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Jerusalem Was Destroyed By Hardhearted Pious Patriots – OpEd

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An Israeli poll released 10/19/17 found that political leaders are the most widely seen culprits for Israeli society’s deep rifts, according to 75% of Israeli Jewish respondents. Sadly, 67% said rabbis and the religious establishment were also to blame.

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For example, rabbis who are suspicious of, or negative to, converts to Judaism ignore the words of our Rabbis who taught (Jews that hurting the feelings of converts, and wronging them in any way, was prohibited by six different commandments): “One who wounds the feelings of a convert to Judaism transgresses three ‘you must not’ commandments and… one who oppresses a convert to Judaism transgresses three more” (Talmud Baba Mezia 59b).

And the Talmud (Sanhedrin 99b) condemns those who push potential converts away by relating that Isaac and Jacob pushed away Timna the sister of Lotan who wanted to become Jewish. She then married a son of Esau. One of her descendants was Amalek who attacked Israel shortly after they escaped from Egypt. If, instead of being pushed away, Timna had become Jewish, Amalek would have been on our side, and not one of our enemies. 

Indeed, Rabbi Yohanan says the reason the Jews were oppressed and enslaved in Egypt, was because Abraham didn’t try to influence some captives he rescued to become Jewish. (Neddarim 32a) 

Even the attitude of just failing to encourage potential converts is a major sin according to Rabbi Yohanan; and in Israel today it is a major source of the growing moral and spiritual corruption of the official Israeli rabbinate because they prevent the fulfillment of the words of Prophet Isaiah: 

“For the LORD will have compassion on Jacob and choose Israel once again. He will settle them on their own land. The foreigner will join them and be united with the house of Jacob.” (Isaiah 14:1)

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Also the Bible’s history books (Samuel and Kings) are filled with sharp criticism of most of the kings of Israel and Judah, as are almost all of the 15 biblical books of the Prophets. Indeed, many of the prophets predicted military defeats, exiles and even the destruction of the Holy Temple, if our people and its leaders, both spiritual and political, did not repent and change their ways. 

These religious and political leaders were not any worse than those of the other nations, and might have been considerably better than the rulers of most of the other nations. Nevertheless our leaders were judged by the higher standard of the Torah’s ideal of the way things ought to be, and the Prophet’s willingness to speak critical truth to power. The same rabbinic passage that reports about high priest supporting a simple two dove offering against the King’s exclusive 1,000 offerings, also reports that a priest once ridiculed a woman for bringing an offering of only one handful of fine grain. That night he dreamed that God told him, “Do not despise her. I count it for her as if she had offered up her very soul.”

Although the prophets sharply condemned the corruption they saw all around them, and repeatedly predicted disasters to come in the absence of repentance, they always would include references to God’s willingness to show mercy, and to redeem the nation, after the people and its leaders had learned the hard way, what the consequences of disloyalty to the ideals of the Torah led to. 

The Talmud offers a great example of how self-righteousness, hardhearted, strict, scruples and ideal morals can lead to disaster. As the Biblical Book of Ecclesiastes 7:16 states: “Do not be overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?”  

Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai taught that an example of, “Blessed is a person who is always apprehensive [about sinning], for hardhearted people fall into evil.”(Bibical Book of Proverbs 28:14) is: “The destruction of Jerusalem [which] came through a Kamza and a Bar Kamza in this way. 

A certain man had a friend Kamza and an enemy Bar Kamza. He once made a party and said to his servant, Go and bring Kamza. The man went and brought Bar Kamza. “When the man [who gave the party] found him [Bar Kamza] there he said, See, you tell tales about me; what are you doing here? Get out. 

Said [Bar Kamza]: 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 [Bar Kamza] by the hand and draged him outside. 

[Bar Kamza thought] Since the Rabbis were sitting there and did not stop him, this shows that they agreed with him. I will go and inform against them to the Government. He went and said [to the Emperor’s governor], the Jews are rebelling against you. [The Emperor’s governor] said, How can I tell? [Bar Kamza] said to him: Send them an offering and see whether they will offer it [on their altar]. 

So [the Emperor’s governor] sent with him an unblemished calf. While on the way [Bar Kamza] made a blemish on its upper lip, in a place where we [Jews] count it a blemish but they [the Romans] do not. The Rabbis were inclined to offer it in order not to offend the Government. 

Said Rabbi Zechariah ben Abkulas to them: People will say that blemished animals are offered on the altar. 

The rabbis then proposed to kill Bar Kamza so that he should not go and inform against them, but Rabbi Zechariah ben Abkulas said to them, Is one who makes a blemish on consecrated animals to be put to death?” 

When the calf [of the Emperor’s governor] was not offered it was taken as an act of public insult and rebellion and [the Emperor’s governor] then sent against them [general] Vespasian who came and besieged Jerusalem for three years.

Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai thereupon remarked: Through the [self-righteousness, hardhearted, strict] scrupulousness of Rabbi Zechariah ben Abkulas our Home has been destroyed, our Temple burnt-down, and we ourselves were exiled from our homeland.” (Talmud Gittin 55b-56a)

Why does Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai not blame the whole disaster on Bar Kamza and his anger at the rabbis who were there? Did Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai think Bar Kamza was right to think: “Since the Rabbis were sitting there and did not stop him, this shows that they agreed with him.” 

Were most rabbis silent when this man was publicly shamed because they were always apprehensive about being too softhearted and un-judgmental, when other people were shamed in public by self-righteousness, hardhearted, critics? 

Rabbi Zechariah ben Abkulas is a forerunner of our generation of super strict politically powerful Haredim Rabbis who frequently shame agunot, gays, Reform Jews, plus potential and actual converts in public; without being denounced by the majority of other rabbis who do not try to stop them; which shows that they agreed with them; for hardhearted people do fall into evil.  

This is why Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai taught: “Better a man should throw himself into a fiery furnace, rather than publicly put his neighbor to shame.” (Talmud Gitten 59a) 

Thus, in the centuries following the second destruction of Jerusalem and its Holy Temple, the Rabbis produced numerous teachings, drawing lessons from what had happened, frequently in connection with the reading of the Biblical book of Lamentations on the 9th of Av, the day commiserating both the first destruction of Jerusalem and its holy Temple in 586 BCE, and the second destruction 656 years later. These lessons were meant to teach us how to interpret our historic past so we can learn to avoid new tragedies in the future and to realize that even small acts of Jewish violence can ignite a massive fire.

“Through a cock and a hen Tur Malka was destroyed’. How? — It was a custom that when a bride and bridegroom were being escorted (to the hupah) a cock and a hen were carried before them, as if to say, Be fruitful and multiply like fowls. One day a squad of Roman soldiers passed by and took the animals from them, so the Jews fell on them and beat them. So they went and reported to the Emperor that the Jews were rebelling, and he marched against them…”

“Through the shaft of a carriage Bethar was destroyed. It was the custom when a boy was born to plant a cedar tree and when a girl was born to plant a pine tree, and when they married, the tree was cut down and a canopy made of the branches. One day the daughter of the Roman Governor was passing by when the shaft of her carriage broke, so her servants cut some branches off a cedar tree and brought it to her (to replace the broken shaft). The Jews (felt insulted) and so fell attacked and beat them (the Roman servants). They reported to the Roman Governor that the Jews were rebelling, and he marched against them.” (Gittin 57b)

Those who do not learn from history’s mistakes are condemned to repeat them.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

One thought on “Jerusalem Was Destroyed By Hardhearted Pious Patriots – OpEd

  • August 1, 2022 at 1:50 pm
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    Very good stuff !! :)

    Reply

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