Rav Avigdor Miller on Kamtza bar Kamtza
How can you claim the Jews at the time of the churban were so righteous? We know the story of Kamtza bar Kamtza and that the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinas chinam?
Now, there’s a big misconception that the public has about a certain Gemara in Mesichta Yuma. In Mesichta Yuma (9b) the Gemara asks: Why was the Beis Hamikdash charuv? Why was it destroyed? When we say Beis Hamikdash we mean not only the Beis Hamikdash – it means the whole setup of Jewish independence and commonwealth.
So the Gemara says that the first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of certain reasons and then the Gemara asks: What about the second Beis Hamikdash? Why was that destroyed? And the Gemara says because of sinas chinam; because of causeless hatred.
Now, on this there is a great deal of misconception. I was once in a Orthodox school, a very Orthodox school, and I saw on the wall there were two pictures. One was a picture of a concentration camp. Jews in the concentration camp and they’re being thrown into fire, the crematorium. And next to it was another picture of Kamtza bar Kamtza in ancient Yerushalayim just before the churban; and the host was ejecting him from a banquet – Kamtza bar Kamtza was being ejected from a banquet. Kamtza bar Kamtza was dressed in a black hat and a kapote; he had a nice beard too. He was represented as a decent person, maybe even a talmid chochom, and he was being ejected from the banquet.
Those were the two pictures and there was a chain with links connecting them; the picture of Jews being killed in the camps linked to the picture of Kamtza bar Kamtza in ancient Yerushalayim. And the people who made these pictures understood it as follows: The Gemara says (Gittin 55b) why was Yerushalayim destroyed? Because of Kamtza bar Kamtza. Because a man once wanted to make a banquet and he invited all the talmidei chachomim to the banquet and he sent his servant to invite a certain sage named Kamtza. But the servant made an error and he invited Kamtza bar Kamtza, a different person. Now, when Kamtza bar Kamtza came, the host said, “I’m sorry but I didn’t invite you. This is a private gathering and you therefore must leave.” So Kamtza bar Kamtza said, ”You’re embarrassing me. Let me stay and I’ll give you the cost of my meal.” But the host wouldn’t allow him to stay at the private banquet and after some haggling Kamtza bar Kamtza offered to pay for the whole banquet if he would be allowed to remain. But the host said no and he took him by his garment and he led him out; he ejected him. And for that, the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed.
So, underneath the pictures was a statement printed in big letters, that the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinas chinam; in other words, these two stories were equated. They were trying to say that because Kamtza bar Kamtza was ejected, that was sinas chinam, and that was the example of the causeless hatred prevalent in Yerushalayim. And therefore that caused a chain that led up to the crematorium, to Jews being burned in Hitlerland.
Now, that really is what most people think. That’s the picture they have. They put together these two statements, the story of Kamtza bar Kamtza and the statement of sinas chinam that destroyed the Beis Hamikdash and they understand that this is what caused all our troubles from then on.
It’s a terrible misconception! It’s a slander on the Jewish people! A terrible error!
First of all, who was Kamtza bar Kamtza? Who was this character? Josephus, in his Vita – that’s his own life story – he relates that Kamsus the son of Kamsus was a Herodian. Which means he was a rasha; he was a member of the clique of the house of Hurdos. And the house of Hurdos, the Herodians, were our enemies. They were our bitter enemies; we suffered tzaros from them without number.
Now the Gemara tells us that this host had sages at his banquet table. He made a private seudah for the chachomim to gather. And we know that נקיי הדעת שבירושלים לא היו יושבים אלא אם כן יודעים עם מי היו יושבים – The pure minded sages of Yerushalayim never sat down at a meal or a meeting unless they knew who was present. It was a principle of theirs. They didn’t believe in sitting down in a moshav leitzim. And sometimes there could be one person, a leitz, who can spoil everything. One careless person who shoots his mouth off, he spoils the whole atmosphere. So the נקיי הדעת שבירושלים, the people whose minds were pure, would only associate with other pure minded people. They wouldn’t be impolite to others. They didn’t demonstrate that they were standoffish but they made it their business not to be around when the wrong people were around.
Now, this host invited the pure minded people, the chachomim. It says in the Gemara that all the chachomim were there. And who marches in? None other than Kamsus bar Kamsus who is famous as a member of the Herodian clique, an enemy of the sages. He was a moser, an informer, and he was delighted that he was invited there. Because now he could sit and listen to the deliberation of the sages. That’s what he wanted – to sit and listen in so he could know their plans. This would be his chance; otherwise he could never get in because the sages would never discuss things publicly.
But here some mistake was made and Kamtza bar Kamtza hastened to utilize it. So he hurried and dressed up and he came to the banquet. Here he is! And he wants to sit down with the chachomim and listen in to what’s going on. And naturally he’s going to bring all the information he has to the Herodian clique who are waiting in order to undo any good things that the chachomim wanted for do for the people.
So the host was now in a dilemma. What could he do? Either he could send away all of his guests, or he could send away this informant, this rasha.
Now, you have to understand that the Torah is very just. The Gemara is extremely fair. In fact, the Gemara leans all the way over for fairness. And so when this low character – and he was a low character. That we know because what did he do subsequently out of revenge when he was ejected from the banquet? He went to the Romans and he told them that the Jews are in revolt against you. That’s the worst thing you can say. It’s like throwing a spark in dynamite. Because the Romans were afraid of revolt and they punished most cruelly any small sign of revolt. So this man Kamtza bar Kamtza was an enemy of the Jews; you could see that. Because he started all the trouble.
And still when this host got up and he remonstrated with Kamtza bar Kamtza and finally he had to take him by his lapels and lead him out, our sages said it was wrong. It was a sin.
Now how was it a sin? That’s too much for us to understand. What would we have done?! Otherwise Kamtza bar Kamtza would be sitting there and the sages wouldn’t say a word. The whole evening would be wasted. You couldn’t open your mouth when this informant was sitting there. And still, such is the judgment of the Gemara. It’s fair and severe, and therefore it says there that this is what caused the destruction of Yerushalayim.
It doesn’t mean that this is really a sin; that this was the cause. Yerushalayim would have been destroyed anyhow. But when Hakodosh Boruch Hu sought a match that would set the fire, He chose this to be the match. It was a poetic justice. Don’t misunderstand this! It wasn’t this that caused the Churban. This was just a spark that set off the fire.
Yerushalayim wasn’t destroyed because of this. But when Hakodosh Boruch Hu had already decided forty years earlier to destroy Yerushalayim – that’s what the Gemara says; forty years before He had already decided to destroy Yerushalayim – so He waited for an opportunity and He utilized this opportunity to teach a lesson.
So when Kamtza bar Kamtza was heard to have gone to the Romans and he started the trouble, it was a parable; it was meant to be used as a lesson – that we shouldn’t have embarrassed him.
Now we don’t really understand that lesson – it’s too fair for us to understand. But that’s what the Gemara does – the Gemara uses a magnifying glass and the smallest thing is magnified as if it’s a sin. You shouldn’t have ejected him; you should’ve let the evening be ruined. And all the sages should have just sat there in silence and that’s all. You couldn’t cancel the banquet. All the food would have gone lost. There were no refrigerators in those days. All the food would go lost! It can’t be helped. It was an expensive banquet but it can’t be helped. Don’t put a man to shame. And that’s why this poetic lesson was utilized – to teach the people a lesson. You shouldn’t have embarrassed him.
So what is this business that sinas chinam, that causeless hatred caused the churban. It says in the Gemara that causeless hatred caused the destruction. So many Jews think it means that the Jews hated each other, that frum Jews hated each other. That’s what they think. They think that the whole nation at that time were all frum Jews, all talmidei chachomim, and they were all busy hating each other. And that’s why the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed!
But that’s as silly as could be. It’s not realistic at all! They didn’t hate; the frum Jews loved each other! In those days, the whole nation, the Am Hatorah was divided into followers of Beis Shammai and followers of Beis Hillel. The entire Jewish nation was divided into those who followed Beis Shammai and those who followed Beis Hillel. These were the two great assemblies of Torah sages. There wasn’t anybody else that was of the shelomei emunei Yisroel, of frum Jews. We’re not talking about the reshaim. True Jews all were talmidim of Beis Shammai or of Beis Hillel.
And the Gemara (Yevamos 14b) says openly that the talmidim of Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel loved each other. These two schools, although they had different opinions on some things, even on very important things, but they loved each other. שהיו אוהבים זה את זה – They loved one another, לקיים מה שנאמר – in order to fulfill the possuk of, האמת והשלום אהבו – Love the truth but love peace too. They loved the truth; that’s why each one stuck to his opinions but they loved peace too.
And the Gemara talks about that. The Gemara dilates on how they loved each other. Now if Beis Shammai loved Beis Hillel and vice versa so Beis Shammai certainly loved Beis Shammai. And Beis Hillel loved Beis Hillel. It doesn’t make sense that Beis Hillel loved Beis Shammai but they didn’t love their own people. It’s ridiculous. The Jewish people loved each other – there was no sinas chinam.
I once saw that an adam gadol wrote – I won’t mention his name – he was misled, and on the strength of this ma’amar that the Beis Hamikdash was laid waste because of sinas chinam, he wrote that unfortunately the frum Jews were too critical of each other and they sometimes suspected each other of not being frum enough. Now, that’s just taken out of thin air! There is no authority for that at all anywhere!
So what does it mean that there was sinas chinam? Who were the ones who hated for nothing? These were the Tzedukim. There were irreligious Jews there too who were not of Beis Shammai or Beis Hillel. The Tzedukim hated the sages! That’s the sinas chinam!
You’ll ask a question: So because the Tzedukim, the wicked people, hated the sages, therefore the Jewish nation is responsible? The answer is yes, because they were also Jews. When Jews are wicked the entire Jewish nation is responsible. That’s a great principle in the Torah. We are treated as one individual. Kol Yisroel areivim zeh la’zeh – all of Yisroel are guarantors for one another means that we’re one body, we’re one person. And therefore we were held responsible for the misdeeds of Kamtza bar Kamtza and the Tzedukim and all those who hated the chachomim.
Do you want that example of hatred? The New Testament is an example of the hatred towards the sages. If you want a textbook which is full of venom against the sages, that’s the New Testament. Because the New Testament is full of great anger, endless anger against the Pharisees. Constantly it’s reiterated. The Pharisees are promised that there’s only one place where they’re going to go when they’re dead. When they die they’re going to a certain place and it’s reiterated over and over again in the New Testament. The chachomim are called vipers and snakes. They are the worst kind of hypocrites and criminals.
Now, who are the Pharisees? The Pharisees are Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinus, Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurkinos, Rabban Gamliel Hazaken and his son Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai. All these famous names; they are our luminaries, our teachers. Their lives we study. It’s their words that inspire us. M’pihen anu chayim! There’re the best of our nation! They’re the cream of our nation. They are the ones who the New Testament condemn us as the worst.
Now you people may not believe it; it may seem exaggerated to you. But the fact is that the New Testament mentions other nations too. It mentions a lot of people. It mentions the Romans but it has nothing bad to say against the Romans. It mentions the Greeks but there’s no criticism against the Greeks. It mentions the Samaritans, the Kusim, but no criticism of the Samaritans. It mentions the Sadducees too; no criticism of the Sadducees. But when it speaks about the Pharisees, then they let loose; they turn around and let loose like a skunk that gives the best that it has to offer and the New Testament pours a torrent on the chachomim. Not only once! All the time; all the pages of the New Testament are splattered with that poison against the chachomim.
But they were all Jews however. In those days they were all Jews; they were still Jews. And so if you want to know why the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, so the Gemara says that there was hatred, sinas chinam. Whose hatred? Not the sages! And not the people who followed the sages! They wouldn’t hate anybody – they were the ones who were being hated!
That’s the point that’s missed by all the writers. All the writers who speak on this subject misunderstand it. They blame our poor people for sinas chinam. There’s no remez anywhere that there was causeless hatred among the sages and their disciples.
But there was a very great hatred against them! The Saducees hated the sages! And the gemara says certain types of amei ha’aretz were also sonim; they hated the sages. It’s a gemara in Pesachim. You remember what Rabbi Akiva said? He said, “When I was an am ha’aretz, if I would get a hold of a sage I would tear him to pieces.” He testified later that that’s what he thought when he was an am ha’aretz.
It was these people – they’re the ones because of whom the Beis Hamikdash was ruined. Because our nation has to be perfect! And when we have in our body-politic, in the commonwealth of the Jewish nation a certain poisoned minority, so that means that the body is not healthy and therefore Hakodosh Boruch Hu had to make a change of climate. And that’s why the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed.
TAPE # 107