Daf Yomi Gittin 55
Human rights activists love spending time along Israel’s border, at checkpoints that divide the main portion of the country with the disputed areas. They stand there, video-cameras in hand, ready to document any activity that might be deemed a human-rights violation. What might constitute such a violation? Well, let’s say someone is detained for an extended amount of time for failing to respond to border police questioning as to the nature of their visit. Now they’re late for work. And they can’t afford to feed their families. Whose fault is that? The border policeman’s? Israel’s? Every Jewish person’s?
A certain man had a friend Kamtza and an enemy 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 him there he said, “See, you tell tales about me; what are you doing here? Get out!”
Said the other, “Since I am here, let me stay, and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink.”
He said, “I won't.”
“Then let me give you half the cost of the party.”
“No,” said the other.
“Then let me pay for the whole party.”
He still said, “No,” and he took him by the hand and put him out.
Said the other, “Since the Rabbis were sitting there and did not stop him, this shows that they agreed with him. I will go and inform against then, to the government.”
He went and said to the Emperor, “The Jews are rebelling against you.”
He said, “How can I tell?”
He said to him, “Send them an offering 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. 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, “Due to the virtuousness of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas, our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt and we ourselves exiled from our land.”
Whose fault was the destruction of the Temple? The Romans’? Bar Kamtza’s? How about the man who threw the party and ejected Bar Kamtza? According to Rabbi Yochanan, the answer is none of the above. The one who ultimately opened the door to the Temple’s destruction was a rabbi by the name of Zechariah ben Avkulas.
Was Rabbi Zechariah a bad man? No, he was actually a very kind-hearted, virtuous man, who couldn’t bear to see someone executed that wasn’t quite legally deserving. So much so, that he protested against the decision to prosecute Bar Kamtza. But according to Rabbi Yochanan, Rabbi Zechariah’s piety led to the destruction of the Temple.
In other words, Rabbi Yochanan is suggesting that sometimes much as we would like to be pious for the sake of the individual’s rights and liberties, what truly counts are the safety and security of the people as a whole. Had Rabbi Zechariah considered the bigger picture, he would have realized that Bar Kamtza had brought this situation upon himself and he had no right to endanger the people by his recklessness.
That’s the problem with many of the narrow-minded human rights activists who spend their time documenting Israel’s checkpoints. It’s not that they’re bad people. While there certainly exist many anti-Semites in their ranks, there are also many well-meaning individuals. Such people honestly believe that Israel should be treating every person with the highest degree of respect and that any less than that standard is unbecoming of the Jewish state.
What they fail to understand is that sometimes Bar Kamtza’s rights must be waived for the safety and security of our people. We don’t relish removing any person’s rights. But we understand that the general population comes first.
Most intelligent, reasonable people get it. We don’t kick up a fuss when we must stand in line at airport security – it’s a small price to pay for the peace of mind of knowing the aeroplane will safely fly me from point A to B. Unfortunately, we live in a world where the threat of terrorism and political violence is real; that means that sometimes individual rights and liberties must be waived for the sake of national and international security.
Every human being was created in the image of G-d. We are all sincerely troubled when any individual’s rights are impinged upon. But we realize that sometimes personal liberties must be sacrificed for the sake of the safety and security of the general population. May we have peace, security and rights for all the inhabitants of Israel very soon!