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In Gittin 55b-56a, we read that a fellow named Bar Kamtza was humiliated by a host of a party in public view of all, including the rabbis. Bar Kamtza received an invitation to the party by mistake, but did not know of the mistake, and assumed that the host was ending an old feud. Bar Kamtza suggested numerous compromises to avoid humiliation, but his host accepted none, and threw him out on his ear.

Bar Kamtza then said to himself: “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 then plotted to put the rabbis into a situation where they would have to choose between violating halacha and upsetting the Romans. They chose the latter course, and this, the Gemara says, led to the siege of Jerusalem and its eventual destruction by the Romans.

Question: How do the commentators view the apparent silence of the rabbis during Bar Kamtza's humiliation? Did they actually witness the event? If they did, did they have a duty to intervene and stop the host? Do any commentators take the rabbis to task for their silence? Sorry to ask multiple questions, but I think they are all related and relevant to us today.

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"Do any commentators take the rabbis to task for their silence?" This is, indeed, how I've understood the story. The rabbis were taken to task by God and Jerusalem was sacked. But I've no source (at the moment) so am not posting this as an answer. +1, anyway. – msh210 May 13 '13 at 17:39
@msh210 I appreciate the addition of tags I hadn't thought of, and I know one I suggested has not been introduced yet, but I'd like to see it. I'll take it to Meta. – Bruce James May 13 '13 at 17:43
It would be difficult to take them to task had they not witnessed it. I think of this as a shtika k'hoda'ah situation plus a bit of hamalbin et pnei chaveiro plus lo ta'amod al dam er'echa. – Danno May 13 '13 at 17:52
@msh210 Were the rabbis taken to task for not defending Bar Kamtza or not killing him? I seem to recall more discussion of the latter. A rav yesterday told me that the Gemara appears to be giving us only one side of the story - Bar Kamtza's - but it would appear to me that if the Gemara knew that the rabbis were not a witness, it would have given there side, too, and not just Bar Kamtza's. – Bruce James May 13 '13 at 18:08
Perhaps "the rabbis" should not be viewed as a monolith. The rabbis at the party were silent, but the greatest rabbis of the generation (probably including those whose names are actually recorded in the Talmud) might not even have attended. Consider the b'raisa (Sanhedrin 23a): "כך היו נקיי הדעת שבירושלים עושין ... ולא היו נכנסין בסעודה אלא אם כן יודעין מי מיסב עמהן." Would the greatest sages have therefore attended the party of a wicked person? (Also consider P'sachim 49a, which lambasts Torah scholars who party to excess). – Fred May 13 '13 at 18:13

Maharsha writes on that story:

הואיל והוו יתבי רבנן ולא מיחו בו: איכא למימר מה שלא מיחו מפני שלא היה בידם למחות אפשר שעשו כן כי החנופה היא שגברה באותו הדור כמ"ש בסוטה גבי אגריפס המלך

One could say that the reason that the rabbis didn't object was because they were not able to object. It's also possible that they did this out of flattery, which was all too common in those times, like we find by King Aggripas.

(translation mine)

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What does he mean that "they were not able to object"? Also, I'm not sure what he is saying when he says "they did this out of flattery." How was not objecting to a man's poor treatment "flattery"? – Bruce James Jan 13 '15 at 19:23
On your first point, @BruceJames, I'm not sure. That's what he says...I think it could mean that things happened so fast that they weren't able to say anything, or that there was some other factor that prevented them from getting involved, that wasn't their fault. On your second point, I think that the "flattery" mentioned is toward Kamtza, not Bar Kamtza; though I'm not certain, because I don't know what the story with King Aggripas is about. – Shokhet Jan 13 '15 at 19:44
When I translated this, I wasn't sure if the Maharsha intended two answers, or one.....I was hoping someone here would critique my translation. Do you think it would make more sense if it was one big explanation, @BruceJames? – Shokhet Jan 14 '15 at 16:53

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