Because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, Jerusalem was destroyed.

It happened this way: A certain man had a friend named Kamtza and an enemy called Bar Kamtza. He once made a party and said to his servant, “Go and bring Kamtza.” The man went and brought Bar Kamtza.

When the man who gave the party found Bar Kamtza there he said, “See, you are my enemy; what are you doing here? Get out!” Said the other: “Since I am already here, let me stay, and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink.”

Because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, Jerusalem was destroyed Said the host: “Absolutely not.”

“Then let me give you half the cost of the party.”

The host refused.

“Then let me pay for the whole party.”

Still the host refused, and took him by the hand and threw him out.

Said Bar Kamtza, “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 went and said to the emperor, “The Jews are rebelling against you.”

Said the emperor, “How can I know that this is true?”

“Send them an offering,” said Bar Kamtza, “and see whether they will offer it on the altar.”

So he sent with him a fine calf. While on the way he made a blemish on its upper lip (or as some say, on the white of its eye)—in a place where we count it a blemish but they do not.

“Because of the scrupulousness of Rabbi Zechariah, our House has been destroyed . . .” The rabbis were inclined to offer it in order not to offend the government. Said Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas to them: “People will say that blemished animals are offered on the altar.”

They then proposed to kill Bar Kamtza so that he should not go and inform against them, but Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas said to them, “Is one who makes a blemish on consecrated animals to be put to death?”

Rabbi Yochanan thereupon remarked: “Because of the scrupulousness of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt, and we ourselves exiled from our land.” -Talmud, Gittin 55-56

The first half of the story I believe is known by everyone. The last section of the agadatah seems to not be repeated very often. How is this understood by the communities who seem to exault stringencies?

  • If you are going to downvote a question, please explain why.
    – avi
    Aug 9, 2011 at 15:21
  • 1
    Well, for one thing your question is not in the question. You also don't seem to explain what is problematic about this quote to "the communities who seem to exault stringencies" or why you would care what they (assuming "they" have a unified opinion) have to say about this piece.
    – Double AA
    Jan 12, 2014 at 23:53
  • @DoubleAA How is my question not in the question? It seems by the answers given that the question was perfectly understood. But feel free to edit it if you think it should be. People downvote here because of their beliefs and they downvote anything that doesn't come from the same assumptions as themselves.
    – avi
    Jan 13, 2014 at 9:35
  • Just because they understood it doesn't mean you did a good job writing it.
    – Double AA
    Jan 13, 2014 at 17:39
  • @DoubleAA does your comment help anyone? No it does not. Feel free to edit it and fix it.
    – avi
    Jan 14, 2014 at 6:56

2 Answers 2


Soncino translates An'Vat'Nuto as scrupulousness, but mentions in a footnote that it is literally translated as "humility".

The literal translation seems to fit more with the way most commentaries translate it.

Rashi explains it as, "Because of the patience of R' Zechariyah, that he endured Bar Kamtza and didn't kill him". In other words because of his great humility he endured Bar Kamtza instead of killing him, and tragedy resulted.

Avraham Palagi explains that only a Gadol HaDor (a leader of the generation) can rule to temporarily uproot halacha. R' Zechariya should have done this, but didn't because in his humility he felt he was not worthy.

Rachamim Yitzchok Nissin Pilagi explains that the first and second Beit Hamikdash were both destroyed because of someone named Zechariyah, but for opposite reasons. The first Bait Hamikdash was destroyed because Zechariyah ben YiHoyada was too haughty (As brought in Midrash Kohelet 10:4). The Second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because Zechariyah ben Avkulas was too humble (as brought in the Gemara here).

Midrash Eicha (4:3) has a different version of the story. In that version, R' Zechariya ben Avkulas was at the party, and didn't protest when Bar Kamtza was kicked out. Commentaries there explain that he was too humble, and didn't want to appear as if he was raising himself up in front of his host. And this is why we say "the humility of R' Zechariya ben Avkulas caused the destruction of the Temple". (Shlomo Buber's Midrash Eicha combines the two versions)

But to (perhaps) answer your question, even if you want to translate it as "scrupulousness", the Beis Levi points out that the Magen Avraham (Orach Chaim Chapter 640) says that we learn from this story that one may violate a negative prohibition out of fear of the (non-jewish) government that rules over you. I didn't look up the sources mentioned there, so I don't know exactly what the conditions of this halacha are.

So before the story happened, R' Zechariyah didn't know that he may violate a negative commandment and kill Bar Kamtza (or offer the animal anyway). It was only afterwards that the halacha became clear. So he wasn't being Machmir, he was following (what he thought was the) halacha.

  • ". So he wasn't being Machmir, he was following (what he thought was the) halacha." - impossible, because the other rabbis held differently. But thank you.
    – avi
    Aug 8, 2011 at 10:38
  • btw, humility here just means he was humble before the law, which is what people who support chumrot are as well. Scrupulous or humble, its the same thing. An outsider sees people who push chumrot as excessively scrupulous, an insider sees them as exceedingly humble.
    – avi
    Aug 8, 2011 at 10:41
  • After thinking this over, my question still remains. You've only shifted the question slightly. But that shift appears to be the answer. Truth is translating the word as humble makes the gemorah absolutely unintelligible though.
    – avi
    Aug 8, 2011 at 10:43
  • @avi: when you say "impossible, because the other rabbis held differently", do you mean that since when there is a disagreement between rabbis we follow the majority? If so, regardless of how we understand the Gemara, why did the Rabbis listen to him?
    – Menachem
    Aug 8, 2011 at 13:33
  • The cohanim listened to him, not the rabbis. If you remember, during that time, Jeruselem was very factious. You had very powerful groups of people, fighting eachother over how to do things.
    – avi
    Aug 8, 2011 at 14:18

In the case at hand, actually, we're not really talking about chumros. It is black-letter law that you can't offer a blemished animal on the Altar, and it is equally black-letter law that creating such a blemish doesn't make the offender liable to death. The problem with R. Zecharyah's approach wasn't that he was looking for chumros that didn't exist before, but that he failed to apply "eis laasos la-Hashem," not realizing that he's thereby putting all of Jewry in great danger. (Suppose, after all, that the Jews had managed eventually to beat back the Romans and save Yerushalayim and the Beis Hamikdash - the war alone cost many Jewish lives.)

It's true, then, that the same consideration applies to chumros. But I don't think you'll find any authority who claims that they are an end in and of themselves, and that they should override other considerations. Consider R. Tarfon getting in trouble for being machmir in accordance with the opinion of Beis Shammai (Berachos 10b) - because it was vital in that period to demonstrate that the halachah follows Beis Hillel. Or consider the Beis Halevi's "I'm not being lenient about eating on Yom Kippur, I'm being stringent about pikuach nefesh." That doesn't mean that chumros don't have their place, as an expression of our desire to fulfill Hashem's will in the best possible way, where there are no such overriding considerations.

  • Alex, 100% agree. I was worded as chumrahs because I figured it was a kal v'chomer. This was a situation of straight halacha. However, some people who take on chumrahs also think its straight halacha. Simple point is. Here is a case of extra caution with the law, without looking at the bigger context and its affect on the non-Jewish reaction and nation as a whole is looked down upon. And in the strongest possible way.
    – avi
    Aug 8, 2011 at 16:24
  • 3
    @avi, none of these things are chumros; indeed, for example, I think you'll have a hard time finding any posek who subscribes to the first one. (And I'm not sure what is the relevance of the case of the boys in Japan. What "psak" was involved there? They naively trusted someone, but to the best of my knowledge no rav told them to do so.) So what you're decrying are simply ignorant misinterpretations of halachah, and I highly doubt that those who advocate those are particularly familiar with the Gemara you mentioned. The answer is better Jewish education, not criticizing chumros.
    – Alex
    Aug 9, 2011 at 21:52
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    @avi: "on the Internet no one knows you're a dog." No one with the slightest degree of common sense should trust a self-proclaimed "gadol"'s statement on the Internet and use that as a basis for practice! I stand by what I said - these things that you mentioned are not chumros, and they are most certainly not straight-up halachah - they are perversions of halachah. To use these as an excuse for decrying genuine chumros, done out of love for Hashem and a desire to fulfill His will as best as possible, and with a sense of דרכי' דרכי נועם, is IMHO quite unfair.
    – Alex
    Aug 10, 2011 at 15:09
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    @avi, I'm afraid you're sort of moving the goalposts here. Those last two (unlike your previous examples) are indeed genuine chumros, because there are serious Torah prohibitions about eating insects. Whether you approve of these chumros, or consider this דרכי נועם, is, frankly, immaterial; it is part of the מסירת נפש of being a Jew that we should not expect to enjoy all of life's pleasures. On the other hand, though, there is no countervailing פיקוח נפש here either, meaning that the episode with R. Zecharyah ben Avkulas has nothing at all to do with these.
    – Alex
    Aug 10, 2011 at 23:42
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    @avi, please see the fourth post here for what I think is a reasonable starting definition of a "proper chumra," with some examples. I might also add the end of the fifth post here for some further thoughts of mine on the subject. I think that, yes, there is a lot of confusion between plain halachah, chumros, and anti-halachic behaviors, such as your example of smuggling being supposedly permissible. Our focus should be on eliminating that last category, not on decrying chumros.
    – Alex
    Aug 11, 2011 at 16:53

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