Bar Kamtza was a bad Jew

Bar Kamtza might have been the first asajew, and the guy who threw Bar Kamtza out of his party and ostensibly set off the chain of events that led to the destruction of the Second Temple and our current ongoing galus gets a bad rap.

In fact, the educational taking point most often promulgated — that this incident of public shaming was the paradigm of the sinat chinam that was the primary sin for which the Churban was the punishment — is, to my mind, overemphasized, particularly light of the subsequent events in the Churban narrative in TB Gittin 55-58. 

For starters, one could surmise that Bar Kamtza knew he was going where he was not wanted, and still felt entitled to be there, based on the fact that he was likely rich (hence his offer to pay for everyone at the party — why couldn’t he just leave quietly?  In fact, maybe one should praise the host for sticking to his principles and not taking Bar Kamtza’s bribe).  Furthermore, he was apparently connected (how else would he have so quickly obtained an audience with a Roman procurator and convinced him that the Jews were rebelling?). And — like some of today’s progressive asajews — he knew enough minimal Jewish law and ethics to use against his own people.

One possible other Biblical parallel gives a hint to Bar Kamtza’s character: while the Talmud hints that G-d destroyed his Temple on account of Bar Kamtza’s humiliation, elsewhere the Talmud notes that Bilaam’s talking donkey was slain by the angel after she had repeatedly humiliated Bilaam in front of Balak’s advisers.  G-d seems to have taken into account the kavod habriot of both Bilaam and Bar Kamtza to the extent that can draw a parallel between them, and it might further explain why Bilaam’s spirit, enduring the eternal torment of boiling in a pot of semen, makes a cameo appearance in TB Gittin’s Churban narrative: Bilaam, who held himself out as a no-borders guy (Bilaam = b’li am) while selling himself to the highest national bidder, would likely have marveled at the power of Bar Kamtza’s willingness to sell out his own, and would certainly have cheered the devastating results.

In fact — as further evidence of of the tenuousness of the “embarrassed!!!” talking point — the Talmud rather cryptically states “Jerusalem was destroyed on account of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza”, but later in the same narrative it states rather unequivocally “Rabbi Yoḥanan says: the excessive humility of Rabbi Zekharya ben Avkolas destroyed our Temple, burned our Sanctuary, and exiled us from our land.”  Rabbi Zekharya ben Avkolas wouldn’t take either of two halachically salient courses of action because either one might be misinterpreted; his colleagues were too intimidated to say anything until it was too late; and the ostensibly humiliated Bar Kamtza took advantage and got the best revenge of all, by gaslighting a Jerusalem already on the precipice into destroying itself. 

Essentially, a lot of this narrative resembles elements of asajew progressivism: the self-destructive impetus to tie one’s own hands for the sake of appearances; the fear of those who know better to speak out; and the fact the ultimate aims aren’t constructive, but suicidal.

There has been a lot of crosstalk recently vis-a-vis how to relate to ostensibly anti-Jewish Jews, especially those who are publicly and near-dogmatically anti-Zionist, and whether such people are “Bad Jews”.  One can’t necessary write off a large segment of the Jewish population even if they harbor well-nigh indefensible viewpoints; but one CAN, and must, however, call out AND write off the leaders and public figures at the forefront, and certainly the organizations who have misappropriated everything about Judaisms for their own gain, as if their boards were comprised of Bar Kamtza’s.

It is also telling that one progressive complainant plucked possibly the most prominent anti-Jewish Jews and listed them as paradigms of “progressive social justice Jews” while wondering why one would think they “don’t care about Jews or the Jewish people as much as Zionists do?”.  It further illustrates how most progressives and progressivism eschew logic for self-contained, self-proclaimed dogma, and how this has infected Jewish progressivism.   The issue isn’t that they don’t love Jews: they just love the Jews’ declared mortal terrorist enemies a little more.  (That’s why they say kaddish for them.)

So: if publicly supporting Hamas and Hezbollah doesn’t make one a bad Jew; if lending your academic prestige to write a forward to a book by a Holocaust denier doesn’t make you a bad Jew; if being essentially the go-to pundit for antisemites looking for cover from asajews because you regret your initial support for Gulf War II and have decided to blame it on Israel doesn’t make you a bad Jew…one could stop asking who’s side you’ve taken.  It’s not ours.

The aforementioned progressive asks: “will they be threatened by a few Zionist hegemonists casting doubt on their Jew cred?”  Hardly.  Even as they protest too much, the authentic Judaic implications of their treachery likely bother them not a bit.  Plus,  asajew progressivism carries a lot of media cachet in the current zeitgeist, so there’s no barrier to asajews self-arrogating themselves “Jew cred” no matter what the facts are; the media ecosystem will award them gold stars for it.

The leader of one of the more prominent antisemitic Jewish organizations once proclaimed that if he and his fellow travelers weren’t heeded, “we’d leave the community” (newsflash: you have forfeited your place in it).  In this sense progressives resemble the biryonim of the Churban narrative in Gittin, who would rather have burned down two decades worth of stored food to sustain the besieged Jerusalem rather than tolerate a deviation from their absolutist agenda.  (Although, unlike Bar Kamtza and the biryonim, asajews might countenance a Churban if someone other than themselves or other Jews were insulted.)

I once had a friend in college who had rather publicly gone “off the derech”, but got up in front of shul in our Hillel one Shabbos after davening to give a dvar Torah about the Tzibbur, and how the Tzadi, Bet, and Resh of Tzibbur represented the Tzaddikim [righteous], Benonim [middlers] and resha’im [wicked], and how they all made an integral part of the community.  After his speech I shook his hand and gave him a yasher koach, and then said “where do the porshim [separators] fit in?”  He laughed — he knew I’d called him on it.

In fact, the proper term for these asajews isn’t porshim.

It’s bogdim.

Bad Jews.

About the Author
Jon Taub is an ex-Upper West Sider, now-married Riverdalean who has two MA's, plays three instruments, and consults for biostartups.
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