The Three Weeks
The Adams Street Shul

Congregation Agudas Achim Anshei Sfard

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YaffeShlomo02Only the word of HaShem could order the Akeidah, yet the word of an angel was sufficient to stay the hand of Avrohom.

In this Tisha B'Av shiur, given on July 16, 2013,  Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe offers an analysis of the hazards of religious certainty, drawing evidence from throughout Jewish history, starting with an investigation of Zechariah ben Abkulas's critical error (in Talmud Gittin 56a), and drawing conclusions regarding appropriate relations between diverse persons and communities in our own day. 

This class lasts one hour and twenty-six minutes.  The source text under discussion may be found on the bottom of this page, beneath the video.




Talmud Gittin 55B - 56A

R. Johanan said: What is illustrative of the verse, Happy is the man that feareth always, but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief?

The destruction of Jerusalem came through a Kamza and a Bar Kamza;
the destruction of Tur Malka came through a cock and a hen;
the destruction of Bethar came through the shaft of a leather.

The destruction of Jerusalem 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 [the servant] went and brought Bar Kamza. 
When the man [who gave the party] found him there he said, "See, you tell tales about me; what are you doing here?  Get out."
Said the other: "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 him by the hand and put him out.
Said the other, "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, "The Jews are rebelling against you."
He said, "How can I tell?"
He said to him: "Send them an offering and see whether they will offer it [on the altar]."
So he [the Emperor] sent with him a fine calf. 
While on the way he [Bar Kamza] made a blemish on its upper lip, or as some say on the white of its eye, in a place where we [Jews] count it a blemish but they do not.

The Rabbis were inclined to offer it in order not to offend the Government.
Said R. Zechariah b. Abkulas to them: "People will say that blemished animals are offered on the altar."
They then proposed to kill Bar Kamza so that he should not go and inform against them, but R. Zechariah b. Abkulas said to them, "Is one who makes a blemish on consecrated animals to be put to death?"
R. Johanan thereupon remarked: "Through the scrupulousness of R. Zechariah ben Abkulas, our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt, and we ourselves exiled from our land."

He [the Emperor] sent against them Nero the Caesar.  As he was coming he shot an arrow towards the east, and it fell in Jerusalem.  He then shot one towards the west, and it again fell in Jerusalem.  He shot towards all four points of the compass, and each time it fell in Jerusalem.  He said to a certain boy:  "Repeat to me [the last] verse of Scripture you have learnt." 

He said: "And I will lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel."

He said: "The Holy One, blessed be He, desires to lay waste his House and to lay the blame on me."  So he ran away and became a proselyte, and R. Meir was descended from him.

He then sent against them Vespasian the Caesar who came and besieged Jerusalem for three years. 
There were in it three men of great wealth, Nakdimon ben Gorion, Ben Kalba Shabua, and Ben Zizith Hakeseth. 
Nakdimon ben Gorion was so called because the sun continued shining for his sake.
Ben Kalba Shabua was so called because one would go into his house hungry as a dog [Keleb] and come out full [Sabea']. 
Ben Zizith Hakeseth was so called because his fringes [Zizith] used to trail on cushions [Keseth].  Others say he derived the name from the fact that his seat [Kise] was among those of the nobility of Rome. 
One of these said to the people of Jerusalem, "I will keep them in wheat and barley." 
A second said, "I will keep them in wine, oil and salt." 
The third said, "I will keep them in wood."
The Rabbis considered the offer of wood the most generous, since R. Hisda used to hand all his keys to his servant save that of the wood, for R. Hisda used to say, A storehouse of wheat requires sixty stores of wood [for fuel].
These men were in a position to keep the city for twenty-one years.

The Biryoni were then in the city. 
The Rabbis said to them: "Let us go out and make peace with them [the Romans]."
They would not let them; but on the contrary said, "Let us go out and fight them."
The Rabbis said: "You will not succeed."
They [the Biryoni] then rose up and burnt the stores of wheat and barley so that a famine ensued.

Martha the daughter of Boethius was one of the richest women in Jerusalem.  She sent her man-servant out saying, "Go and bring me some fine flour." 
By the time he went, it was sold out.   He came and told her, "There is no fine flour, but there is white [flour]."
She then said to him, "Go and bring me some."
By the time he went, he found the white flour sold out.  He came and told her, "There is no white flour but there is dark flour."
She said to him, "Go and bring me some."
By the time he went it was sold out.  He returned and said to her, "There is no dark flour, but there is barley flour."
She said, "Go and bring me some." 
By the time he went, this was also sold out. 
She had taken off her shoes, but she said, "I will go out and see if I can find anything to eat."
Some dung stuck to her foot and she died.

Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai applied to her the verse, "The tender and delicate woman among you which would not adventure to set the sole of her foot upon the ground."