This week’s portion, Devarim, is read on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av, the day on which, tradition tells us, both the First and Second Temples were destroyed. Tradition also tells us that the second destruction “came about through a Kamtza and a Bar Kamtza.”
66 C.E. Judea. A dinner party. As a wealthy gentleman, Reuven, strolls among his guests, he is shocked to encounter Bar Kamtza.
Reuven: Who invited you? You, you… putz.
Bar Kamtza: You did. Your servant came.
Reuven: He’s an idiot. You can’t get good help these days. I invited Kamtza. Not Bar Kamtza.
Bar Kamtza: I admit I was surprised. But I thought you wanted to bury the hatchet.
Reuven: I do. Between your shoulder blades.
Bar Kamtza: What’d I do?
Reuven: You didn’t do anything. I just don’t like you.
Bar Kamtza: Sinat chinam, baseless hatred. That’s no reason.
Reuven: Reason enough. Out.
Bar Kamtza: Come on. I’m here already. Don’t do this. I’ll cover any costs for food and drink.
Reuven: What part of “get out” don’t you understand? You’re not welcome here.
Bar Kamtza: Stop it. This is embarrassing. Look, I’ll split the party costs with you. Just let me stay and stop your shraying.
Reuven: It’s my party, I’ll shray if I want to. Go.
Bar Kamtza: I’ll pay for the whole party. What more could you ask?
Reuven: Just one thing. Will you please get out?
Bar Kamtza: You would treat me this way in front of all the rebbes among your guests?
Reuven: Do you know how much I donate to the temple? Yes, in front of the rebbes.
Bar Kamtza: This is not a good idea.
Reuven: It’s a great idea. As soon as you leave, I can enjoy my party.
Bar Kamtza: You shouldn’t treat people like this.
Reuven: Watch me. Watch the rebbes watch me.
Bar Kamtza: But what if there are consequences?
Reuven: Oooh, I’m shaking in my sandals.
Bar Kamtza: I’m serious. I’m very upset. I could do something crazy.
Reuven: Such as?
Bar Kamtza: I’ll tell Nero the Jews are planning a rebellion.
Reuven: But we aren’t.
Bar Kamtza: The Zealots are.
Reuven: We’ve got them under control.
Bar Kamtza: You think you could control them if Nero sent soldiers here?
Reuven: He’s not sending soldiers.
Bar Kamtza: He might.
Bar Kamtza: Because the priests refuse to burn his offering at the temple.
Reuven: Don’t be silly. We welcome non-Jews. Of course they’ll burn his offering.
Bar Kamtza: Not after I cut the lamb’s lip. An imperfect offering can’t be sacrificed.
Reuven: We’ll explain the problem.
Bar Kamtza: To Nero? That Jewish rules are better than Roman ones?
Reuven: Then we’ll sacrifice the thing anyway. Big deal.
Bar Kamtza: You think Rabbi Zecharya ben Avkulis will stand still for that? He’s afraid of his own shadow. He’ll worry people will get the idea it’s okay to sacrifice imperfect animals.
Reuven: You’re right. He’s such a pain. But I have a solution.
Bar Kamtza: Yeah?
Reuven: Yeah. We’ll kill you instead.
Bar Kamtza: Zecharya won’t allow that because death isn’t the penalty for despoiling a sacrificial animal. Gotta play by the rules.
Reuven: I’m beginning to remember why I don’t like you. So no sacrifice. So what?
Bar Kamtza: So Nero sends Vespasian to put down the revolt.
Reuven: There isn’t any revolt!
Bar Kamtza: There will be once the Zealots see Roman soldiers surrounding Judea. Once Vespasian starts in with the edicts. And he will.
Reuven: If he does, we will send a wise rabbi — say Yochanan ben Zakkai — to talk to him. And Zakkai, being so well connected, will know the instant that bastard, Nero, is driven from power. And who will the Senate choose to replace him? Who else? Their best general, Vespasian! Zakkai gives Titus V the news and Vespasian, in a rather expansive mood as new emperors tend to be, will certainly give Zakkai a wish or two in gratitude for the information.
Bar Kamtza: And Zakkai will do what exactly?
Reuven: Isn’t it obvious? He’ll ask Vespasian to withdraw and give the Jews a chance to show their unswerving loyalty to Mother Rome.
Bar Kamtza: He wouldn’t dare.
Reuven: Why not?
Bar Kamtza: Because he’ll be afraid that’s asking too much. The last thing he needs is a ticked-off emperor. No, you know what he’ll ask? Protection for Torah scholarship.
Reuven: That’s it?
Bar Kamtza: That’s it.
Reuven: You mean he accepts the destruction of the Temple, the loss of Jerusalem and indeterminate exile for his people in exchange for the right to study Torah?
Bar Kamtza: If we can study Torah, we can survive Exile forever.
Reuven: The Zealots will never go for it.
Bar Kamtza: They’re out-numbered. What are they gonna do? Make a last stand on Masada?
Reuven: So you’re telling me all this pain and suffering just because I don’t let you stay tonight?
Bar Kamtza: It could happen.
Reuven: Yeah, right. Out.
Jeffrey Fiskin is a writer who lives in Hollywood.