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    Kamtza & Bar-Kamtza: Who was the culprit? – Tishah B’Av

    KamtzaTishah B’Av every year predictably evokes the story of Kamtza and Bar-Kamtza, two men with similar names who were involved in events which are said to have brought about the destruction of the Temple, which is the catastrophe commemorated by Tishah B’Av.

    The story is told at least twice in rabbinic literature, in the Talmud in Gittin 55b/56a, and in the Midrash in Echah Rabbah 4:3.

    This is the story.

    Towards the end of the Second Temple period, a certain Jew made a banquet and sent his servant to invite his friend Kamtza. The servant got it wrong and conveyed the invitation to Bar-Kamtza, who was his master’s enemy.

    Presumably surprised, Bar-Kamtza promptly turned up at the banquet.

    Seeing him there, the host was enraged and wanted to throw him out. Bar-Kamtza felt humiliated and said he would pay for the cost of his dinner if he were allowed to stay. When rebuffed, Bar-Kamtza even offered to pay for the whole banquet, but this too was refused by the host.

    Noting that a number of sages were present and that they did not rise up in protest at his treatment, Bar-Kamtza now went to the Roman authorities and spun them a yarn about Jewish plans to foment a rebellion.

    The question we ask is to who was to blame for the fiasco – the host, Kamtza, or Bar-Kamtza… or maybe the servant?

    It couldn’t have been Kamtza, who wasn’t even there, but was it the host – or Bar-Kamtza?

    The host couldn’t have imagined that Bar-Kamtza would betray the Jews to the Romans, fabricate an accusation, and in general over-react.

    Bar-Kamtza could have handled the situation more diplomatically, but surely he did really try to quieten things down by offering to pay.

    Was the host the one who was wrong, in that he could have realised that his servant had made a mistake and decided to live with it?

    Was it the servant who was wrong, in that he either misheard his master or maybe even thought he could mend the fences between the people concerned?

    All these possibilities are valid, but maybe the real culprit was the sages, who should have recognised the sensibilities of everyone involved and the fragility of the situation, and made a greater effort to achieve a reasonably amicable solution.

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