A Little Comparative Mythology for the 9th of Av

Today is Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, a day which commemorates the destruction of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem, the Bays HaMikdash, by both the Babylonians in 586 BCE, and again by the Romans in 70CE.

photo c/o grubness
The Talmud teaches that the second temple was destroyed for the sin of “baseless hatred”—the mistreatment of a fellow human being without particular cause or reason. The story goes something like this…

A man wanted to throw a party for all his friends, so he drew up a guest list and instructed his servant to send out the invitations. One of the men on the guest list was named “Kamtza,” but the servant made a mistake and invited “Bar Kamtza” instead. Oops – Bar Kamtza was actually a sworn enemy of the host!

When Bar Kamtza received his invitation, he was very grateful thinking that the host had finally made amends. But when Bar Kamtza showed up at the party, the host took one look and told his servant to have Bar Kamtza immediately removed from the premises.

When asked to leave, Bar Kamtza said: “I understand the mistake. But it’s embarrassing for me to leave the party. I’ll gladly pay the cost of my meal if you’ll allow me to stay.”

The host would hear nothing of this, and reiterated his demand to have Bar Kamtza removed.

Bar Kamtza appealed again: “I’d even be willing to pay HALF the cost of the entire party, if only I’d be allowed to stay.”

Again the request was denied. At which point, the distraught Bar Kamtza pleaded: “I’ll pay for the entire party! Just please don’t embarrass me in this way!”

The host, however, stuck to his guns and threw Bar Kamtza out. The Talmud reports that Bar Kamtza was so hurt and upset, that he went straight to the Roman authorities and gave slanderous reports of disloyal behavior among the Jews. This fueled the Romans’ anger, and they proceeded to attack and destroy the Holy Temple.

—Talmud, Gittin 5 (c/o Aish)

Similarly, in the mythos of the Discordians (followers of the Greek goddess Eris, the goddess of chaos), practically the same story is told, but within a different mythological context.

It seems that Zeus was preparing a wedding banquet for Peleus and Thetis and did not want to invite Eris because of Her reputation as a trouble maker.

This made Eris angry, and so She fashioned an apple of pure gold and inscribed upon it KALLISTI (“To The Prettiest One”) and on the day of the fete She rolled it into the banquet hall and then left to be alone and joyously partake of a hot dog.

Now, three of the invited goddesses, Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite, each immediately claimed it to belong to herself because of the inscription. And they started fighting, and they started throwing punch all over the place and everything.

Finally Zeus calmed things down and declared that an arbitrator must be selected, which was a reasonable suggestion, and all agreed. He sent them to a shepherd of Troy, whose name was Paris because his mother had had a lot of gaul and had married a Frenchman; but each of the sneaky goddesses tried to outwit the others by going early and offering a bribe to Paris.

Athena offered him Heroic War Victories, Hera offered him Great Wealth, and Aphrodite offered him the Most Beautiful Woman on Earth. Being a healthy young Trojan lad, Paris promptly accepted Aphrodite’s bribe and she got the apple and he got screwed.

As she had promised, she maneuvered earthly happenings so that Paris could have Helen (The Helen) then living with her husband Menelaus, King of Sparta. Anyway, everyone knows that the Trojan War followed when Sparta demanded their Queen back and that the Trojan War is said to be The First War among men.

And so we suffer because of the Original Snub. And so a Discordian is to partake of No Hot Dog Buns.

Do you believe that?

— The Principia Discordia (c/o principiadiscordia.com)

Pretty interesting, huh? You have to wonder if the presence of Greeks in Jerusalem had an influence on the Talmud or if the influence of Jews on the Greeks impressed upon the Greek mythos. Either way, it’s an important lesson to learn, regardless of its origins: Don’t be a dick.

Anyhow, today, we read from the book of Eicha, Lamentations, a beautiful and riveting yet unnerving piece of biblical poetry, which you can read and hear [stream/download] in Hebrew or read and hear in English online. For more on Tisha B’Av, visit Aish HaTorah or The Orthodox Union online.

3 thoughts on “A Little Comparative Mythology for the 9th of Av

  1. with respect to the rabbis who wrote this summary, it is not the whole story and it is not an accurate description of the moral of the story. the story continues that Bar Kamtza brought a calf to be sacrificed at the Temple on behalf of the Roman Emperor and cut it in such a way as to cause a blemish prohibiting its sacrifice. Thus, he reasoned, he could tell the Emperor that the Jews were rebelling and show their refusal to sacrifice the calf as evidence. Understanding the danger, some of the rabbis wanted to sacrifice the calf anyway or at least kill Bar Kamtza so that he couldn’t cause trouble. R. Zarcharia ben Abkulas, however, insists that they can’t do either because the law would not permit it. The Talmud concludes, “Through the humility of R. Zecharia b. Abkulas, our Sanctuary was destroyed, our Temple burned, and we ourselves exiled from our land.” The moral is that the “humility” of R. Zecharia in refusing to go against the law, even in the face of overriding political necessity and physical danger to the Jews, led to the Destruction. That’s a very different lesson than what the story as told on Aish.com says.
    It is disappointing that Aish would purport to find a moral in a story without giving the whole story, particulary when Aish is geared toward outreach to those who might not know enough Talmud to understand the context.

  2. i knew the part of the story about the blemished calf, and the talmud’s conclusion–but the supposition of the talmudic authors is misleading. if the host hadn’t been such a jerk to bar kamtza he would’ve never blemished the calf.
    the fact that they or you would make it all about rav zecharia is telling–because what it does is create the impression that rabbis have a special power to affect destiny and that we the ordinary non-ordained folks like us don’t. this serves only to make the masses subservient to rabbinic authority.
    if the case were as you state it, the moral of the story is lost, because the jewish people are punished for rav zecharia’s honoring of god’s law. thus you can take away the impression that honoring god’s law will spell disaster for the jewish people.
    an alternative to this perception could be that rav zecharia recognized that honoring god’s law is more important than the physical existence of the temple, and therefore god destroyed the temple in order to show us that we didn’t need it anymore–our emunah transcended the temple’s function. in that case, we should celebrate the destruction of the temple, not mourn it, because it marked the coming of age of the jewish people.
    but considering the anguish and suffering described in eicha–mothers eating their own children and the like–i believe it’s much safer to say that the moral of the story is, don’t be a dick for the sake of being a dick. rather, be compassionate and merciful towards even those with whom you most strongly conflict, and you can avoid all the horrors war.
    the talmud is not a canonical text–it is a conversation: one which we should keep on having.

  3. the talmud isn’t a canonical text? sure it is! sealed and untoucheable, but doesn’t mean we’re not to create new legends all the time, yeah?
    both of y’all left out another part of the moral: The sages of the generation were blamed for letting the whole thing happen. they were at the party while poor bar kamtza was being humiliated, and didn’t say anything to the host to stop it. and for their silence, in allowing some poor shnook to be humiliated, the temple was destroyed.
    kamtza, incidently, being clenched fist (i.e kamtzan, hebrew for mizer). as if to say, not just the problem with being a dick, but the problem with being hard-assed about it, to the point of self-destrucive behavior for the sake of getting at the other guy. because the host only loses from kicking out his enemy, and bar kamtza gets exiled when the romans conquer too! sinas hinam means not “reasonless hatred” as it’s so often translated. like Shlomo Carlebach said, when you wanna hate, you can always find a reason.
    sinas hinam means “free hate.” letting the hate pour out, even when it doesn’t benefit you. unselfish hate.
    what’s the only healing for this wound? free love of course, or so our sages of blessed memory say. free love, loving even when you don’t get anything out of it. that’s the way to build a temple, one that lasts.
    but yeah, the encounter between greece and israel is described by R’ Tzadok hacohen as being the transitional point for the world, when prophesy ends and logic begins as the deciders of the law. when we revolted against the voice of God, because it wasn’t healing us or making our internal problems go away. the first temple was destroyed because of idolatry, right? and then we got over that, and saw that the problem was much deeper.
    the problem is we don’t love each other enough, we don’t communicate enough, and we’re too willing to kill ourselves to fuck over our enemies. God! don’t just forgive us, heal us! break our pattern on this endless wheel of conflict, and teach us how to see you in everyone, how to blame ourselves and not poor bar kamtza. how not to be afraid of each others truths. so please be your will NOW!

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