Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Tisha b'Av Reminder - The Classic Story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza

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The classic tale of Tisha b’Av hatred – Kamtza and Bar Kamtza
The version below is retold by Rabbi Benjamin Rapaport. I've highlighted a few points... But the main point is: what I and others experienced at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh Av last week is exactly this hatred. 

And what many Jews here in Israel (and outside of Israel, for that matter) have been subjected to by being called "Amalek" by a prominent rabbi from a different group is equally that. Sinaah - שנאה- hatred. And we're doing it again to each other... We Jews just don't learn...

Tisha B’Av: The Greatest Hatred
Understanding the story that sparked the destruction of the Temple.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, on the 9th of Av, the heart of the Jewish people, the Holy Temple, was set on fire. Since then, our history has been filled with scattering and suffering. Like many broken and burnt hearts, it started with a mistake that turned into a fight that escalated to epic proportions. To heal and rebuild, we need to understand what went wrong and what we can do to fix it. It began with a party. Like most parties, there were the invited, the not invited, and the exceptionally unwelcome. Bar Kamtza had the misfortune of both being invited and being exceptionally unwelcome. In family affairs this happens sometimes, but here it was unintentional.

The host of the party had a friend and an enemy, whose names were quite similar, one called Kamtza and the other Bar Kamtza. Since it was a fancy affair, hand-delivered invitations were sent out. Unfortunately, the messenger confused the friend and the enemy, and delivered an invitation to the wrong person, who subsequently came to the party.

It is surprising that Bar Kamtza would go the party of someone whom he knew disliked him. Perhaps he thought that the invitation was a move toward reconciliation and therefore was happy to receive it, showing up to demonstrate his own willingness to put aside the past. In light of this, what happened next is even more tragic.   

Upon seeing his enemy at his home, enjoying the food he had provided, the host, feeling quite incensed, told this invited/unwelcome guest to get out of his house immediately. Rejection, and all the more so such a public rejection, would be very painful to Bar Kamtza. He tried to reason with the host and pleaded, 
“Please don’t throw me out. I will pay you for whatever I eat, but please do not embarrass me.”

The host refused.

“I will pay you for the cost of your entire party, just please do not force me to leave.”

The host refused and threw him out.

It is remarkable that it was worth more to the host to hold on to his hatred than to have his entire party paid for in full. In any case it was a bad move, and things got worse from there. The Sages of the generation were present at this gala affair and did not protest the host’s treatment of Bar Kamtza.

Now, Bar Kamtza, by this time was in a pretty bad mood. When he saw all the Sages sitting there silently, he concluded that the way he was being treated was fine with them. If so, they were also to blame and he would take his revenge on them as well.
Bar Kamtza went to the Roman authorities and told them that the Jews were rebelling against them. They asked for proof. He said to them, “Send a sacrifice to be offered in their Holy Temple and you will see that they will refuse your sacrifice.” The Romans sent an animal with Bar Kamtza to the Holy Temple to check what he was saying.

On the way, Bar Kamtza made a slight blemish to the animal that would render it unfit according to Jewish law. When he got to the Temple some Sages argued that they should offer the sacrifice anyway because not to do so would be endangering their lives. Their opinion was not heeded. Some suggested that they should kill Bar Kamtza so that he should not go back to the Romans and incite them against the Jews. This opinion was also not heeded. In the end, the offering was not brought up, and Bar Kamtza took his revenge by going back to the Romans and slandering the Jews, leading to the destruction of the Holy Temple, the loss of many lives, and our subsequent exile.

If we consider the centrality of this story in the destruction of the Holy Temple, and the level of tragedy that resulted from it, it stands to reason that it is about more than just a dislike between two people. When we take a closer look, we see that it is a story about a lacking in the humanity of the Jewish people as a whole, from the greatest scholars to the common man. There is a question that screams out from beginning to end: Why didn’t anyone do anything? Hatred is seeing others in pain and danger, and not caring enough to get up and do something.

When Bar Kamtza was publicly shamed, why did no one try to help him? When Bar Kamtza later came to take vengeance, threatening the lives of the entire Jewish people, why do we find no dialogue trying to appease him? At the very least, he should have been killed in self-defense as the Talmud teaches that if someone comes to kill you – kill him first! The level of passivity that we find when it came to considering others’ welfare, whether emotionally, as in the case of Bar Kamtza’s shame, or physically in the case of his revenge, is astounding. Where was our humanity?
When the Sages taught that the Holy Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred, this is what they were referring to. Hatred is not just actively doing others harm. It is also about not caring. It is about seeing others in pain, others in danger, and not caring enough to get up and do something. If we think about, treating others like they do not exist is the greatest hatred.

If we wish to rebuild the Holy Temple, we need to begin with our hearts. When we care enough to really see the people that are around us, whether they are our spouses, children, work associates, or neighbors, we are laying the foundation of our sanctuary. Each time we move beyond ourselves and take action to make a positive difference in the life of another, we are adding a golden brick. With time, sensitivity, and positive action, we have the power to heal and rebuild the heart of our nation and build a holiness that will last forever.


Go here to read a good article by Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin and see a video of Rosh Chodesh Av at the Kotel. You can really understand the deliberate interference and noise created by the Chareidim to prevent the Women of hte Wall from davening...

Once you hear the maddening hoots and whistles blowing you will ask yourself how one Jew can behave that way to another....


Rosh Chodesh Av – 5773, at the Kotel – My Heart is Broken

Today, Rosh Chodesh Av, I am sad. I am so very sad, disappointed, distressed, heartsick and deeply troubled. Yes, I who am known for my usual cheerful disposition and upbeat nature, am deeply troubled. I was genuinely dumb-struck this morning while at the Kotel with the monthly Women of the Wall prayers. Sorry that the police did not allow us to enter into the women’s section, already cordoned off last Rosh Chodesh (Tammuz) to accommodate the Women of the Wall Rosh Chodesh prayers, but sorrier still to discover that the jeering, whistle blowing (yes this time the Chareidi women were blowing whistles with a vengeance, just as the men had done two months ago, driving me and my prayers to distraction (!)) and that the apparent hatred we were greeted with is not as superficial as I had thought (hoped).

I was truly shaken today. Not only by the mockery and hatred I saw plainly on so many Chareidi faces in the face-off between the police barriers, but by the genuine heart-hatred I experienced.

It’s one thing for an angry whistle blower to ‘look’ disdainful or to call me an abomination. It is quite another (in spite of all that) to lean over the barrier and ask at least a dozen or more Chareidi girls and women if they would do me a favor. 

You see, I have a friend who, like Angela Jolie, is having surgery later today in Boston. Like Angela Jolie, she too carries that potentially dangerous gene BCRA 1. She will be operated on today, Rosh Chodesh Av, in a hospital in Boston. Chana bat Nitsah is her name. Please pray for her full recovery – refuah shleimah.

I went to the prayers today with a k’vittel (a small piece of paper with a request for healing for her) to be hopefully placed in a crevice of the Kotel, tucked into my siddur.  But, the police did not allow the Women of the Wall to even enter the women’s prayer section or to get close to the Kotel. So I reached out – I leaned over the police barrier and implored, begged, pleaded with young Chariedi girls and teens and older women (who had completely free access to the Kotel): 
“Please, would you do a mitzvah for me – for my friend – and place this note in the Kotel?”
Again and again I beseeched the Chareidi women. They not only spurned my request, but they cursed me (on Rosh Chodesh Av!!!). They cursed my friend. They said things like:
“It’s your fault”, “She deserves it”, “May she _____ from cancer” [God forbid] and so on.
These were deep and emotionally laden responses. Young women (girls, really) uttering such things is shocking. This is what they have been taught. I didn’t really expect this; I wasn’t prepared for such rancor and scorn. I was shaken to my core. How can we pray as Am Echad (one nation) when we are so divided by hatred?

What I saw and experienced this morning was venomous contempt. Certainly we all know that during the days preceding Tisha b’Av (the 9th of the month of Av) we are meant to be so very careful… We are meant to avoid l’shon ha-ra and all baseless hatred – sina’at chinam. Our tradition teaches that it was because of this that the Beit haMikdash, the Holy Temple was destroyed. And here we were in 2013 - 1st of Av, 5773 – broadcasting such hatred.

On the bus on the way out of the Kotel area, I was struck by a sign I saw:

“We care and will listen to every word of yours” it says.  I wish that we could all “listen” and “hear”.

And that reminded me of a prayer we recite:


Sh’ma koleynu ‘Hear our voices’...; Chus v’rachem aleinu
V’kabel v’rachamim u’ve-ratson et t’filateinu

Have mercy on us and receive our prayers with compassion and willingness.

AMEN! We need it!

Rabbi Dr. Ilana Rosansky
Ra’anana, Israel
July 8, 2013

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  1. You're shocked, shocked! to find hostile protesters at the Kotel just like there have been every Rosh Chodesh for years now. If you really wanted to pray and put a note in the Kotel, why not come the next day instead? Nobody would have stopped you then. And if you came intending to cause a confrontation and now you complain about it, well, I have a lot less sympathy for you.

  2. Truly a self-serving article. She baited people, someone took the bait, and now she smugly yells "gotcha!"

    I wonder what your ill friend (may she have a refuah shelemah, if she exists) feels about being used as a pawn in your screeching squabbles with the Orthodox?