Tishah B’Av every year predictably evokes the story of Kamtza and Bar-Kamtza, two men with similar names who were involved in events which are said to have brought about the destruction of the Temple, which is the catastrophe commemorated by Tishah B’Av.
The story is told at least twice in rabbinic literature, in the Talmud in Gittin 55b/56a, and in the Midrash in Echah Rabbah 4:3.
This is the story.
Towards the end of the Second Temple period, a certain Jew made a banquet and sent his servant to invite his friend Kamtza. The servant got it wrong and conveyed the invitation to Bar-Kamtza, who was his master’s enemy.
Presumably surprised, Bar-Kamtza promptly turned up at the banquet.
Seeing him there, the host was enraged and wanted to throw him out. Bar-Kamtza felt humiliated and said he would pay for the cost of his dinner if he were allowed to stay. When rebuffed, Bar-Kamtza even offered to pay for the whole banquet, but this too was refused by the host.
Noting that a number of sages were present and that they did not rise up in protest at his treatment, Bar-Kamtza now went to the Roman authorities and spun them a yarn about Jewish plans to foment a rebellion.
The question we ask is to who was to blame for the fiasco – the host, Kamtza, or Bar-Kamtza… or maybe the servant?
It couldn’t have been Kamtza, who wasn’t even there, but was it the host – or Bar-Kamtza?
The host couldn’t have imagined that Bar-Kamtza would betray the Jews to the Romans, fabricate an accusation, and in general over-react.
Bar-Kamtza could have handled the situation more diplomatically, but surely he did really try to quieten things down by offering to pay.
Was the host the one who was wrong, in that he could have realised that his servant had made a mistake and decided to live with it?
Was it the servant who was wrong, in that he either misheard his master or maybe even thought he could mend the fences between the people concerned?
All these possibilities are valid, but maybe the real culprit was the sages, who should have recognised the sensibilities of everyone involved and the fragility of the situation, and made a greater effort to achieve a reasonably amicable solution.
HORROR OR HOPE?
After the long series of “kinnot” or dirges that characterise Tishah B’Av morning, there comes a poem that begins “Eli Tziyyon”, “Let Zion and her cities wail”.
Its rhyme and rhythm are simple and uncomplicated and have inspired modern versions that commemorate the Holocaust.
Probably the element that has given the poem its constant popularity is its melody, yet the melody seems inaptly triumphant. It has a mood of joy and delight despite the gravity of the words. Yet nobody would change the melody once they are used to it. Not just because of the tune, but because of the message.
Jews have always mixed laughter and tears. In the midst of tragedy we never stopped believing in a hopeful future. Whatever history brought us, we never lost our optimism, and that is “Eli Tziyyon” “to a tee”, less a commemoration of catastrophe than a hymn of hope.
Baruch HaShem the hope has begun to be realised in the creation of Israel.
THE TEMPLE TREASURES.
In the lead up to the fast of Tishah B’Av, marking the destruction of both Temples, it is appropriate to delve into the question of what happened to the Temple treasures.
According to an ancient tradition, these treasures were taken to Rome, as depicted on the Arch of Titus. But other traditions suggest that the treasures never left Jerusalem and were buried there for safekeeping.
A number of books purport to tell the story, and attempts have been made to find the burial place of the treasures and to remove all or some of them.
A ditch beneath the Dome of the Rock in 1868 was investigated in April, 1911, by a Captain Montague Parker who at once left for Jaffa to board a British ship, and soon the world began to hear rumours that Parker had found the Ark of the Covenant, the royal crown and King Solomon’s sword.
Josephus reported that a huge quantity of gold was removed by the Romans and carted off. A 5th century author, Procopius, stated that in 452 Geiseric stole the Temple vessels from Rome and took them to his palace in Carthage. Two years later the Roman general Belisarius was said to have reclaimed the golden vessels and taken them to Constantinople.
As the emperor was warned by a Jew that holding the Temple vessels would bring disaster, they were ordered to be taken “to one of the holy places of the Christians in Jerusalem”.
A number of authors knew of this story, though they believed that at least some of the Temple treasures were retained in Constantinople for about 1000 years – in particular, the gold candelabrum, which was lit on Christian festivals.
If, then, some of the golden vessels were returned to Jerusalem at some stage, they may still be there. But Jerusalem passed through various hands, and the church or churches where the vessels were hidden may have been destroyed and the vessels plundered again. This was, for example, the view of the 19th century Jewish historian, Heinrich Graetz.
However, other sources suggest that Heraclius, the Byzantine emperor from 610-641, had the Temple vessels moved to the Monastery of the Cross and buried there, but the monks were all killed and with them went the secret of where the Temple treasures were.
So though it is not impossible that the vessels are in Jerusalem, no-one knows for certain where to look.