The Pre-History of Tisha B’Av and 6 Pshatim in Kamtza and Bar Kamtza


By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for

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Many people hate studying history.  This is probably because it usually involved school, tests, and memorizing boring facts and details.  Sadly, the negativity associated with knowing history, removes us from a sense of both our national identity and our national destiny.

Tisha B’Av is the culmination, of course, of two national tragedies: the loss of the first Beis HaMikdash as well as the loss of the second Beis HaMikdash.  Knowing the historical background of the churban helps us not only mourn its destruction, it helps imbue us with national identity as Klal Yisroel as well as a sense of our destiny.


Just as America had a civil war between the Northern States and the South, Klal Yisroel also had a civil war.  This civil war caused much death and destruction.  It brought the Romans into Eretz Yisroel.  The Romans eventually destroyed the Bais HaMikdash.  Here are the key dates

  • Rome annexed Syria and made it a province in 64 BCE.
  • Rome made Eretz Yisroel into a client state in 63 BCE – one year later.
  • Rome made Eretz Yisroel into the province of Judea in 6 CE.
  • The Bais HaMikdash was destroyed in the year 70 CE.
  • The Revolt of Bar Kochva began in 132 CE – a full sixty-two years after the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash. It ended in 135 CE.
  • In 135 CE, after becoming angry by the revolt of Bar Kochva, Emperor Hadrian combined Judaea province and Syria province and created the Syria Palaestina province.
  • Rome fell in 476 CE.


The civil war within Klal Yisroel was the event that got Rome first involved in the affairs of Eretz Yisroel. The Queen, Shlom-Tzion, had recently died and her sons, Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, bitterly fought against each other in a terrible civil war.

Romans were always fighting wars. They were, the descendants of Aisav, so that is understandable.  In 64 BCE, Rome soon emerged victorious in the Third Mithridatic War. As a result, Pompey, a Roman general at the time, had annexed Syria as a new Roman Province. Eretz Yisroel, however, did not become a province of Rome just yet. It first began as a client state and then eventually, forty-three years later, became the province of Judea.


In 63 BCE, Aristobulus II was under siege in Yerushalayim by his brother Hyrcanus II’s armies. Aristobulus sent a messenger to Marcus Aemilius Scaurus, Pompey’s representative in the area. Scaurus was also Pompey’s shvogger – brother-in-law. Aristobulus offered a massive bribe to be rescued, which Pompey accepted.


But Scaurus began extorting Aristobulus asking him for huge sums of money. Afterwards, Aristobulus brought his taanos (levied accusations)to Pompey. Since Scaurus was Pompey’s brother in law and protégé, Pompey retaliated by putting Hyrcanus in charge of the kingdom as Ethnarch and High Priest, but was not given the title of King.

Pompey the Great seized Yerushalayim in 63 BCE. He profaned the Holy Bais HaMikdash by entering the Kodesh Hakodashim. The Kodash haKodashim, the Holy of Holies, was only entered once per year and only by the Kohain Gadol.


In 60 BCE, three generals, Pompey, Crassus, and Julius Caesar, formed a triumvirate and took over Rome. After a seven year partnership, war developed between the Roman generals.  When Pompey was defeated by Julius Caesar, Hyrcanus was succeeded by his courtier Antipater the Idumaean, also known as Antipas, as the first Roman Procurator. In 57–55 BCE, Aulus Gabinius, proconsul of Syria, split the former Chashmonaic Kingdom of Israel into five districts of the Sanhedrin.


Both Caesar and Antipater were killed in 44 BCE, and Hurdus the Great, Antipater’s son, was designated “King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate in 40 BCE.

Hurdus did not gain military control, however, until 3 years later  – in 37 BCE. During his reign, the last representatives of the Maccabees were eliminated, and the great port of Caesarea Maritima was built.


Roman rule was harsh. When 23 years later, the Parthians invaded Eretz Yisroel (40 BCE), they were greeted enthusiastically by the Jews. The Parthians appointed Matisyahu Antigonus II, the last king from Bais Chashmonai.  He ruled for three years.

Rome was livid. The famous Roman legions were dispatched. There was a second bloody siege of Yerushalayim. And now Hurdus, that evil blood-thirsty puppet-king, was installed over Klal Yisroel in the year 37 BCE. He was hated deeply by the people.  He also handed over the last Chashmonaic king to the Romans to be killed.

Hurdus ruled for 33 years. He died in 4 BCE. Emperor Augustus then divided up Eretz Yisroel among Hurdus’s three sons, who became tetrarchs. One of these tetrarchies was Judea – corresponding to the territory of the tribe of Yehudah, plus Samaria and Idumea.

Herod’s son, Herod Archelaus, ruled Judea so badly that he was dismissed in 6 CE by the Roman emperor Augustus, after an appeal from his own population.


Augustus then imposed direct Roman rule. This was the beginning of the end, r”l. This step should have signalled to Klal Yisroel to do direct and complete Teshuvah. Unfortunately, the message was lost upon them.

Another son of Hurdus, Herod Antipas, however, ruled as tetrarch of Galilee and Perea from 4 BCE to 39 CE, being then dismissed by Emperor Caligula. The third tetrarch, Herod’s son Philip, ruled over the northwestern part of his father’s kingdom.


The Bigdei Kehuna that the Kohain Gadol wore on Yom Kippur were taken away and were held by the Romans from the year 6 to the year 36. It further signified a loss of autonomy over matters of the Bais HaMikdash.


In the year 35 CE, Lucius Vitellis was appointed Governor of Syria. When he visited Yerushalayim the Jews gave him much honor, and he wished to repay their kindness. He was approached by a delegate of Jews to grant a request. Could the Jews once again have autonomy over the Bigdei Kehuna? Vitellis sought permission from the Emperor. They received the emperor’s permission and for a period of time, the clothing was once again in Jewish hands.

Herod’s grandson, Herod Agrippas I, ruled briefly over a reunited Eretz Yisroel from the year 41- 44 CE. His son, Agrippas II, ruled over various sections of Eretz Yisroel in the 50’s, but by and large, the period of Roman procurators began.


The Roman procurators administrated the land in what was called the Province of Judea. This was the period of the early Tannaim – those who lived during the time of the Bais haMikdash. Before Judea became a province of Rome, Eretz Yisroel was administered as an annex of Syria. It was thus headed by Romans of a lower rank – prefects, not procurators.

  1. The first procurator was Fadus Cuspius (44-46). He tried getting the Bigdei Kehuna back in Roman hands. The Jews however succeeded in getting a delegation to Rome where they convinced Emperor Claudius to overturn Fadus’ request. Fadus may have lived during the time where there was a Navi Sheker by the name of Theudas. He told the people that he would split the Yarden. He led a type of revolt of sorts, but before he and his four hundred people could reach the Jordan River, Fadus captured them and killed some. Theudas was beheaded. Fadus tenure as procurator caused some unrest, however, and he was soon replaced.
  2. The next procurator (46-48 CE) was Tiberius Julius Alexander, who stemmed from a Jewish family in Alexandria. It was thought that Judea would be calmer if the new procurator was of Jewish origin.

Tiberius Julius Alexander’s father was a citizen of Rome, something rather rare for a Jew, and he passed on that citizenship to his sons. Tiberius abandoned his Judaism, unfortunately, and rose to high prominence in Rome joining in the Roman military. He was appointed by Emperor Claudius as procurator of Judea. Under his tenure things were calmer, however there was a severe famine during his time.

Tiberius Julius Alexander appears in Philo’s philosophical discourses as someone who argues against Hashgacha pratius.

  1. The third procurator was Ventidius Cumanus (48 to 52 CE). During his time there was much discord between Jews and Roman troops. There was a Samaritan murder of Jews which Cumanus ignored, which caused further violence between Jews and Samaritans. Ventidius was partial to the Samaritans and the situation was eventually brought before the governor in Syria. The governor Quadratus eventually replaced Cumanus with Marcus Antonius Felix and banished him. The Jewish side was supported by Aggripas II, who was a friend of Emperor Claudius.
  2. Marcus Antonius Felix was the fourth procurator (52-58 CE). His second wife, Drusilla of Judea, was a married Jewish woman who left her husband r”l and married Felix, abandoning her religion. Eventually, she and her son died in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. She is mentioned in the Christian bible (Acts 24:24). There is a wealthy woman whose body was preserved in ash that, perhaps, may be her.
  3. The next procurator, number five, was Porceus Festus. His rule lasted roughly from 58 to 62 CE. Prutah coins were minted under his rule in 59 CE. He died in office in 62 CE.
  4. Lucceius Albinus was the sixth Roman Procurator of Judea, from 62 until 64 CE. Albinus was appointed procurator by Emperor Nero, following the death of his predecessor. Albinus faced his first challenge while traveling from Alexandria to his new position in Judea. The Jewish High Priest Ananus ben Ananus used the opportunity created by Festus’ death to convene the Sanhedrin and have James the brother of Yeshu sentenced to death by stoning – for violation of religious law.

A delegation sent by citizens upset over the perceived breach of justice met Albinus before he reached Judea, and Albinus responded with a letter informing Ananus that it was illegal to convene the Sanhedrin without Albinus’ permission and threatening to punish the Kohain. Ananus was deposed by Agrippa II before Albinus’ arrival.

Immediately upon his arrival in Yerushalayim, Albinus began an effort to remove the sicarii from the region. Josephus also records that Albinus became the friend of a Kohain Gadol named Ananus, due to the priest’s gift-giving. The sicarii responded to Albinus’s efforts by capturing an assistant to the priest Eleazar, son of Ananus, and demanding the release of ten imprisoned sicarii in exchange for the assistant. The release was arranged by the Kohain Gadol, Ananus.

When Albinus learned that he was to be succeeded by Gessius Florus, he emptied the prisons by executing prisoners charged with more serious offenses and allowing the remaining prison population to pay for their release.

  1. The procurator ( #7) whose impact was most devastating was from the Greek city of Klazomenai, located in what is now Turkey. His name was Gessius Florus (64-66CE). Why was he appointed? His wife and the wife of Emperor Nero were close friends. Upon his appointment, Florus began favoring Greek residents of Eretz Yisroel over the Jews.
  2. Marcus Antonius Julianus, was the eighth and final procurator (66-70 CE). He had taken over the role from Gessius Florus, who had done a poor job in avoiding conflict. He was unable to stop the revolt.

The Gemorah in Gittin relates the story of a rich man who lived during this time. He threw a huge party and sent his servant to invite a friend named Kamtza. The servant mistakenly invited Bar Kamtza instead. Bar Kamtza and the host were, in fact, enemies. The host demanded that Bar Kamtza leave the party. Bar Kamtza was mortified. He offered to pay for his food, then half the food of the entire party and then, after being twice refused – he offered to pay for the entire party. The host adamantly refused. The Rabbis were present but did not involve themselves. Bar Kamtza took revenge and paid a visit to the Roman ruler, saying that the Jews were conspiring to revolt against Roman dominion. To test the situation, the Roman ruler sends a Korban shlamim offering to the Bais HaMikdash. Bar Kamtza, purposefully placed a “mum” that halacha holds is a disqualification, but Romans do not even consider as a wound.

The Sanhedrin, located in the Beis HaMikdash realize the quandary. They debate as to whether to allow the offering to be brought as is or not. Rabbi Zecharia ben Avkulos argues not to because people will start to bring blemished animals as a korban. It is suggested that Bar Kamtza be put to death, but he rejects that as well because the penalty is beyond his perception of what is Torah law. We find in the historical record that there was a rather wealthy individual named Kampsos Bar Kampsos living in Tveriah at the time of Josephus. It may have well been him. If so this would back the assertion of the Maharsha that the two were father and son.

The great Rabbi Yochanan said that because of the humility of Rabbi Zecharia ben Avkulos the Temple was destroyed and Klal Yisroel was exiled from Eretz Yisroel. The Roman leader sent a roman legion to lay siege on Yerushalayim. Josephus as well (Wars Vol. II 17:2) writes that the beginning of the war was because of the refusal to accept the offering of the Roman leader.

The question that many ask is:  But Why blame Kamtza??  It was the host of the party and Bar Kamtza to blame – not Kamtza!   Why Kamtza?

Rabbi Yaakov Beer, in his remarkable Sefer, B’Ikvei HaGalus, explores several varying interpretations, and his thorough treatment of the subject matter opens up a much deeper understanding of that view.  He brings forth explanations of that author from elsewhere in his work that sheds fantastic light on that view.  He also compares and contrasts the different opinions with a well-honed Talmudic eye.

  1. The Iyun Yaakov’s pshat –  Rabbi Yaakov ben Yoseph Reischer (1661–1733) – It teaches that one sin begets another sin.  Kamtza and the host engaged in excessive feasting with each other.  This caused the other incident to happen. It also teaches us [this is a second explanation] not to send important matters with fools who cannot distinguish between things.  He further quotes his son [in a third explanation] who explained that if it did not mention Kamtza, people would have erroneously assumed that it was Kamtza’s son who had caused the ruckus and not Bar Kamtza who was a different person?
  2. The Ben Yehoyada’s pshat Chacham Yoseph Chaim (1832-1909) – It teaches that because care was not taken to distinguish between one detail and another – this caused the destruction of Jerusalem.  The author points out that this is similar to explanation 1b above, but that there is a different emphasis.  The author further points out that the Chasam Sofer (1762-1839) states the same explanation as the Ben Yehoyada.
  3. The Maharal’s pshat – Rav Yehudah Lowy (1526-1609) – It teaches that since there was an atmosphere of wanton hatred, Kamtza’s friendship with the host was not because of friendship but the friendship was so that he could team up with person B to attack person C.  Elsewhere, he compares it to BaMidbar 22:4 about Moav and Midyan (Moav was not friendly with Midyan and only befriended them to attack the Bnei Yisroel).  The Maharal further explains that the very name Kamtza is one of discord -as Kemitza separates that which is in the hand from the the offering of the Mincha itself.  All this readily demonstrates  the author’s ability to delve into the deeper understanding of that commentator.  The Maharal further explains that this is the very opposite of Hashem – who tries to unify Klal Yisroel.
  4. The Chidushei haRim’s pshat – Rav Yitzchak Meir Rottenberg Alter – the first Ger Rebbe (1799-1866) as told by his grandson the Imrei Emes – It teaches that Kamtza is at fault, and it teaches that one should not attend a party when uninvited.  Kamtza’s presence convinced Bar Kamtza that his own invitation was not a mistake, but rather an attempt to make peace.  This, in fact was not the case.  He also cites the Midrash in Aicha Rabba (4:2) that the Minhag in Jerusalem was not to attend a party unless invited twice.
  5. The author’s own pshat #1 is employs the Midrash that there would have been two invites because that was the custom.  Had Kamtza just come with no I vitiation, that would have been alright, because it was likely that the host might have forgotten him.  But since he got one invitation – it was clear that he was not forgotten.  He, therefore, should not have come with only one invitation.
  6. The Maharsha’s Pshat – Rav Shmuel Eidels (1555-1631) and Rav Avigdor Miller’s pshat (1908-2001) was that Kamtza and Bar Kamtza were, in fact, father and son.  Bar Kamtza was of the group of Herod supporters who would try to undermine the Rabbis.  Bar Kamtza came with a desire to listen to what the religious Jews and the Rabbis had to say in order to report back to the Romans and to the pro-Herod group.  Kamtza is blamed because, as bar Kamtza’s father, he should have attempted to stop his pro-Herodian ways and educate him as to the value of Torah-true Judaism.  He didn’t do so sufficiently, and that is why the Gemorah blames them both.

Parenthetically, the author does mention the Chasam Sofer’s answer as to why the host’s name was not mentioned anywhere.  He answers that the host was, in all probability, one of the great people mentioned in the Talmud at the time and the Gemorah did not wish to name him out of honoring a Torah scholar.

This is the pre-history of Tisha B’Av.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

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