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Kamẓa and Bar Kamẓa

KAMẒA AND BAR KAMẒA, figures in one of the aggadot dealing with the events which led to the destruction of the Second Temple (Git. 55b–56a; cf. Lam. R. 4:2 no. 3). The passage opens with the statement, "Because of Kamẓa and Bar Kamẓa Jerusalem was destroyed," and states that a certain man instructed his servant to invite his friend Kamẓa to a feast. By mistake the servant extended the invitation to a certain Bar Kamẓa, his master's personal enemy. Bar Kamẓa was ordered to leave, but offered increasing sums of money to be allowed to stay and avoid the humiliation of being thrown out. His host remained obdurate. Bar Kamẓa was compelled to leave. Furious with the rabbis who witnessed the scene and did not speak up on his behalf Bar Kamẓa went to the emperor and informed him that the Jews were planning a revolt, the proof being that they would refuse to accept his sacrifice. The emperor sent a sacrifice through Bar Kamẓa, who inflicted a blemish on it which would disqualify it according to Jewish law but not according to Roman law. The sages were inclined to overlook this blemish and offer up the sacrifice so as not to offend the Romans. A certain *Zechariah b. Avkilus, however, objected strongly on the grounds that "people will think that blemished animals may be offered for sacrifice." To a proposal that Bar Kamẓa be put to death to prevent him from informing the emperor, Zechariah b. Avkilus objected, maintaining that "people will think that the penalty for inflicting a blemish on sacrificial animals is death."

There may well be a grain of historical truth in this legend. Josephus states that Eleazar, son of Hananiah the high priest, and a leader of zealots, sought to abolish sacrifices of non-Jews in the Temple, and maintains that this was the signal for the outbreak of the Roman War, since it meant the abolition of daily sacrifice for the emperor (Wars, 2:409ff.), constituting an act of rebellion. In the story one can detect an echo of the factional dissensions that ravaged Jerusalem in the years preceding the destruction of the Temple. It should be associated with similar popular sayings from talmudic literature, e.g., "Why was the Second Temple destroyed…? Because of baseless hatred" (Yoma 9b).

Some scholars see a resemblance between the name Kamẓa and Bar Kamẓa and the name Compsus b. Compsus mentioned by Josephus (Life, 33). Compsus was a member of the aristocratic party in Tiberias and among the supporters of the Romans. Support for the theory is found in the fact that the legend is attributed to Johanan who taught in Tiberias, which might well have been the scene of the story.


Derenbourg, Hist, 266–7; A.A. Halevi, Sha'arei ha-Aggadah (1963), 203ff.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.