Joel Cohen

I am Bar Kamtza

The sky was a clear, azure blue that morning, as I returned home a short distance, perhaps 2000 cubits, from the Temple Mount. I, (David) Bar Kamtza, had just, moments before, offered a sacrifice to God in thanks to Him on the occasion of our daughter Ariel’s joyous engagement to Joshua. They came to us the night before – the beautiful, ingenuous basherte couple that they are. The humble Joshua, on his knees with tears of joy in his eyes, beckoned me for her hand. I was ebullient and proud: a fine young man, a kohane from a righteous, charitable family had chosen Ariel to be his wife.

As the sun was still rising that morning, with my unblemished calf in tow, I cooled myself in the breeze to recover from my arduous, uphill walk to Mount Moriah to a site alongside the fortress-like outer wall of the Temple. It was a wall – I would come to call it “hakotel” – built by the-then Roman tetrarch Herod, ostensibly a Jewish convert. It stood as an ever-present reminder of precisely who was always in charge.

There, I would ask Joshua (whom, I knew, would be due at his post early that morning as a kohane) to slaughter the calf for us at the mizbeach in gratitude to God for our family’s good fortune that day. My wife, Elisheva, as always, would best articulate the deep emotion of our unified hearts: how could life, especially that day, be any better to us?  Even the confounding presence of Rome in the daily life of the Hebrews in Jerusalem could not overcome our sublime existence: we who walked and lived in the shadow of the Mount of Olives and were gifted to inhale the sweet, savory aroma of a sacrifice’s smoke as it wafted upward toward the heavens.

Upon my arrival home, Elisheva joyfully came to the door and placed in my hand a beautifully engraved invitation, delivered by the servant of one certain man, to a banquet to be held that very evening at his home. That man was Yonatan – the name itself had ironically reminded us both in days past of the precious and saintly love between David and Yonatan of old. Yonatan had been my treasured friend so long ago but, for some reason unknown to me, he had come to turn against me. He somehow perceived me as a blood enemy, and I, in turn, succumbed to reciprocate his feelings in kind.

Seeing the engraved invitation, my mind began to rustle in all directions. For me, though, given our family’s simchah that we were celebrating at the moment, the forgiveness from any friend whom I had somehow offended would, on this special day in my existence, have made my life seem perfect! The ability to receive forgiveness was, to me, almost as dear as having the capacity to extend it.  And it seemed, almost immediately, that “forgiveness” had come my way.

My mind started various replays of different segments of our long lasting relationship. What had I done? Perhaps I had recklessly spoken lashon hara about him, and he came to learn of it. Or he observed me gazing lasciviously, albeit unintentionally, at his beautiful wife.  Was it that my business successes had eclipsed his and caused him to be embarrassed –  reduced in our community?  Maybe it was that Yonatan had filed (what seemed to me) an implausible suit against my cousin before the Bet Din, and Yonatan came to learn that I, ostensibly in compromise of my relationship with him, had secretly but in deference to my consanguinity with my cousin, advised my cousin to use his influence to deliberately delay the Bet Din’s judgment.

Or, perhaps he came to believe that somehow he had offended me, rather than the other way around, and that he invited me to the banquet in attempt to cool my ardor – to assuage my bruised feelings.

Whatever it was, though, in having sent me this invitation it seemed as if Yonatan had now decided to let bygones be gone – assuming, I imagine, that in return so would I. And I would! Happily.  The “perfect day” that everyone longs for had thus arrived at my threshold. As was traditional, I planned to bring my family to the banquet and therewith proudly introduce my future son-in-law, Joshua hakohane, to the world, and immediately told him that he would accompany us.

Elisheva and I embraced, deciding jointly that another sacrifice to God was surely due Him for our latest good fortune. While Elisheva rushed to the marketplace to purchase a gift for our host, I quickly walked to the edge of my field where my lambs and calves would come to graze in order to seek out an even more perfect offering for Joshua to sacrifice at our behest the very next morning. I planned to employ Joshua’s newly-minted relationship with me to ensure that there would be no envy among the kohanim when I would arrive a second day at the Temple asking that Joshua, rather than another, be “my” kohane. Word had it that one kohane had tragically killed another, envious that another had taken his place at the mizbeach.  Envy is a weed that must not be watered!

When I reached the remote corner of my field, that special lamb I would select stood stoically, blithely unaware of what the future might hold for him. Sadly for him, the lamb would indeed become a sacrificial lamb – although, at the last moment, I selected an unblemished calf in his stead when I observed that the lamb suffered from a blemish that would make him unacceptable upon the altar. That imperfection would be the implement – maybe God’s intervention – to save the lamb’s life. My fate, though, indeed the fate of all of Israel, would ultimately prove to be far different, and, although I did not yet know it, the House of Israel would come to learn how the deliberate act of actually imposing imperfection would ultimately prove to be disastrous.

When I returned home, I placed the calf in a pen beside our home to maintain its flawlessness in anticipation of my trip to the Temple the following morning. Elisheva had just returned from the marketplace. She gleefully showed me, still unwrapped, the gift she purchased for Yonatan, knowing he sincerely revered the Kohane Gadol, whom he had actually befriended. The gift was an expensive reproduction of a portrait of that princely man who served as appointed intermediary between the House of Israel and God Himself, particularly on Yom Kippur. The gift, lesser facsimiles of which I had seen before, was exceptional; the rabbis – indeed, the Pharisees – had, after all, generally disapproved human portraits lest they violate the Second Commandment’s prohibition against idol worship. But the rabbis had not disallowed this portrait. Thus, with the rabbis’ blessing, the Kohane Gadol, typically deferential in their presence and to their thoughts, had actually sat for the portrait – reproductions visible in the parlors of many Jerusalem homes. I was greatly pleased by what Elisheva had decided upon, and couldn’t await the evening’s event. I inwardly hoped that the Kohane Gadol would attend Yonatan’s banquet.

When evening came, Elisheva, Joshua, Ariel and I happily walked arm-in-arm to the banquet hall. When we arrived, we came to learn that the banquet was intended to celebrate Yonatan’s appointment to the Sanhedrin, an extraordinary achievement for anyone. And so, instantly I realized why Yonatan had decided to let the past between us remain there. Upon entering, Elisheva and I recognized many guests and immediately began to introduce Joshua, and who he was becoming to us. A servant came to us with a tray holding goblets of fine wine. Those guests whom we knew raised their goblets in toast to Ariel and Joshua. Some seemed to know Joshua and his father, both of whom had offered sacrifices on the Temple altars for their families.

But as I began to sip from my goblet, I saw at the corner of my eye Yonatan, at a distance. He began to rush through his guests in our direction – a horribly sullen look on his face. I quickly turned around to see what troubled him that must have lurked behind me, but there was nothing there. As he came nearer, I observed seated at both sides of the hall some of the most prominent rabbis of Jerusalem. Many I knew, or knew of. They seemed to stop their conversations in mid-sentence watching the spectacle that was about to emerge. What was happening?

Finally, Yonatan came face to face with me: “What are you doing here?” I was simply at a loss for words. Still, I did manage this: “Yonatan,  Mazel Tov. You have always been a kidder.  We are so pleased by your good fortune and that you have invited us to share it with you. We too have good fortune to announce to you.  Please meet Joshua – perhaps you know him from the Temple. He will soon be my son-in-law.”  Yonatan didn’t bother to look at Joshua, or Elisheva or Ariel for that matter. Instead, he gruffly, for all to see, pulled me to the side: “Get out and get out now. You have no business here.”  “But I received an invitation,” I said.  He blustered with anger, “You – an invitation?  I didn’t invite you, I invited Kamtza, your father, my friend. Not you, Bar Kamtza.”  He quickly alighted the corridor.

I caught Elisheva’s eye. She too was horrified. I could barely look at her so pained. So, instead, I turned to the tables of the rabbis seated nearby – I longed for some measure of solace or sympathy. But, nothing. They wouldn’t even look in my direction, and began to indifferently turn away, feigning that they hadn’t witnessed what Yonatan was doing so very publicly. Perhaps they were somehow indebted to Yonatan’s largesse. Maybe, as was typical of Jews under the occupation of Rome, they simply chose to do nothing when interpersonal crisis was at hand. Or somehow, for reasons I could not imagine, they saw Yonatan, at that moment,   a victim of some horrible sin by me, and that Yonatan rejecting me and my family was righteous indeed. But before they turned their backs, I pulled my engraved invitation from my sack to surely persuade them that we were invited guests.  We did not know the invitation was not meant for us. As Yonatan knew, my father and I had not spoken for years.  How could we have known? I quickly turned again and saw Joshua and Ariel – pale as ghosts.  Ariel in tears.

I ran to find Yonatan, willing to do anything to reverse what was happening, as I saw the crowd murmuring over the heightening spectacle. I finally caught him, but he wouldn’t even extend the courtesy to look at me. I said, “Please let us stay. I’ll pay for our meals.” But, no.  His voice rising, “Get out!” My mind raced, my heart pounded: “Please Yonatan, I’ll pay for half the banquet. Just let us stay for a short while.” But no, again: “Are you deaf?” Finally, although by now I knew it was a waste: “I will pay for all of your banquet. No one will have to know. We will just stay a short while. I’ll tell your guests that Elisheva is not feeling well.  Can’t you see: my future son in law, the kohane, is with me. Please!”

It was futile – Yonatan was intransigent. But now he looked at the seated rabbis who had turned back toward us. They were no longer murmuring, as best I could tell. They said no words, but seemed to me to be nodding with approbation at Yonatan, which encouraged him to be more aggressive toward me. He looked toward several men in uniform, apparently hired by Yonatan to keep beggars away from the banquet. But now, beggars were not their quarry – for he pointed to me. They began to walk toward us.

The more aggressive Yonatan became, the more the piercing eyes of the rabbis focused on me. I quickly walked toward my family, motioning to them that we had to leave immediately. Everyone was watching. Everyone. I couldn’t bring myself to show the rabbis the respect of saying good night. And why did they deserve respect when they couldn’t accord me even a modicum of solace? They had chosen sides – they chose the host, recently appointed to the Sanhedrin. It seemed not to matter to them that I, too, was a Hebrew who sacrificed at the Temple and gave charity to the poor. For them, it seemed, the sun would rise tomorrow, the morning clouds would disappear, and the Temple would continue to stand – no matter how they comported themselves. The likes of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian dictator who had destroyed the First Temple, could never return to the Temple Mount!

As we left, many continued to watch our sad exodus from both inside and outside the gates of the banquet hall that abutted Yonatan’s lavish home. Some standing outside leered at us.  I saw at a distance Kamtza himself.  My father.  He and I barely knew each other anymore, but of course he still lived down the street from Yonatan, my childhood playmate.  Did he wonder about the commotion?  Or did he quickly piece together his role in all of this? He and I hadn’t spoken or interacted in many years –  the reason for which I can’t even remember, nor probably does he. Sometimes hatred is like that.

My family and I left and slouched toward our home without uttering a word. I deliberately tore my garment, mourning the loss that had befallen us. When we arrived, I sat down near the fireplace. I sought to warm myself – was it from the chill of the cold night air, or what had occurred at the banquet hall?  And I threw my invitation into that fire.  What use did I have for it now?  I wanted to burn away the hurt and embarrassment I now felt.  How would I face my family, my friends, my neighbors in the coming days and weeks?  I drank some wine to calm myself, realizing that we had left behind the portrait of the Kohane Gadol. I had not seen him in attendance as I had hoped, but I concluded that his presence wouldn’t have mattered anyway – Yonatan acted so hurtfully to me, a former friend and a fellow Hebrew, yet the rabbis were simply unwilling to intervene. Elisheva and Ariel were in unstoppable tears in another chamber of the house, hopelessly worried that Joshua, who went directly to his home after we arrived at my home, would retreat from his commitment to Ariel and our family.

I decided that it was just as well that we had left the portrait behind. I began to wonder, as the escape of sleep would begin to overtake me, whether I would decide to leave far more of what had been precious to me behind me as well. The night was cold indeed, and through the night I was occasionally awakened by the loud bellowing of that unblemished calf in its pen, directly outside my window.

When I finally awoke, the sun was barely up. I said my morning prayers, praying for health, wisdom and forgiveness. I also said the “Velamalshinim”, that would years later become part of the liturgy: For the slanderers – meaning, the informers – “let there be no hope.”

I had forgotten in the distress of the night that I was obliged that morning to appear before the Roman tax collectors who had expressed challenge to my calculus of the amount of land taxes I was required to pay. Elisheva and Ariel were still asleep so I slipped out quietly. I walked slowly in the direction away from the Temple, toward the Procurator’s office, which also housed the tax collectors. As I walked down the narrow, cobblestone streets, I encountered Hebrews whom I had seen a thousand times before. But this morning was different. Those who so many times greeted or nodded toward me now seemed to hide their expressions, or looked away as I approached.  Some turned a corner rather than meet my glance.  I wasn’t quite sure yet – were they rebuffing me because of what occurred at the banquet or, in my mortified state, was I simply imagining their contempt?

And were my embarrassment not complete, I also encountered coming in my direction Kamtza, the “father” who sired me, himself, who by now surely knew what had happened. He seemed to feign something having gotten caught in his eye, causing him to turn away while the gentle breeze blew in his direction. He would have turned away, I suppose, either way. The “miserliness,” or “stinginess,” of empathy, represented by his name (and mine, his son) became quickly apparent to me.  He had certainly taken sides with Yonatan – as if choosing sides was necessary. Yonatan probably apologized to him already for his servant’s mistake; although my name, not his, was on Yonatan’s invitation to me.  But Kamtza, my own father, above all others, had reason to understand and sympathize with my plight, yet he so clearly chose not to.  It is easier to not think about what it was that caused our familial divide, but as I walked that day, I could not help but think – had only we been talking to one another, I would have mentioned my invitation, he would have told me he had not received one, and we both would have known that the invitation, my invitation, was actually meant for him.  In some way, had that  added hatred, maybe “baseless” hatred, between father and son, not been in place, and had the rabbis not been silent about that too, everything would have been different. Or am I simply looking to place blame away from myself?

When I arrived at the Procurator’s office and spoke to the tax collector assigned to me, he strangely explained that my calculus was hopelessly inadequate, that my property holdings warranted a tax ten times greater – a sum that would require me to sell virtually everything to satisfy what would be my debt to the Romans. How could I possibly meet what was now claimed to be my obligation?

Soon, as was not uncommon, the Procurator himself came to the room, apparently having learned of the disputation between the collector and myself. I appealed to his fairness – a wasted effort, to be sure, as I would soon learn. He seemed to know every detail about my holdings (or at least the collector’s view of them),  and it soon became clear that my protest would be in vain. Still, he slyly went beyond that discussion. To quickly put to rest any semblance of a valid protest that I might raise, he said: “Obviously, I know, it is not only Rome that is in quarrel with you. I have my informers, and they are not Roman at all. Trust me, I learned much about last night, and you. The Hebrews themselves recognize your treachery – you are untrustworthy even among your own people.  I now know precisely with whom I’m dealing; yet you expect me to agree to your own calculations?”  I began to perspire in fear of him, knowing the workings of the occupying Romans!

He promptly dismissed me, but said that to prove his point – as if he needed to – he would, along with the assessor, personally escort me back to my property and demonstrate his calculations.   My mind began to race.  I was no longer worried about the taxes I would owe that I could never hope to pay.  I was not worried about what I would tell my beloved Elisheva.  No.  My mind would not let me see beyond my own embarrassment.  All of the people, my neighbors, who looked away from me on the way to the tax collector’s office, would now see me virtually in the custody of the Procurator. He and I would exchange no words along the way – it would appear that I was his prisoner, and everyone would know.

When we arrived, Elisheva seemed in shock by the presence of our “guest”. He and the assessor quickly went to march off the distance of our fields and directed me to remain behind. I shuddered. But at that very moment, a young boy in servant’s garb  walked up to me and handed me a sealed note intended for Ariel. I thought nothing of it and gave it to Elisheva to give to Ariel still upstairs in her room.

Waiting impatiently for the return of the Procurator with the bad news that would obviously come, I heard a shriek from above. I ran inside to learn what had occurred. And Elisheva, herself in tears, told me the terrible news that would leave my very life in shards. The young boy who delivered the note was a servant in the house of Joshua’s father. Neither Joshua nor his father had the decency to tell Ariel in person that Joshua has chosen to withdraw from her (at his father’s insistence, no less) – that the “scandal” caused by me the night before at the home of Yonatan would too grievously damage a kohane’s family to let Joshua’s reputation, and the reputation of his family, be further sullied.  Elisheva handed me the note and as I read it, tears in my own eyes, I looked at Ariel with unending sadness.  I saw the one thing that I never saw before; the thing I never imagined.  My daughter, my Ariel, stared back at me with hate in her eyes.  My only child, whom I loved with all my heart, was staring at me with piercing hate!

I went downstairs to escape that moment, and await the Procurator due back soon to tell me what I already knew. I had forgotten about the calf standing in the pen beside my house but with my head spinning from all that had occurred, I heard that calf beckoning once again. And in that instant I knew I couldn’t bare what had happened to me, to my family, with any semblance of honor.  I had heard that, in years past, a man in Jerusalem named “Judas” betrayed his teacher to the then-procurator claiming that the teacher, who claimed to be the Messiah, was leading a rebellion against Rome. Only later would I would come to realize that I was willing to become another Judas. That “teacher” himself threatened to bring down the Temple, but now, as it would turn out, I was about to do something that would carry out his threat!

The Procurator returned. He relented some, but it became clear to me that only by being of assistance to Rome might I avoid the fate of total financial ruin. And so, my moment was at hand.  I took him aside and told him in imperfect words that the Jews were “again” planning a rebellion against Caesar. My rage, it seemed in that instant, had reached from Yonatan, to the rabbis, to the kohanim, all these heartless and hypocritical leaders. The Procurator expressed disbelief, as if his subjects would never question his status in Jerusalem: “Prove it to me!” I of course had no rebellious plan to point to, no imminent revolt of which to alert him.  I then knew. I looked quickly at the pen beside my home and reminded him that the procurator in place in Jerusalem would periodically offer a sacrifice at the Temple to demonstrate Rome’s supposed benevolent nature. I said, “In proof of their rebelliousness, the kohanim will reject your sacrifice.”  He laughed uproariously at my impudence: “Never. You are a fool. Prove it.”

I told him that I had planned to sacrifice the calf beside my home that very morning, but planned to no longer. I would give it to him for that precise purpose – “as a symbol of my gratitude to the fairness of Caesar to me in days past, and I hoped today as well.”  I asked for a few minutes to wash off the calf, to make it “more perfect,” while I invited the Procurator and assessor to sit under the shade of a tree on the far side of the house.  Elisheva would bring them goblets of cold water to cool themselves in the noon day sun.

As they relaxed, obviously murmuring about me, I went to the pen, took a sharp-edged knife and made a small incision inside the lip of the calf that was otherwise perfect. I poured cool water on the calf and washed its lip until the bleeding stopped. Only a trained eye would be able to see the cut or its significance at an altar of the Temple. I knew that, because of the imperfection, the kohanim, who were scrupulous in this regard, would likely reject it as unfit for sacrifice to God (as was the sacrifice of Cain near the beginning of time) even though for the Romans that blemish was inconsequential. There was nothing left for me to do.  The dye was cast.

Except that I did one more thing. I urged the Procurator, as a minor indulgence to me, if he was so inclined, to present the calf for sacrifice at the Temple to Joshua’s father, “the finest and most noble of the kohanim.” The Procurator agreed, clearly thinking nothing of what I was asking of him. He and the assessor brusquely took the calf by the rope – for him, a sacrifice at the Temple to our God was a tyrant’s joke.  “We will see.”  He did not completely trust me however, and warned that if I might make Caesar or him look the fool, it would result in dire repercussion. My faith in the unbending protocols of the Pharisees to whom the kohanim paid unyielding obeisance caused me little disturbance at the Procurator’s implicit threat.  They left – leaving me with my wife and daughter who felt that I had betrayed her.

Later that day I went to the Temple. I convinced myself it was to make a “sin offering” – an offering of fine flour to expiate my sin of the anger I felt toward Yonatan, the rabbis and Joshua’s father.  But in fact, if I search my heart, the reason I went was to see from a distance what would happen when the Procurator would bring my blemished calf to sacrifice.  But all I saw were whispers. The rabbis looked at me in a way that caused me to flee.  And so, I handed my false offering to a kohane to place it upon an altar, and quickly escaped.

As I walked the narrow roads of my village in the days since, it seemed that all the Hebrews came to know what I had done. But, apparently not the Procurator.   He certainly must have expected the kohanim and the rabbis to accept his offering, but now that they had not, he had reason – good reason in his eyes – to disturb the fragile peace between the Hebrews and the Romans.  Yes, it turns out that my hastily laid plan fit the Procurator’s purpose well. I learned later that the Procurator had quietly accepted the rejection by the kohanim of his sacrifice as if it hadn’t disturbed him in the least: “Yes, I fully understand your ritualistic obligations.” Roman leaders would never betray to their subjects their true feelings or reactions – their subjects were simply unworthy of  having the capacity of observing displays of their anger. The loyal subject would instead observe the occupier’s sword, the instrumentality that displayed his anger, as it neared his heart!

The days passed. Life wore on.  I had no contact with my neighbors anymore.  I was finished.  I was broken.  I was no longer the man I was.  And although we plodded around our home together, my family was gone.  There was no joy.  No wonder.  No surprise.  Nothing but despair.

My Ariel locked herself away, allowing only Elisheva to visit her. She didn’t eat, and barely drank.  She spent her days crying.  She would not talk to me.  Had history revisited my family?  I wanted nothing more than to not repeat the mistakes made by my father, the mistakes that caused a chasm so deep we barely acknowledged the other.  And yet I sit, and my daughter won’t even sit in the same room.  Elisheva was a good wife.  She would not leave me, but she could barely look at me; barely talk to me. And so I found solace in my wine – although the truth that wine often brings didn’t come to me.  I spent my days in another place in my mind; a place without the pain of what had become my reality.  Did I cause Ariel’s anguish?  How could I have known that Yonatan’s invitation, the invitation I received on that glorious day, was meant for Kamtza?  Didn’t I have the right to believe that Yonatan was reaching out to me so that our feud, the beginnings of which I never knew, would be over?  And while I wallow in these thoughts, I could erase from my mind the expressions of the rabbis.  The rabbis who did nothing to help me; who allowed my embarrassment in front of everyone.  Most of all, in front of Ariel and Joshua.

Was I sorry for having believed that Yonatan wanted us at his banquet? For having been deceitful, first in telling the Procurator that the Hebrews would rise up and then in delivering a blemished calf?  The lies that came from my sorrowful anger on that dreadful day, the day on which all things changed forever. The day on which my hatred for Joshua and his father – each a kohane! – spiraled so wildly and uncontrollably.

I came to learn that the Procurator was scheduled to leave from the seaport of Haifa for his annual pilgrimage to visit Nero, the Caesar. Word had it that the Procurator would always find reason to bring good news to the tyrant. This time he would surely succeed. For I had wrapped it all in a beautiful package for him, placed his arguments on a platter of gold to be delivered to his ruler.  I gave the Procurator his justification to convince Rome to finally destroy the Temple that rejected his offering and bring all of Jerusalem asunder, as was his constant goal.

In a moment of seeming clarity, I rushed to the Procurator’s home the morning of his scheduled departure. I planned to confess to him my treachery – that the kohanim and rabbis were faultless as it was I who placed a blemish on that calf, knowing that it would be unacceptable at the altar.  I would explain that it was I alone who betrayed him and Caesar with my false accusations of the Hebrews’ rebellious plot.

And then I thought again. If I would go to him, I would be killed immediately, my family banished and our name despoiled forever.  Perhaps.  Because I also knew in my heart that it was more likely that the Procurator would choose to not believe me, or to simply not care about what I had to say.

No.  I had hastily put these events in motion without thinking once about the repercussions.  I had given the Procurator all he wanted, all he needed to persuade Rome to destroy us.  It was too late to reverse the acts I took in my selfish vengeance.  And I knew, in my very soul, that all of the Hebrews would suffer. One last time, I talked myself into believing that I alone was the victim in all of this. It didn’t matter to me in the least that the true victim could be all of the House of Israel, now and forever more.

I dreaded that that special place on Mount Moriah where the Temple stood – where Abraham, so many years before at the birth of Judaism, had been so urgently willing to show his devotion to God – would be reduced to rubble, and that I alone was the one to blame.

Or was it I alone, indeed?

I fear we will have too many years in Diaspora to ponder where the fault for our destruction lies.

*     *      *

As slightly excerpted, the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, from which the above fictionalization is derived, is found in Gittin, 55b and 56a. It is told thusly:

Johanan said: What is illustrative of the verse, Happy is the man that feareth always, but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief? *** The destruction of Jerusalem came through a Kamtza and Bar Kamtza in this way.  A certain man had a friend Kamtza and an enemy Bar Kamtza.  He once made a party and said to his servant, Go and bring Kamtza.  The man went and brought Bar Kamtza.  When the man [who gave the party] found him there he said, See, you tell tales about me; what are you doing here?  Get  out.  Said the other:  Since I am here, let me stay, and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink.  He said, I won’t. Then let me give you half the cost of the party. No, said the other. Then let me pay for the whole party. He still said, No, and he took him by the hand and put him out. Said the other, Since the Rabbis were sitting there and did not stop him, this shows that they agreed with him. I will go and inform against then, to the Government. He went and said to the Emperor, The Jews are rebelling against you. He said, How can I tell? He said to him: Send them an offering and see whether they will offer it [on the altar]. So he sent with him a fine calf.  While on the way he made a blemish on its upper lip, or as some say on the white of its eye, in a place where we [Jews] count it a blemish but they do not. The Rabbis were inclined to offer it in order not to offend the Government. Said R. Zechariah b. Abkulas to them: People will say that blemished animals are offered on the altar. They then proposed to kill Bar Kamtza so that he should not go and inform against them, but R. Zechariah b. Abkulas said to them, Is one who makes a blemish on consecrated animals to be put to death? R. Johanan thereupon remarked: Through the scrupulousness  of R. Zechariah b. Abkulas our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt and we ourselves exiled from our land.

He [the Emperor] sent against them Nero the Caesar.  *** He then sent against them Vespasian the Caesar who came and besieged Jerusalem for three years.

About the Author
Joel Cohen is a white-collar criminal defense lawyer at Petrillo, Klein & Boxer in New York and previously a prosecutor. He speaks and writes on law, ethics and policy (NY Law Journal, The Hill and Law & Crime). He teaches a course on "How Judges Decide" at Fordham Law School and Cardozo Law School. He has published “Truth Be Veiled,” “Blindfolds Off: Judges on How They Decide” and his latest book, "I Swear: The Meaning of an Oath," as well as works of Biblical fiction including “Moses: A Memoir.” The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Petrillo, Klein & Boxer firm or its lawyers.
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