Sunday, September 28, 2008

Why was Judea Destroyed?

The destruction of the Jewish communities of Erez Yisrael in the first century of the common era, with the destruction of the 2nd temple at its heart, followed by the genocide of the Jews of Judea 70 years later, were a catastrophe of epic proportions. All the while as they were happening, Jewish creativity never slowed down for a moment; indeed, the mishnaic era is rightfully regarded as one of the peaks in a history of millenia of cultural creativity. Yet while the creativity was never blunted, the echoes of the catastrophe reverberate resoundingly all the way into the main political discussions of the 21st century.

Page 55b of the Gitin tractate launches a long discussion of the catastrophe, its causes, its outlines, and its results. These 4-5 pages deserve a book-length analysis, which I'm not about to undertake. Still, here's the first story, that launches the discussion; it's very well known by many educated Jews, whether they've studied Gitin or not. I find it fascinating on many levels, one of which is the total lack of the feeling of victimization the powerless or weak are so supposed to revel in these days, as if weakness is a moral trophy. Well, those Jews sure proved to be the weaker side, and they sure were persecuted, but for the next few thousand years they told themselves stories about all the things they did wrong to bring their suffering upon themselves. So here's perhaps the single most important story of all, the story of Kamza and Bar Kamza, because of whom Jerusalem was destroyed:

There were once in Jerusalem two men, one named Kamza and the other named Bar Kamza. And there was a third man who's name has mercifully been lost, who was a friend of Kamza and an enemy of Bar Kamza. This man hosted an important social event, and told his servant to invite Kamza. The servant mistakenly invited Bar Kamza. When Bar Kamza arrived, the host threw him out. Bar Kamza, publicly mortified, begged to be allowed to stay, offering to pay the cost of his board, or even the entire cost of the event, but the host refused. Bar Kamza was especially furious that the high society of the time, the scholars, watched this happen and didn't do anything to save him from humiliation, and so he went to the Romans and told them the Jews were plotting a revolt, and this set the whole story in motion.

The moral of the story, the Talmud tells us, is that Jerusalem was destroyed because of sin'at hinam, unnecessary animosity between people. Not, say, occupation, or the heavy weight of Roman rule, or a wish for freedom or liberty or any sort of noble action one could attribute to the Jews or ignoble policy to attribute to the Roman. The Jews were punished, according to their own version, because they deserved it.


Anonymous said...


"Animosity between people." And, missing: A single word about Jesus. As if he never existed, folks.

As if, somehow, myth was binding itself to reality.

We also know "something" about that period, because Josephus, living in Eygpt (Alexandria). Lived in a Greek speaking JEWISH community.

It seems Jews filtered back to Eygpt, following ALexander's victory, where the Pharoah's seat went to Greeks.

So, it's still a puzzle.

Sometimes? (And, not just now). It seems Jews lack "official recorders." Though, to the side, as I said, we see Josephus.

Oh, also missing from the story of the 2nd Temple. Enhanced by Herrod. Who was a tool of the Romans, was the fact that the temple was being dressed to house one of the Roman gods. (Again, no visible written recording is made by those who began fighting with each other.

Heck, The Almighty Himself "forgot" to tell his "favorite son" what was in store for the Romans! With parenting like that, it's no wonder so many humans also complain that their parents weren't the best. Though, of course, they TRIED TO DO THEIR BEST.

The real villian, here, are the Romans. Jesus was wrong to say "they deserved being paid their tribute." But then? At the time maybe this wasn't heard?

Myths grow bigger after reality passes.

And, yes. More Jews at that time probably spoke in Greek. Forgetting Hebrew. And, I do believe a man, in the late 19th century ... named Ben Yahuda ... found away to lift the dead language of Hebrew ... out of the dead. And, the LANGUAGE re-emerged, and came back to life.

Now that's a resurrection story I can believe in.

The rest? It would have been so much better, just like now, if our writing mavens were targeting the truth, "a bissel besser." Of course, people have the Internet.

Anonymous said...

I'm on my last leg of Suetonius' 12 Caesars (Translation Robert Graves) and I got the impression from half sentences here and there that the Romans had had it with the Jews because of the Jews making trouble in Rome itself because of their Christ. Most certainly not Rome's single reason for going after Judea but possibly part of the build-up.

"Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus*), he (Claudius) expelled them from the city."
*) i.e. apparently Christ (who had been crucified in the reign of Tiberius.)
rgds, Silke

Morey Altman said...


An excellent resource is Martin Goodman's Rome and Jerusalem:

It's a daunting read, long and sometimes dry, but filled with fascinating details of the Roman-Jewish relationship. What is clear is that, like most conflicts today, the causes of the destruction of Jerusalem and subsequent exile were many and complex. Nevertheless, it's also clear that we are most weak when we are divided, a condition our enemies have always understood and taken advantage of. The parallels to today are, to say the least, disconcerting.

Yaacov, best wishes to you and your family for a happy and healthy New Year.

Anonymous said...


Robert Graves, last time I looked, wasn't a rabbinic source.

And, "here and there" leaves out the ending. WE KNOW WHAT HAPPENED. Rome's gone. Latin is a dead language.

As to Jesus, he certainly gained a huge reputation after his dead. No question. And, still the mainstream of Judaism was quiet.

When you depend on others; you're like that female character in Street Car Named Desire. You're "depending on the kindness of strangers," as you're being carted off to a mental institution.

Yes, we have ancient texts. And, it is also true that Albert Einstein dismissed these as being "myth and superstition." Perhaps, there's some confusion? In science people OBSERVE, first. They don't jump to conclusions. Or believe in ancient prayers, as if this as good as a telephone. Which, as the old joke to an American president goes; At the Wall Jews make local calls.

All religion is well and good. Those who believe derive enormous comfort. On the other hand, those who unbind themselves from slavish rituals are looking to see if there aren't some things within reality, that in every generation gets discussed. (Well, if it's nothing more than gossip passed over the fence? It will go unrecorded.)

We also know how ignorant people had been; where teaching even reading and writing to women wasn't considered important enough.

Someplace, in the murky past hides what really happened. We know the Romans were brutal. That the whole idea behind their conquering territory was to force every population to give them "spoils." And, this is what motivated the armies to form, in the first place.

We also know, from Shakespeare, that something went wrong when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon. Prior to his army's march? Rome was a Free Republic. And, afterwards, not. The spoils, however, brought out the worst in those who wanted to grab Caesar's laurels. (You know 60 senators,each one with a knife, threw their thrusted knives into him. Not to have his face exposed, Julius lifted his cape to cover his face. And, he was the GENIUS! You know, through Shakespeare's recreation of Plutarch's story ... that three men then vied to control Rome. Marc Antony, a fool. Who accepted Cleopatra's stupid military maneuvers at sea. And, he lost his ships. And, then she and he lost their lives.

The final winner was Octavius. He changed his name to Augustus.

But Roman history, which actually brought armed soldiers further into Mideast and European territories than had ever gone before ... Also brought roads. So the soldiers could use them. And, all these roads led to Rome.

For one thousand years, after the fall of Rome, the lights went out. People, in ignorance, forgot all the technilogical greatness that had also been Rome.

You can make a similar excursion into China. And, you'd discover how early the Chinese developed and improved, hundreds of years before the West even caught on. (With some of these ideas, especially when it came to building bridges that scaled over choppy waters) going to Marco Polo. Others? Everyone who trekked the Old Silk Road learned secrets. Just as those old (ancient) Chinese, picked up on Buddah. And, the religions of India.

There is a famous man, Joseph Needham. Who, in 1942, went to China. From England. And, later, since he was a Cambridge professor, he embarked on studying the SCIENCE AND CIVILIZATION OF CHINA. He produced encyclopedia textbooks. Why was he so fascinated? He asks the question: Why were the Chinese, who were so advanced, before the West, then fall fallow?

He never accepts the answer that there's something within the Chinese character, itself, that lacked the Englightment. That lacked the powers the West had, once the lights went on.

If we're on another spiral? Then, ahead, the lights go out, again. Mish mosh.

There is a part of to the nature of man that remains unenlightened. And, also less than cooperative.

What Israel had, but seems to be losing, is that very "can do" spirit. And, the bindings that held Jews together, no matter from where they came.

No one can blame us for the morass now. There's something rotten, within.

While, yes. Alive or not. There was a religious myth that built. Where some people in the West, no matter which of the faiths they choose, still believe "this all happened 5000 years ago. In a garden. With a talking snake.

And, others? Well, most people are polite. And, accept the idea as long as there's freedom. You have freedom to practice religous thoughts any which way you choose.

Can this produce hate as well as freedom? Well, you can't test this with the Romans! They were a fearsome crew! And, they pillaged Carthage, as well. No one held those insanities "accountable."

Still, what's missing from the records is a "man of God, or a son of God," who would have obtained the "skinny" on reading the future.

Didn't happen. What did happen? Well, one rabbi, named Saul, had an epileptic seisure. And, when it was over, he said "he saw Jesus as his savior." Could'a been worse. He could'a been on LSD.

Doesn't change the worries that there's something beneficial to all peoples in secular public spaces.