Tuesday, February 09, 2016

The Talmud, the fall of Jerusalem, and Kamtza and bar Kamtza

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Finders Keepers, Inferior Land for Wedded Bliss, and Other Property Matters. ‘Daf Yomi’ zig-zags from impure wine to the Talmud’s apocryphal reasoning for the destruction of the Temple.
This week’s Daf Yomi reading could have been designed to demonstrate the Talmud’s extremes of halakha and aggada. In the space of a few pages in Tractate Gittin, the sages moved from highly technical debates about property law to extravagant legends about the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Roman general Titus. One of the things that makes reading Daf Yomi consistently interesting is that you never know when this kind of shift is going to happen: The Talmudic discussion, like a river, follows its own course, paying no attention to the boundaries of logic or subject matter. Indeed, all of this week’s reading, in chapter 5 of Gittin, is unrelated to the ostensible subject of the tractate, which is divorce.
The aggada comes in here:
It was toward the end of this week’s reading that we came to some of the most famous aggadic stories in the whole Talmud. These stories deal with the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE, at the end of the ruinous Jewish rebellion against the Roman Empire. Josephus, the Jewish priest and general who wrote the only surviving history of the rebellion, offers a variety of explanations for the catastrophe—political, religious, and economic. The Talmud, however, reduces the complex event to a moral homily: “Jerusalem was destroyed on account of Kamtza and bar Kamtza.”
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.