In the collective Jewish consciousness, the Hebrew date of the Ninth of Av is synonymous with the physical destruction of the Jewish temples. A look at the work of our prestigious thinkers, however, shows that just as strong an emphasis is put on the destruction of Jewish society.
The destruction of the First Temple is seen as a result of breaking commandments governing man's relations to his physical being (cardinal sins) – idol worship, incest, and so on. The destruction of the Second Temple is seen as punishment for the rift in Jewish society. Not for sins between man and his fellow man, but rather between man and society – insensitivity to pain and suffering of others, selfishness and thoughtlessness.
Our sages have discussed at length how the temple was destroyed due to application of the dry law of the Torah. The elders of Jerusalem, on the eve of the temple's destruction, ruled according to the literal law and did not, as was necessary in some case, use their humility. A pedantic, overly formal implementation of the law at the expense of leniency that is necessary in some cases may bring with it destruction – both temporary and for generations to come.
It is possible that the tragic death of Moshe Silman – who set fire to himself at the social justice protest on July 14 – could have been avoided if the clerks at the National Insurance Institute, the Amidar public housing organization, and the Housing Ministry had shown a little sensitivity and gone beyond the dry law. Basic criteria and minimum requirements are absolutely necessary in a law-abiding society where equality is a basic principle. But our sages have taught us that there are cases where it is necessary to bend strict laws and show leniency.
The story of Kamza and Bar-Kamza is one of the most famous stories used to explain baseless hatred and the destruction of the temple, and indeed of the entire nation. In short: Bar-Kamza is accidently invited to a grand feast held on the eve of the destruction of the temple, and is then ejected in a very public and embarrassing manner.
Despite volumes of explanations that have been written over the generations, it is possible that not all the treasures have been uncovered. In addition to the causeless hatred that is touted as the main reason for the destruction, examining the story from a modern point of view reveals additional insights. Like other stories that are part of the collection of sages' stories of the destruction, this one also illustrates that the destruction of the Jewish society wasn't just caused by idolatry and desecration of the Sabbath, but also by baseless hatred, wickedness, cruelty, insensitivity to "the other" and the inability to be flexible.
There are three central characters in the story, but only two of them, Kamza and Bar-Kamza, are named. The host of the party remains anonymous. Why is this? The reason is simple: His name is irrelevant. He is a model, a prototype for all "hosts" ever since.
Even though these are difficult days and there is a palpable feeling of destruction in the air, "high society" continues to revel as though nothing has happened. When hundreds of thousands of poor people are on the breadline, and some of them wander around the markets and city centers hoping to find a little work, a piece of bread or an overripe vegetable left behind at the end of the day, when thousands of children are at risk with no one to take responsibility for them, the host invites his friends over for a grand, ostentatious, frivolous party. Of course, the event is only for "our type" of people, God forbid someone who isn't in our circle of friends shows ups. The husky bouncer is at the door to carefully select who makes it inside.
The conversation between Bar-Kamza and his host also reflects to some extent an additional side to the ailments of our modern society. It starts with an argument over money, then leads to physical violence and the guest being physically ejected from the party. What doesn't work with force, will work with even more force. The dialogue reflects a dense, intolerable and impatient society, where violence and force are its main characteristics. Such a society is likely to lead to destruction. So it was back then, and so it is today.