Kamtza/Bar Kamtza – Punk’d?

“A certain man had a friend named Kamtza and an enemy named Bar Kamtza. He made a banquet and asked his servant to invite Kamtza. The servant mistakenly invited Bar Kamtza” [TB Gittin 55b]

So begins the narrative about the Second Churban and the endless chinch talking points about sinas chinam and public shaming.

There comes a point where you wonder whether the the host’s messenger didn’t really make a mistake, but rather was punking both the host and Bar Kamtza, although to what end would be hard to fathom.

Either way, one has to believe that Bar Kamtza was just looking for a pretext, and it was ostensibly handed to him: ultimately, his playing the victim leads to the belief that he gets off way too light both in his lifetime and in the narrative.

While the Gemara at the end of that part of the Churban narrative [57a] indicates that the proximate cause of the second Churban was the public shaming of Bar Kamtza, his obvious overreaction indicates several things about him:

  • he was as much a hater as the unnamed host;
  • he was an entitled whiner who had no compunction about going places where he wasn’t welcome–probably because of his (subsequently revealed) position against both his own people and their leadership;
  • as he offered to pay for the whole mesiba in question, he clearly had ample means AND connections…you don’t just gain an audience with the Emperor because someone tossed you out of a party, unless you have some kind of political cred;
  • while the Gemara indicates that HKBH Himself stood up for as it were for Bar Kamtza’s shame, one should remember from Num. 22:33 that He spared Bilaam’s shame as well by slaying the talking donkey.  A comparison between Bar Kamtza and Bilaam is not out of order, especially since–as I see it–way too much chinuch capital is spent on Bar Kamtza as a victim rather than analyzing his treachery.

In fact the story of Bar Kamtza (and the other narrative paradigm of “libun berabim“, the ma’aseh of Yehuda/Tamar) both indicate it might be that these cases of never being melaben your sworn enemies are the exceptions that prove the rule:

Haba lemelabenecha, hashkem lemelabno.

As much as BK’s shame caused the Churban, R’ Yochanan’s declaration earlier in the narrative that ill-timed “humility…destroyed our Mikdash, burned our Heichal and exiled us from our land” indicates that pietist quietism was at least equally if not more responsible.

Bar Kamtzas need to be publicly called out.  You know what they’ll do if they’re not.

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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