web analytics
July 22, 2014 / 24 Tammuz, 5774
Israel at War: Operation Protective Edge
 
 
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
IDC Advocacy Room IDC Fights War on Another Front

Student Union opens ‘hasbara’ room in effort to fill public diplomacy vacuum.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

The Hero of Tisha B’Av?

Was the humble Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulos the real hero of the destruction story?
the-temple-burning-in

Who is the hero of the Tisha B’Av story told in the Gemara?

Excuse me – hero?

Chanukah, Purim, we can talk about heroes. But Tisha B’Av? There are no heroes. The Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, and we were thrown into a two millennia-long exile.

The Gemara details the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. An unnamed man throws a party intending to invite his friend Kamtza, but there is a mix-up, and his enemy Bar Kamtza receives the invitation and shows up at the party. Kamtza we never hear from. The host of the party wrongs Bar Kamtza, who then does wrong in return. The rabbis at the party do wrong by remaining silent. Who, then, could be the hero?

Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulos!

Excuse me once again. Is it not the case that at the end of the tragic story the Gemara tells us the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of the misdirected humility of Rabbi Avkulos? He was perhaps the worst villain of the entire story. He had the power to save us, but stood in the way. And yet, in our day, it seems, he has been elevated to the status of a hero.

How is this so? How can it be so? What did Rabbi Avkulos do (or not do)? And why would anyone praise or emulate such behavior?

According to the story, the Beis HaMikdash is threatened by the actions of Bar Kamtza. The rabbis propose various solutions – accepting the imperfect offering from the Romans, having Bar Kamtza killed – and each time Rabbi Avkulos comes up with a reason not to go along – because of what people might say, that they might mistake an emergency measure for what is permitted normally. The sense of the story is that the rabbis’ decision must be unanimous and that this one dissenting voice prevents any proposed action to save the Beis HaMikdash and the Jews.

My understanding of the story and its conclusion is not that Rabbi Avkulos countered the other rabbis with bold, principled arguments, but rather that his “humility” made him afraid to agree with these rabbis. Just as he feared what people might say about the Torah, it appears he feared that people might judge him unfavorably as one who did not uphold the truth of Torah.

This fear and unwillingness to make a tough decision and take responsibility is what led to a blow against Torah Jewry, for centuries until today. The solutions proposed by the rabbis were surely imperfect, but any one of them might have saved the Beis HaMikdash, along with the Jews of Jerusalem and Israel. (A midrashic account further indicts Rabbi Avkulos by placing him at the party and remaining silent while witnessing the host’s abuse of Bar Kamtza.)

Sadly, it appears the approach of Rabbi Avkulos is one that is valued by many in our own time. Have we not all heard accounts of some rabbis of our generation who say one thing in private and another in public – admitting in private that they hold one way but that they could never state as such in public for fear of what others might think or say about them? And how many – rabbis and laypersons alike – have remained silent (and even encouraged silence) when made aware of sexual abuse or other crimes or corruption?

It is said that each generation that fails to rebuild the Beis HaMikdash is as if it has destroyed it. Let us then imagine the same situation in our world. What percentage of our rabbinic leaders, placed in the position of Rabbi Avkulos, would agree and commit to the difficult decision to save the Beis HaMikdash? In our day, when chumras (stringencies) are recast by some as basic halachic obligations, and when a great deal of pride is taken in being the most machmir, what percentage would refuse to sign on to such a weighty decision out of “humility,” worrying that they would be endorsing a leniency, a kulah? And thus the irony of the very name Avkulos – the “father of leniencies” – who will not allow his name to be associated with a kulah, even one designed to save lives and the Beis HaMikdash!

Perhaps I have spoken too strongly here in an effort to draw distinctions and make a point. Certainly many (hopefully most) rabbis do not emulate the behavior of Rabbi Avkulos – some simply do not live up to the honor of the title and bring disgrace upon themselves and the office. And there remain many bold rabbis, leaders with vision, who act thoughtfully and decisively without fearing damage to their own reputations or honor.

In this season of the Three Weeks, as we approach Tisha B’Av, perhaps it is worth re-examining the story told in the Gemara and the version found in the Midrash, and particularly the role of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulos. I might even humbly suggest that in an effort to correct the failings that led to the churban, the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, it perhaps is the task of our leaders and of our generation to declare publicly that Rabbi Avkulos was no hero; that his behavior ought not be emulated; that none of us, rabbis included, should fear to say in public what we acknowledge in private; and that we do what is upright regardless of the potential consequences for our reputations and honor.

In such an effort we will recognize many true heroes.

About the Author: Alan Krinsky is a senior analyst in the field of healthcare quality improvement. He is also a writer who was previously a monthly columnist for Rhode Island’s Jewish Voice & Herald and whose essays have been published in print and online by a number of publications. He lives with his family in Providence where he currently serves as president of Congregation Beth Sholom.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “The Hero of Tisha B’Av?”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Newly completed control tower at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. June 2, 2014
US and European Flights to Israel Cancelled Due to Rockets
Latest Indepth Stories
The Israel Test

Charges from the court of world public opinion and their refutations.


It is up to our government to ensure that their sacrifices were not made for short-term gains.

.

Supporting Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, has become dangerous in Malmo.

Gaza

Proportionality Doctrine:The greater the military gain the greater the justifiable collateral damage

Regional pro-US Arab countries rely on Israel as a deterrence to rogue Islamic regimes.

He has always supported the underdog, once even quite literally, legislating a law that prohibits the abandonment of pets.

Temech is about providing a community – a place where religious women can learn, collaborate and refresh themselves with like-minded people.

Netanyahu has decided that the lives of Israeli are more important than looking good for Obama, U.N. and the NY Times.

Many Jews join the Israel-haters with their progressive ideology and politically correct obsessions.

“The will to triumph is a prerequisite for victory.” Abba Kovner

How can you run away from Israel and all the things that have shaped your life?

It’s as if Hamas has pulled a page out of Pharaoh’s handbook.

“Am HaNetzach Eino Mefached Mi Derech Aruka” (An eternal people doesn’t fear the long journey).

Isn’t it comforting to know that our God loves life, grants life, and promises eternal life?

With a loud and strong voice we must say “no” to individuals who take the law into their own hands.

More Articles from Alan Krinsky
praying robber.jpeg

Why aren’t crime and corruption considered heresya kind of denial of the Torah and its precepts?

the-temple-burning-in

Was the humble Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulos the real hero of the destruction story?

Most discussions of the recent gathering at Citi Field have focused on the logistics of the event and the topic – the dangers of the Internet. With such a focus, however, we may very well be missing something of great importance. What struck my attention was the name of the organization staging the event: Ichud HaKehillos Letohar HaMachaneh, or the Union of the Communities for the Purity of the Camp.

    Latest Poll

    Israel's Iron Dome Anti-Missile System:





    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/the-hero-of-tisha-bav/2013/07/11/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: