The Destruction of the Temple and Tisha B'av

    August 1998          
Search the Jewish Magazine Site: Google


Search our Archives:

Opinion & Society


The Story of Kamsa and Bar Kamsa

By Larry Kass

The Legend from the Talmud explaining the reasons for the destruction of the Temple

In the Talmud, there is a story which relates to us how the sages understood the causes of the destruction of the Temple and our expulsion into the Diaspora. It is called the story of Kamsa and Bar Kamsa.

Because of Kamsa and Bar Kamsa, two different people, Jerusalem was destroyed. There was a man who was very good friends with Kamsa and did not get along with another person with a similar name, Bar Kamsa. One time this man made a large banquet and told his servant to invite his friend Kamsa. The servant made a mistake and invited Bar Kamsa.

When the man came to his banquet, he was surprised to see Bar Kamsa sitting there. Not wanting to see his enemy benefiting from his meal, he ordered him to leave. Bar Kamsa, not wanting to be embarrassed, offered to pay for his portion of food. The man refused to accept compensation, and ordered Bar Kamsa to leave.

Bar Kamsa, still not wanting to be embarrassed, offered to pay for half of the expenses of the large banquet. Still the man refused and ordered Bar Kamsa to leave. Finally, Bar Kamsa offered to pay for the entire banquet. In anger, the man grabbed Bar Kamsa with his own hands and physically ejected Bar Kamsa from the banquet.

Bar Kamsa said that since there were many Rabbis at the meal and none of them objected to the outrageous behavior on the part of the host, it must be that the Rabbis agreed with this embarrassing episode. Bar Kamsa decided to fix them all. He went to speak with the Caesar (the king of Rome) and told him that the Jews are planning a rebellion against the Romans.

The Roman Caesar did not believe it. Bar Kamsa told him to send a sacrifice to the Temple in Jerusalem and see if the Jews will bring it on to the Altar. The Caesar agreed and sent an animal. On the way to Jerusalem, Bar Kamsa inflicted a minor wound into the lip (or eye) of the animal, so small that by almost all standards it would not be considered a blemish.

When the animal arrived in the Temple in Jerusalem, the Rabbis examined the animal and saw the tiny blemish. They didn't know what to do. Although according to Jewish law it was forbidden to offer such an animal on the Altar, they reasoned that not to offer it for such a minor reason could endanger themselves and cause a breach with the Caesar. Therefore they wanted to have the animal brought up upon the Altar. Rabbi Zacharia ben Avkolus however disagreed fearing that people will learn from this that animals with blemishes may be brought upon the Altar.

The Rabbis then thought to have Bar Kamsa killed in order that word not be brought back to the Caesar. Rabbi Zacharia ben Avkolus again disagreed, fearing that people may think that one who brings an animal with a blemish can be put to death.

Rabbi Yochanan at this point taught that due to the extreme piety of Rabbi Zacharia ben Avkolus, the Temple was destroyed, the Sanctuary burnt in flames and we were exiled from our land.

This is one of the stories in the Talmud, the rest is history. What we need to do is to analyze this story to understand what the sages were trying to convey in the story.

First, we can note that the combined incidences of the host of the banquet and Bar Kamsa showed a tremendous lack of feelings for the welfare of another. From this we learn the importance of putting other peoples feelings ahead of our desires. Still, this does not compare to the lack of action on the part of the assembled Rabbis at the banquet, who, had they protested the lack of consideration, could have averted a national tragedy.

We learn from this the awesome responsibilities of those people who are in positions of leadership and influence. Yet even more so, is the blame on the shoulders of Rabbi Zacharia ben Avkolus, because of his great piety, not only was the Temple and Jerusalem destroyed, but we were exiled through out the nations. Rabbi Zacharia ben Avkolus who was the leader and most influential man in his generation should have seen the results of his actions. National leaders must know when to stand firm and when and how to bend, to avoid disastrous results. He must be able to put his own personal agenda and feelings aside and make proper decisions.

May we all learn from this chilling episode in our Jewish History, that our behavior is of extreme importance. May we, through the good will and cheerful help that we are able to give to another fellow Jew, see the rebuilding of the Temple swiftly in our days.


from the August 1998 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

Please let us know if you see something unsavory on the Google Ads and we will have them removed. Email us with the offensive URL (