liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
[personal profile] liv
Today it was so unreasonably hot that [livejournal.com profile] blackherring's (unlit) havdalah candle melted. We stayed in her room where there is air-conditioning, and studied some Gemara relevant to today's fast of Tisha b'Av.

The scene is this: some rabbis are discussing the events of around 70 CE (a generation or so after Jesus' death). Judea was under Roman occupation, and in 70, the Romans decided to take action to end the political trouble and fomenting rebellion in the province. This culminated in the destruction of the (second) Temple, the centre of Jewish worship, and the whole city of Jerusalem was also razed and the Jewish population relocated. This is one of the major tragedies that is commemorated by today's fast. R Jochanan tells the following story:

Once there was a man who had a good friend named Kamtza and a mortal enemy named bar Kamtza. He threw a party, and told his servant to invite his friend Kamtza, but the servant invited his enemy bar Kamtza. When the host saw bar Kamtza sitting there at his party, he was furious.

"What are you doing here?!", he cried. "Get out of my house!"

Bar Kamtza begged to be allowed to stay, offering to pay for whatever he ate and drank. No way, said the host. Bar Kamtza offered to pay half the cost of the party. Still no way. He offered to pay the whole cost of the party. No! The host had bar Kamtza seized and bodily thrown out of his house.

Bar Kamtza saw the rabbis, the community leaders, sitting at the party and watching this happen. None of them said anything, so bar Kamtza thought they must be ok with him being treated this way. He decided to become an informer and approached the Roman authorities. He had a report made to Caesar saying that the Jews were planning a rebellion. His Roman contact was cynical: "Sez who?". Bar Kamtza replied, "If you don't believe me, why don't you send them a sacrifice for the glory of the Empire, and see if they offer the sacrifice or not."

The Romans gave bar Kamtza a three-year-old calf for sacrifice. He took the calf and deliberately made a blemish in its mouth or eye, so that the Jews would consider the animal unfit for sacrifice but the Romans would still see it as acceptable for sacrifice. Now the Jewish community had a dilemma: should they sacrifice the blemished animal in the hope that the Romans would leave them alone, or should they follow Jewish law correctly and refuse to sacrifice it, risking terrible reprisals?

Most of the rabbis favoured sacrificing the blemished animal anyway, given the political situation. Or maybe they should refuse to sacrifice it and kill bar Kamtza so that he couldn't make his damaging report to the Roman authorities. R Zechariah the son of Avkoulos protested: they couldn't give the impression that they were the sort of people who went around sacrificing blemished animals, and they couldn't give the impression that they were the sort of people who would kill someone for a trivial offence like making a blemish on a sacrficial animal.

Because of this, the Temple was destroyed, and Jerusalem was burned, and the Jews were sent into exile.

So the question is, whose fault is it that Jerusalem was destroyed? Answers in comments please! Not doing a poll because I want to know your reasoning. I've heard it said you can deduce a lot about someone's character from whom they blame in this story.

(The story is my paraphrase of a chunk from Gittin 55b. And yes, some of you have played this one before. Oh, and R Jochanan says it's R Zechariah b Avkoulos' fault for being excessively pious, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's right.)

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-15 12:48 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] rho
I say it's the fault of the Romans who actually did the destroying. Regardless of what anyone else had or had not done, they still had the choice either to destroy or not to destroy. Ultimately, everyone is responsible for their own actions, and their own actions only, so I don't think I could lay the blame elsewhere. That's not to say that I think everyone else in the story acted without fault, I just don't think they're the ones responsible.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-15 07:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] compilerbitch.livejournal.com
I agree with [livejournal.com profile] rho.

If this event never happened for some reason, something else would have triggered something similar soon enough. It is central to the nature of oppressed populations that unrest tends to erupt eventually, though some kind of in and of itself not very important event tends to be a flash point that appears to cause the start of a disturbance.

It is an effect that is common to many nonlinear systems, actually. The most obvious example would be an avalanche -- in no way would, say, a single gunshot be sufficient to cause millions of tonnes of snow and ice to be displaced by several kilometres, yet such an event on triggering an avalanche can indeed appear to do exactly that. It is pretty clear, obviously, that the avalanche is really due to a large mass of snow and ice high up a mountain, possessing lots of potential energy though not really being all that well stuck in place. A bit of a nudge, and any one bit of snow starts moving downhill, hitting other bits of snow and giving them the nudge to do likewise. If, at the bottom of the mountain, you pick any one snowflake, there will be a clear causal chain back to the bullet that triggered the avalanche, though from the snowflake's point of view, it was really only caused to move down the hill by its nearest neighbour in the chain.

If you apply this model to the situation that you describe, it is very clear that the society under occupation by the Romans was fundamentally unstable -- given any individual, they wouldn't wish to be the first to rise up against the Romans, but if their peers did so they would be happy to participate. The interesting thing here is how many peers need to act before someone is willing to join the fray -- from percolation theory, this coefficient turns out to be very important, with some odd properties. Below a critical point, rebellions will be localised and will die out of their own accord. Above that critical point, the rebellion will quickly spread to a whole population. The critical point between these behaviours turns out to be a knife edge if you see it drawn as a graph -- its exact value turns to depend upon the amount and topology of the social networks that exist. I suppose that one might see that coefficient as representing in a very direct way the amount of discontent that is current in the society at any particular time.

My considered opinion is that blame is not really very relevant. Clearly, the society of the time was under sufficient stress that any perturbation would cause an 'open cluster', i.e. a revolt involving the whole population. If anything is to blame, it is clearly the Roman occupation itself.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-15 02:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] compilerbitch.livejournal.com
I think it is an interesting moral point. Taking a population, it is easy to see that generalised discontent has effects that are as inevitable as gravity, yet the behaviour of a population is no more than a sum of the behaviours of its individuals. Though individuals have moral responsibilities ('I saw my friend Joshua being beaten by a couple of Roman soldiers, so I and a few others entered the fray to help protect him') that are amenable to analysis (Joshua good, soldiers bad, crowd getting a bit carried away and doing a bit of extracurricular looting considerably worse), it is far from clear how this kind of consideration should or even can be extended to populations.

It is interesting that percolation theory suggests that controlling an oppressed population is going to be much easier if you somehow manage to restrict people's social networks so that all clusters are closed. It might make for quite a nice short story, though I am far from having the time to write something like that!

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-15 02:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] compilerbitch.livejournal.com
Sudden unexpected shifts in the state of nonlinear systems are something that seems, like I mentioned previously, to be common to pretty much all nonlinear systems. From the perspective of a snowflake, an avalanche might well appear utterly inexplicable ('Why did all my friends suddenly rush downhill like that? I asked them, and none of them knew why either') and seem like an act of god. People always look for reasons why things happen, so when no clear cause can be found, it is very common to place the blame at god's feet. In my example, the 'god of snowflakes' that causes avalanches need actually be no more than the sum of the local behaviour of all snowflakes on the mountainside, yet it would appear just as capricious as the most brimstoneish of deities.

Interestingly, the idea that a bit of generalised bad behaviour within a population might well increase the tension within the system and thereby increasing the likelihood and indeed the frequency of sudden dislocations. Going back to your example, if the local Jewish population were annoying the Romans (and each other) with their bad behaviour, the tendency for any individual to say, "Right, that's IT!" and start chucking rocks will inevitably increase the chances of something going awry at the population level.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-17 03:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lumiere.livejournal.com
The difference between snowflakes and any moral view of people is free will: the snowflakes have no choices, and people do.

Choice matters: whether to be inhospitable (http://www.livejournal.com/users/livredor/107441.html?thread=965553#t965553), to throw rocks, or to injure an animal for revenge. Those choices affect the settings for other choices; they might have interesting consequences.

We can argue whether some kind of probability theory applies to individual choices, and if so, we can look for statistical theories of mass behavior, i.e., Asimov's psychohistory, but ignoring those choices, and people's ability to make unlikely decisions (e.g., tzadiks), removes the moral culpability from the mass behavior, and makes it seem inevitable, mere history working itself out.

In this case, there are two questions we're discussing. First, in the instance, who was to blame for the destruction of Jerusalem, whether bar Kamtza in the story, or Nero (http://www.livejournal.com/users/livredor/107441.html?thread=967857#t967857) in the history? Second, was the destruction inevitable given the situation at the time?

Regarding inevitability, we see that, since people make choices, the destruction is not inevitable until it has happened. Up until then, different (albeit surprising) choices could have averted it, the weather could have destroyed the Roman army's ability to make war, or other non-human factors could have come into play to prevent Jerusalem's destruction. And even were it aparently inevitable, that would not remove moral culpability for contributing to it, as we may generalize from the Jewish law that holds that murder is wrong even if the victim was already doomed, even if performed under threat of death, even if it is part of an attempt to save another life.

And on that reading, everyone in the story, and in the history, shares in the blame, from the the servant, to bar Kamtza, to the rabbis, to Caesar and the Roman generals, to the Roman soliders who followed orders. Everyone chose, and those choices resulted in what happened. Change the choices, and the story changes. Change a sufficient set of choices, and the second temple would still stand today.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-18 10:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lumiere.livejournal.com
[livejournal.com profile] vorona quoted Maimonides (http://www.livejournal.com/users/vorona/332901.html) today:
Each person must see himself as though the entire world were held in balance
and any deed he might do could tip the scales.


Given what we know about nonlinear systems, for certain crucial choices, that choice can tip the scales. And often we only realize the choice was crucial afterward.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-15 03:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
Well, Sinas chinom (baseless hatred) is a pretty good explanation of what caused the destruction of the Second Temple; as regards the destruction of the first, I'm not prepared to buy it. The OT is polemical and moralising, and blind to the wider historical context. It fails completely to make the necessary distinction between good king and good Israelite, thus King Menashe is portrayed as a very bad man, who suppressed the Israelite religion and filled the land with blood from one end to the other, whereas in actuality he was a master of realpolitik who managed to put the destruction of Judah off for another generation by swallowing his national pride and sucking up to the neighbouring superpowers.

The Bible inveighs against placing your trust in the Egyptians or Assyrians, but the fact of the matter was these two powers were sparring off against each other in a way which made it very difficult for the kingdom straddling the nomansland between the to survive. And whilst allying with the Egyptians turned out to be the bad thing to do, I don't think this could have been known in advance. Egypt had been a superpower in the region there for thousands of years; the thought that it might get conquered and have its power permanently broken was probably a pretty unthinkable one at the time.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-17 03:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lumiere.livejournal.com
Would neutrality have been a viable approach then? Vacate a route between the two powers, and remind each how bad it would be to allow the other to conquer you?

Naturally, it's a what-if, but those can be fun.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-17 08:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
Would neutrality have been a viable approach then? Vacate a route between the two powers, and remind each how bad it would be to allow the other to conquer you?

Not really; it's difficult to vacate a route when you're straddling the land bridge between continents. As for your second point, I think that would have been playing with fire, as each power would find out what you were saying to the other.

This was an era when long-established empires were succumbing to other players: first the Assyrians to the Neo-Babylonians, then the Babylonians to the Persians, then the Egyptians to the Persians; and when the one empire fell, there'd be no one to protect you from the other.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-18 08:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lumiere.livejournal.com
Mmm, yes, that play would require at least three adjacent empires to pull off, where the alliance of the others could defeat any individual empire.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-15 02:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] compilerbitch.livejournal.com
Perhaps it is the 'fault' of the Jewish population of the time for tending to have a strongly cohesive society, with strong familial links and a habit of closing ranks. This would give its social networks a very high level of connectedness, greatly increasing the chances that a single incident could result in total civil war.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-15 02:57 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] rho
Certainly the Jews contributed to things, yes, but then so did lots of other things/people/events. For instance, who's to say that the Romans weren't more eager to quash any uprisings early because of the events with Boudicca from about ten years previously, leading to decreased tolerance? Does that mean that it was Boudicca's fault? I'd say no.

If we're trying to follow strict causal chains then we have to consider all sorts of different events. Power struggles in the Roman senate leading to a particular man being in charge in Jerusalem at the time. His feeling of how a show of weakness or strength would reflect on him in those power struggles. The rise of Christianity, and resultant increases in intolerance from the Romans to religions other than their own. The famous butterfly which flapped its wings to alter weather patterns to cause a storm, to delay a ship, to make a delivery late, to sour the disposition of an officer, to....

You get my point, I'm sure. The Roman empire was vast, and decidedly non-linear, and the causal chains for any single event are hopelessly tangled and complicated.

Ultimately, though, I reject this sort of causality. The first reason is that it's inherently unsatisfying, because it means that pretty much everyone was responsible for everything. The second reason moves into the thorny free will and determinism debate. If I say it was the fault of Bar Kamtza, the host, or R Zechariah (or Boudicca, or Jesus, or the butterfly) then what I'm essentially saying (imo) is "this person altered the course of history, and set it down an irreversible path; from this point on the destruction of Jerusalem became inevitable". And I reject that, because that would mean that the Romans acted in a purely deterministic sense without any free will.

From a scientific standpoint, I'm not entirely sure where I stand on the issue, but when we're talking in terms of blame, fault and responsibility, we have to act as if it exists; if it doesn't then nobody is to blame, since all we have is history panning out as it was always going to.

So with that in mind, the only people who I can reasonably pin the blame on are the people who actually performed the actions themselves. (As an aside, I realise that this absolves people in government or command of responsibility for things done under their order. I reconcile this by saying that to tell someone to do something morally wrong is also morally wrong itself.)

For instance, consider R Zechariah. One could say that he was well aware that his actions could lead to the destruction of Jerusalem, and therefore that he was culpable. But I don't think that this argument holds water. For instance, I know that if I gave more money to charity, then it could probably be used to save lives. Or, to put it another way, I am aware that there's a high probability that hoarding my money could cause people to die. Does that make their deaths my fault, or does the blame stay with the people who pulled the triggers, or the government officials hoarding resources and starving their populace?

As I said, I don't think that the Jews involved in the story acted faultlessly. They certainly caused harm, but the harm that they caused was not the destruction of Jerusalem, so I don't think they can be blamed for that.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-15 09:28 am (UTC)
pthalo: a photo of Jelena Tomašević in autumn colours (Default)
From: [personal profile] pthalo
Because of this, the Temple was destroyed, and Jerusalem was burned, and the Jews were sent into exile.

Because of what? You don't say what they actually decided. That might affect the answer.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-15 02:05 pm (UTC)
pthalo: a photo of Jelena Tomašević in autumn colours (Default)
From: [personal profile] pthalo
Oh. What I was hoping for was did they decide to sacrifice the animal or not. I was thinking that the missing bit between those paragraphs would say that they decided to sacrifice it or decided not to sacrifice it. Personally, I would've said "this animal is unfit my Jewish laws for sacrifice because this man here has damaged it but here is one of our own that we are willing to sacrifice it is unblemished and fine and good and you can sacrifice your lamb which is fit by your laws for such a sacrifice together and we can all be happy.

So I was thinking it would turn out to be "because of the decision not to sacrifice the animal" or "because of the decision to sacrifice the animal" would be the end cause

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-15 03:34 pm (UTC)
pthalo: a photo of Jelena Tomašević in autumn colours (Default)
From: [personal profile] pthalo
No, I just wanted to have all of the facts before making my decision. :)

I think in situations such as these it's difficult and wrong to place the blame on one specific person. The Romans did not know the Jewish laws or understand them and were under the impression that refusing to sacrifice the animal meant that they were planning to rebel. This information was incorrect, but it's what they had to work with. They made the ultimate choice and they have the responsibility for that but they did not have all the information at hand. They still could have tried to investigate the matter further.

The leaders who decided not to sacrifice the animal also did not have enough information available to make this decision. They did not know what was being planned or what was expected of them.

Bar Kamtza is at blame for a lot of what happened because in making such a big deal out of things, he brought ruin not only for his one enemy but for himself and his loved ones. Certainly they too were hurt by the outcome of this.

The original event, the mistake in inviting him and not the other guy to the thing was possibly the catalyst for the whole thing, but I certainly don't think we should consider whether our choice of party guests will bring about the downfall of the whole nation! There are too many variables and we cannot see that far ahead, how people will react to things. That's why it's important to nip things in the bud before they blow up.

You make a good point about the position of the occupied people in this whole mess and I agree that they are not in a position of power to make the Romans do whatever they wish. But they do have the option to ask and to learn as much as they can about the situation and offer solutions which the occupiers can accept or dismiss.

With the abused wife situation, it is often prudent for her to do what her husband asks of her to spare his anger and often to keep her alive. If you are attacked by a rapist, sometimes you are not strong enough to fight him off and get away and you have to submit and keep him pacified so as to get away alive at the first possible opportunity. It is not good to stay in this position for prolonged periods of time, but it is necessary to do it a little for survival. In this way, I do think the leaders should have sacrificed the animal if there was no choice for a bettter solution and while they made the sacrifice, to pray to God to see the entirity of the situation and to forgive the blemish on the animal in light of the circumstances.

And then there's the whole argument that if this is the way things worked out then maybe that's the way God intended because it was time for something new and greater to be built upon the ashes of an old civilisation or something, but I'm not sure what I think of that perspective.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-15 09:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
Abban's. (Sorry, joke for [livejournal.com profile] rysmiel's benefit.

From my perspective, forget your Mishnaic parables and look at the history books. It was clearly the fault of lots of people. (Indeed, there's more answers to who started the Judaean revolt than who killed Jesus of Nazareth.)

However, I would single out in particular Gessus Florus, the last, appalling, Roman governor of Judaea; also the Jewish fundamentalists (Zealots and other movements) who provoked the rebellion and fanned its flames when the moderates wanted to make up with the Romans, then went on to wrest power in Jerusalem and put the moderate leaders to death, and then burned the city's stores, in order to encourage people to fight to relieve the siege of Jerusalem rather than negotiate a peace.

The real question, I think, was: why did the Roman occupation lead to the rise of the fundamentalists? To be sure, there was always going to be a clash between the Jewish and Roman worldviews, but until the last few decades, it was a low-level one. There was not any significant violence until about 30 CE; and it was only since then that the fundamentalists became a major influence.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-15 08:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
Presumably you weren't expecting Gemara to actually name names, were you?

Why not? The Talmud does elsewhere (Gittin 56 for example names Vespasian (rendering it "Espasianos", as Hebrew at that time lacked the /w/ sound).) The Gemara was written several centuries later and outside of the Roman Empire, so there was no danger from misaligning the Romans. More likely the details had been forgotten. I think it's best to admit that this is a parable and not intended to represent what actually happened. Which is, as far as I can gather (the broad outline from the Judaica, the details from the Net of a Thousand Lies):

A delegation of Jews protested against a pagan sacrifice that was set deliberately in front of a synagogue in Caesarea. Florus promised the Jews his aid but reneged. He arrested the Jews who came to Sebaste for his aid and plundered 17 talents from the Temple treasury. The Jews responded by collecting money in the streets of Jerusalem "for the indigent procurator". Florus demanded those responsible to be handed over for punishment.

Berenice, sister of Agrippa II, tried to intercede. Florus ordered his soldiers to sack Jerusalem. For a while the leading citizens were able to calm the people but when Florus led his troops on the city, the Jews rose in arms.

In an act of defiance, the son of high priest Eleazar ben Hanania ceased prayers and sacrifices dedicated to the Roman Emperor at the Temple and subsequently led a successful attack on the Roman garrison stationed in Jerusalem. [This Eleazar seems to have been a Zealot though his father the High Priest was a moderate.] Gittin 56a attributes this act, which was as formal a start to the revolt as it got, to Zechariah ben Avkilus, whom Josephus describes as the second most prominent leader of the Zealots.

The pro-Roman king Agrippa II and his sister Berenice fled Jerusalem to Galilee, where later they gave themselves up to Romans. Cestius Gallus, the legate of Syria, brought reinforcements to restore order, but lost nearly his entire legion (about 6,000 soldiers) at Beit-Horon while retreating. A provisional government was set up which united under its rule the whole of Jewish Erez Israel.

The emperor Nero could not remain indifferent to events in Judaea and dispatched a huge Roman army under the command of Vespasian to suppress the revolt.

Antipas of the house of Herod tried to stop the rebels at the outbreak of the revolt and was killed by the Zealots.

Joshua b. Gamla and Anan b. Anan castigated the powers in Jerusalem for their indifference to this and incites them against the Zealots. The Zealots, who had control of the Temple Mount, gained that of the whole of Jerusalem with the help of an Idumaean army and put to death these two, along with Goryon b. Joseph. Exeunt moderates, and any chance of making up with the Romans.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-15 08:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rysmiel.livejournal.com
The real question, I think, was: why did the Roman occupation lead to the rise of the fundamentalists? To be sure, there was always going to be a clash between the Jewish and Roman worldviews, but until the last few decades, it was a low-level one. There was not any significant violence until about 30 CE; and it was only since then that the fundamentalists became a major influence.

There seems to be a tendency for religions to do what would in other times be considered peculiar things when interacting with an overwhelmingly large society in the process of losing momentum in some ways, which is something I would really like to know enough about to think about systemically. Apart from the situation currently under discussion, with which I'm not very familiar other than through reading your journal and the particular bit of in-that-context weirdness that became Christianity, I'm thinking of the spread of things like Mithraism and similar mystery cults that ended up with Christianity becoming the state religion of Rome; of the religious extrems arising around the Russian Revolution, Rasputin being the best known example; of the way in which the variety of existing Native American religions seem to fit onto something like this pattern if one views them as splinters/fringe outgrowths in the context of a presumed established religion in the mound-builder culture [ which connects on to what I was saying to [livejournal.com profile] livredor last week about spiking ecosystems as a consequence of collapse ]; and in a more than slightly scary way, to the metastasis of effectively post-Christian religion in the US in the moment, much of which still claims the name of Christianity. I think there's something real here, but I have too few pieces of the picture to say anything about it with any degree of certainty.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-15 08:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
Gosh; I started disagreeing with you there, but by the time I got to the end I'd found myself coming around to your view. Let me know if you manage to make more of a synthesis of that.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-15 11:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kassrachel.livejournal.com
Bearing in mind that my approach to Tisha b'Av is unorthodox (I regard it as a day for mourning our distance from God, for which the destruction of the Temple is a useful synecdoche -- but I wouldn't undo the Diaspora and return to Temple sacrifice even if we could)...

I think it was the host's fault. His behavior showed a complete lack of compassion, which set the whole bitter chain in motion.

(That said, it's also bar Kamtza's fault, for taking such a minor slight and turning it into such a tragedy.)

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-15 03:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lumiere.livejournal.com
There's a huge biblical focus on hospitality, both in story--Avram feeding the angels, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah--and in the mitzvot, particularly those regarding strangers and remembering that we were strangers in a strange land. Given that context, blame falls on all who were present at the party for lack of hospitality to bar Kamtza, and we have seen with Sodom that G-d will destroy a city on on the basis of a widespread lack of hospitality.

If the rabbis knew the Romans were using the sacrificial animal as a test, and I read the story as indicating they may well have, then the commandment to save a life even if it means breaking other commandments may also come into play, and if so, then the rabbis are at fault for agreeing with R Zechariah. R Zechariah is not at fault for arguing the position he did; the others are at fault for agreeing.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-17 02:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lumiere.livejournal.com
I do know what happened to R Akiba, but I do not recall the parable. Please, remind me?

Certainly that's how I think debates are supposed to work: you bring up arguments, even the ones you don't agree with, in order to evaluate them properly.

I'm going to tie in hospitality with the statistical views of history that others have mentioned, but I'll do it in a comment over there.

Also, thanks for the discussion. It's fascinating.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-15 04:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] beckyzoole.livejournal.com
Given the parameters of the story, I blame the rabbis that led the Jewish community. (Although outside of the story I would blame the Romans for misgoverning and mismanaging the province, leading to rebellion and the response.)

It seems to me that the rabbis were halachically obligated to sacrifice the animal to save lives. Moreover, I have always wondered why they didn't just substitute a different calf. The substitution could have been done surreptitiously, or even openly with a bit of subservient explanation that only the best would do for Caesar.

The rabbis were more concerned with their reputations than for the safety of the people. They showed themselves to be unfit leaders. Into that power vacuum came Zealots and rebels, followed inexorably by destruction and death.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-18 07:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] beckyzoole.livejournal.com
On further thought, I'm starting to see the host and Bar Kamtza as analogous to the leadership of the Jewish people at the time.

Bar Kamtza was infuriated because he was humiliated -- it was how he looked to others, what other people thought of him, that was most important. This parallels what the rabbis said "Do we want people to think we're the kind of people who'd..." etc.

Bar Kamtza made suggestions to save face (paying the host, etc), just as the rabbis made suggestions to get around the problem Bar Kamtza had created. But neither Bar Kamtza nor the rabbis could swallow their pride enough to make the peace-making, appeasing gestures that seem obvious to me. (Just go home, Bar Kamtza! Just substitute a different calf, rabbis!)

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-15 04:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elemy.livejournal.com
My gut reaction is that it's all just unfortunate, and that blame is devisive and unnecessary etc. but that if I had to blame someone it would be bar Kamtza, as in disfiguring the calf he performed the only act that was both deliberately aimed at the destruction of Jerusalem, and not in any way dictated by circumstances.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-15 06:32 pm (UTC)
wychwood: chess queen against a runestone (serious science)
From: [personal profile] wychwood
Hey, is that the time of Masada? I remember studying that in Latin class...

I think it was the Romans' fault, because they destroyed the temple!

This is tricky, because there are so many pieces of information we don't have. For instance, although the guy who threw bar Kamtza out of the party was mean, we don't know why they were enemies... say bar Kamtza had killed his son or something, you can see why he wouldn't let him stay at the party even if he *did* offer to pay. Because that's just not the point.

Or maybe it's the servant's fault, for inviting the wrong person? Because, really, that's a pretty stupid mistake.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-15 07:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] quizcustodet.livejournal.com
Some fault lies on the host of the original party, for making a scene - provided the presence of a guest is not making other guests uncomfortable,a host is rude to ask them to leave. Because this was wrong, the rabbis are also at fault, for not speaking reason to the short-tempered host.

But free will remains despite rudeness, so bar-K is culpable for setting up the loyalty test and then rigging it. I'd say that this act has the majority of the responsibility for the Temple's destruction and the diaspora, given the situation presented.

Lesser fault lies with the rabbis who listened to Zechariah. I'm not familiar with the rules regarding sacrifices: is the intent really to prohibit sacrifices with man-made (rather than Divine) blemishes? Even if so, it doesn't seem to tax the ingenuity to explain that _that_ sacrifice was unsuitable, and to make a larger sacrifice of fit animals for the glory of Rome and the Emperor.

But bar-K is the one carrying the most blame IMHO.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-18 10:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] quizcustodet.livejournal.com
(Forgive typos - am working from [livejournal.com profile] loreid's Italian keyboard. [livejournal.com profile] shreena describes my expression at the typos thus occasioned as being like someone who's lost a limb when the keyboard doesn't behave as I expect)

But I would have a hard time jumping from that to the whole tragedy being the host's fault. What he did was wrong, yes, but not because he indirectly caused the destruction of Jerusalem, but because it's morally wrong to treat your fellow human beings like that.

I'm not a philosopher, so definition of terms is not my forte. But when I said that it was his fault, I really meant that his action was both responsible to some degree for the ensuing tragedy and wrong. That doesn't mean that I think he bears full culpability, more that he was wrong.

The argument that would have been open to them would have been more along the lines of: the principle of preventing widespread death, destruction and exile outweighs the principle that only perfect animals can be sacrificed. Or they could, as you and others have suggested, have found a workround that would have satisfied both their consciences and the Romans (assuming the Romans were prepared to be even vaguely reasonable, which is doubtful.)

Didn't they have free will in the same way as bar Kamtza, though? Yes, he set up the situation, but they had the opportunity to defuse the worst consequences of his actions and they didn't do that. The same argument that makes bar Kamtza more culpable than the host might conceivably make the rabbis equally culpable as bar Kamtza; he didn't force them to make a politically stupid decison.


Interestingly, until I read the other comments (after I'd written out my response) I didn't actually consider the response of the Romans as being something that was alterable. I thought that was a given of the scenario. If sacrifice then peace; if no sacrifice then Masada.

I view the position of the rabbis as similar to those in an entrapment investigation - they're responsible for their actions but they wouldn't have been in the situation without bar-K's action. As bar-K is the only one who acted with malice, I put the blame largely with him.

Ok - have tired [livejournal.com profile] shreena and [livejournal.com profile] loreid wanting to go to bed, so must go. Hope that clarifies my reasoning.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-16 06:29 am (UTC)
ajollypyruvate: (Pondering)
From: [personal profile] ajollypyruvate
*sits in the corner, twiddling thumbs while listening with great interest*

:D

(no subject)

Date: 2005-08-16 01:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ixwin.livejournal.com
I agree that it seems likely that something was going to trigger the Romans into acting sooner or later. However, I'd put the majority of the blame for it happening at this particular moment on bar-Kamtza.

As well as the fact that making the blemish on the animal is an act of premeditated malice, in a way that no-one else's behaviour is, I'm actually querying bar-Kamtza's motives from quite early on. Why did he want to go to a party at his mortal enemies house (did it not occur to him to double-check with the servant if it was really him that was meant), and why - on it being confirmed that he was not welcome - was he so determined to stay? Had he left quietly and with dignity as soon as the host told him to, he would have avoided being bodily thrown out of the house, and probably attracted quite a lot of sympathy and support as a result of the host's rudeness. Or he could have turned immediately to the rabbis when the host told him to get out, and asked them what they thought of the host's behaviour - perhaps that would have spurred them into rebuke instead of just sitting there. Just going away and brooding and then seeking disproportionate revenge seems like very immature behaviour.

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