different calf, rabbis!)
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elemy: default
From:elemy
Date:August 15th, 2005 04:44 pm (UTC)
16 hours after journal entry
(Link)
My gut reaction is that it's all just unfortunate, and that blame is devisive and unnecessary etc. but that if I had to blame someone it would be bar Kamtza, as in disfiguring the calf he performed the only act that was both deliberately aimed at the destruction of Jerusalem, and not in any way dictated by circumstances.
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livredor: teapot
From:livredor
Date:August 15th, 2005 09:05 pm (UTC)
21 hours after journal entry, 10:05 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Do you mean in the sense that the Romans had a justification for acting as they did, whereas bar Kamtza had no moral justification for inciting them to destroy Jerusalem? I definitely hold bar Kamtza culpable, but whether he is the most responsible is debatable. It's a very personal view of history, it makes individuals' actions supremely important. Blaming bar Kamtza seems a little like saying that the guy who shot Archduke Ferdinand personally caused WWI. It's not quite analogous, cos the assassin wasn't deliberately trying to cause a world war, but still.
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wychwood: serious science
From:wychwood
Date:August 15th, 2005 06:32 pm (UTC)
18 hours after journal entry
(Link)
Hey, is that the time of Masada? I remember studying that in Latin class...

I think it was the Romans' fault, because they destroyed the temple!

This is tricky, because there are so many pieces of information we don't have. For instance, although the guy who threw bar Kamtza out of the party was mean, we don't know why they were enemies... say bar Kamtza had killed his son or something, you can see why he wouldn't let him stay at the party even if he *did* offer to pay. Because that's just not the point.

Or maybe it's the servant's fault, for inviting the wrong person? Because, really, that's a pretty stupid mistake.
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livredor: likeness
From:livredor
Date:August 15th, 2005 09:18 pm (UTC)
21 hours after journal entry, 10:18 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
It's very close to the time of Masada, yeah. There were some Zealots in Masada already by 70, but they only became a significant threat to the Romans after a whole load more ended up there, having been expelled from Jerusalem. So the successful siege of Masada was the Romans finishing up what they'd started by destroying Jerusalem, basically, crushing the last remaning rebel enclave.

Another vote for blaming the Romans. Makes sense, cos taking the historical view it does seem like most of this was their fault and they were going to do something at some point anyway, no matter how the Jews acted.

I'm glad someone thought of blaming the servant! That implies an interesting view of morality. Yes, in a literal sense, his mistake was what started everything else. But I think it's hard to sat that it was his fault, because (even if he deliberately muddled the order as opposed to just making an innocent mistake) he couldn't possibly have forseen that this would lead to such terrible consequences. Also, didn't the host have some responsibility to make his orders a bit clearer? If my mortal enemy had the same name as my close friend, I'd probably want to point that out when giving instructions relating to one of them!

I don't think it's in much doubt that the host in the story was a mean guy. Yeah, he could have had some justification for hating bar Kamtza, I suppose. But I think the way the story omits any mention of the background behind their feud is significant. The traditional explanation of what was wrong with the Jews that led to the destruction and exile was gratuitous hatred, and I strongly suspect that this story is meant to be an example of such gratuitous hatred. The point is not whether what the host did was morally right; I think it's pretty clear that it wasn't. The point is whether we can reasonably blame the host for the whole catastrophe.
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quizcustodet: default
From:quizcustodet
Date:August 15th, 2005 07:27 pm (UTC)
19 hours after journal entry, 08:27 pm (quizcustodet's time)
(Link)
Some fault lies on the host of the original party, for making a scene - provided the presence of a guest is not making other guests uncomfortable,a host is rude to ask them to leave. Because this was wrong, the rabbis are also at fault, for not speaking reason to the short-tempered host.

But free will remains despite rudeness, so bar-K is culpable for setting up the loyalty test and then rigging it. I'd say that this act has the majority of the responsibility for the Temple's destruction and the diaspora, given the situation presented.

Lesser fault lies with the rabbis who listened to Zechariah. I'm not familiar with the rules regarding sacrifices: is the intent really to prohibit sacrifices with man-made (rather than Divine) blemishes? Even if so, it doesn't seem to tax the ingenuity to explain that _that_ sacrifice was unsuitable, and to make a larger sacrifice of fit animals for the glory of Rome and the Emperor.

But bar-K is the one carrying the most blame IMHO.
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livredor: letters
From:livredor
Date:August 18th, 2005 08:43 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 09:43 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Ooh, interesting analysis, thank you! I agree that the host behaved badly and that the rabbis at the party should have spoken out. But I would have a hard time jumping from that to the whole tragedy being the host's fault. What he did was wrong, yes, but not because he indirectly caused the destruction of Jerusalem, but because it's morally wrong to treat your fellow human beings like that.

I like your argument in favour of blaming bar Kamtza. Yes, he was badly treated, but he had the option whether or not to react in vengeful way, particularly in such a hugely destructive way. That's very much in tune with the way I look at responsibility.

I'm not familiar with the rules regarding sacrifices: is the intent really to prohibit sacrifices with man-made (rather than Divine) blemishes?
I don't think the rules were really intended to cover that kind of situation, because there wasn't an expectation that people would go about deliberately making blemishes on perfect animals. But it would have been difficult for the rabbis to argue that way, I think. Generally the rabbinic legal system works by precedent rather than by trying to guess the intention of the laws; after all, they are believed to be Divine in origin and you don't normally try to second guess God's intentions. It seems pretty clear to me that a calf deliberately blemished by bar Kamtza is more analogous to a calf that happened to be born with a blemish, than it is to a sacrificially acceptable calf.

The argument that would have been open to them would have been more along the lines of: the principle of preventing widespread death, destruction and exile outweighs the principle that only perfect animals can be sacrificed. Or they could, as you and others have suggested, have found a workround that would have satisfied both their consciences and the Romans (assuming the Romans were prepared to be even vaguely reasonable, which is doubtful.)

Didn't they have free will in the same way as bar Kamtza, though? Yes, he set up the situation, but they had the opportunity to defuse the worst consequences of his actions and they didn't do that. The same argument that makes bar Kamtza more culpable than the host might conceivably make the rabbis equally culpable as bar Kamtza; he didn't force them to make a politically stupid decison.
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quizcustodet: default
From:quizcustodet
Date:August 18th, 2005 10:30 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 11:30 pm (quizcustodet's time)
(Link)
(Forgive typos - am working from loreid's Italian keyboard. shreena describes my expression at the typos thus occasioned as being like someone who's lost a limb when the keyboard doesn't behave as I expect)

But I would have a hard time jumping from that to the whole tragedy being the host's fault. What he did was wrong, yes, but not because he indirectly caused the destruction of Jerusalem, but because it's morally wrong to treat your fellow human beings like that.

I'm not a philosopher, so definition of terms is not my forte. But when I said that it was his fault, I really meant that his action was both responsible to some degree for the ensuing tragedy and wrong. That doesn't mean that I think he bears full culpability, more that he was wrong.

The argument that would have been open to them would have been more along the lines of: the principle of preventing widespread death, destruction and exile outweighs the principle that only perfect animals can be sacrificed. Or they could, as you and others have suggested, have found a workround that would have satisfied both their consciences and the Romans (assuming the Romans were prepared to be even vaguely reasonable, which is doubtful.)

Didn't they have free will in the same way as bar Kamtza, though? Yes, he set up the situation, but they had the opportunity to defuse the worst consequences of his actions and they didn't do that. The same argument that makes bar Kamtza more culpable than the host might conceivably make the rabbis equally culpable as bar Kamtza; he didn't force them to make a politically stupid decison.


Interestingly, until I read the other comments (after I'd written out my response) I didn't actually consider the response of the Romans as being something that was alterable. I thought that was a given of the scenario. If sacrifice then peace; if no sacrifice then Masada.

I view the position of the rabbis as similar to those in an entrapment investigation - they're responsible for their actions but they wouldn't have been in the situation without bar-K's action. As bar-K is the only one who acted with malice, I put the blame largely with him.

Ok - have tired shreena and loreid wanting to go to bed, so must go. Hope that clarifies my reasoning.
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ajollypyruvate: Pondering
From:ajollypyruvate
Date:August 16th, 2005 06:29 am (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, August 15th, 2005 11:29 pm (ajollypyruvate's time)
(Link)
*sits in the corner, twiddling thumbs while listening with great interest*

:D
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livredor: teeeeeeeeea
From:livredor
Date:August 18th, 2005 08:45 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 09:45 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Aww, please do join in! There are lots of people in this discussion who know no more than you do about the historical and religious background. And I want to know what you think.

Also, in this kind of story, the person sitting in the corner listening intently but not saying anything often turns out to be a great sage. Seriously, I'm glad you're enjoying the discussion at least.
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ixwin: default
From:ixwin
Date:August 16th, 2005 01:31 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 02:31 pm (ixwin's time)
(Link)
I agree that it seems likely that something was going to trigger the Romans into acting sooner or later. However, I'd put the majority of the blame for it happening at this particular moment on bar-Kamtza.

As well as the fact that making the blemish on the animal is an act of premeditated malice, in a way that no-one else's behaviour is, I'm actually querying bar-Kamtza's motives from quite early on. Why did he want to go to a party at his mortal enemies house (did it not occur to him to double-check with the servant if it was really him that was meant), and why - on it being confirmed that he was not welcome - was he so determined to stay? Had he left quietly and with dignity as soon as the host told him to, he would have avoided being bodily thrown out of the house, and probably attracted quite a lot of sympathy and support as a result of the host's rudeness. Or he could have turned immediately to the rabbis when the host told him to get out, and asked them what they thought of the host's behaviour - perhaps that would have spurred them into rebuke instead of just sitting there. Just going away and brooding and then seeking disproportionate revenge seems like very immature behaviour.
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livredor: letters
From:livredor
Date:August 18th, 2005 08:48 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 09:48 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
OK, this seems a very comprehensive checklist of reasons why bar Kamtza is thoroughly not a nice guy! He did nothing at all right from the beginning of the story, you're quite right there. And I think your distinction between the overall thrust of history, and the particular timing of what happened, does give you more leeway to blame bar Kamtza as an individual than might otherwise be available. I'm leaning towards being convinced by this presentation!
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