Sunday, February 1, 2015

Me'Am Lo'ez: Jerusalem was destroyed because they didn't sacrifice pigs in the Temple?!

I just came across this jarring statement in the English Mo'am Lo'ez published by Moznaim.
Me’am Lo’ez (Koheles 7:16): …. To apply mistakenly the strict letter of the law, without regard to circumstances, can be "subtle wisdom" that leads to desolation. When the Romans besieged Jerusalem, they substituted a pig for the sheep offering, and it was not allowed upon the altar. In his pious humility and excessive caution for the Law, Rabbi Zechariah ben Akilas insisted on the literal interpretation of the halacha (a pig is forbidden) even in this situation, and he was condemned by later generations.

Thus the Talmud declares: Jerusalem was destroyed for no other reason than that they had set their words upon the law of Torah.

Not sure where he is coming from. The story about Kamtza and Bar Kamtza in Gittin( 56a) was that the problem was a sheep that had been cut and thus rendered posul. 

Gittin (55b): R. Johanan said: What is illustrative of the verse, Happy is the man that feareth alway, but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief?26 The destruction of Jerusalem came through a Kamza and a Bar Kamza;27 the destruction of Tur Malka28 came through a cock and a hen; the destruction of Bethar came through the shaft of a leather. The destruction of Jerusalem came through a Kamza and a Bar Kamza in this way. A certain man had a friend Kamza and an enemy Bar Kamza. He once made a party and said to his servant, Go and bring Kamza. The man went and brought Bar Kamza. 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.1 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 [Jews] count it a blemish but they do not. The Rabbis were inclined to offer it in order not to offend the Government. Said R. Zechariah b. Abkulas to them: People will say that blemished animals are offered on the altar. They then proposed to kill Bar Kamza so that he should not go and inform against them, but R. Zechariah b. Abkulas said to them, Is one who makes a blemish on consecrated animals to be put to death? R. Johanan thereupon remarked: Through the scrupulousness2 of R. Zechariah b. Abkulas our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt and we ourselves exiled from our land.3
Rav Moshe Feinstein commented:

Igros Moshe (Y.D. 1:101): .... There is no question that we have the right even to disagree with Achronim and also on occasion with certain Rishonim when there are proper proofs and more important with proper reasoning. Concerning this and similar matters the gemora says that a judge can only make a decision based upon what he sees (Bava Basra 131, Rashbam). This is true as long as the ruling doesn’t go against the well-known poskim such as the Shulchan Aruch which has been accepted in all countries. This is what is meant by the saying that there was a place left to make a fence. And this is in fact what the majority of teshuvos of the Achronim do – they decide many practical issues on the basis of innovations. However it is important not to be arrogant in making rulings. Thus one should avoid using innovations when possible except in situations of great need and surely in situations involving aguna such as the case under discussion. Thus we are obligated to make a ruling if it appears to us that there is a basis for a heter. It is prohibited for us to show false modesty and cause a Jewish woman to be trapped as an aguna or to cause a stumbling block with prohibitions or even to cause loss of money. Look at Gittin (56) where it condemns the humility of R Zechariah for causing the destruction of the Temple! The obvious question is what does humility have to do with the destruction? Look at Maharetz Chajes who gives a proper explanation. This is exactly what we are concerned about. Thus we must make halachic rulings according to what appears correct with proper proofs and understanding – and in particular in cases of aguna like this – to save from this difficult situation.
================The original Hebrew is quite different than the translation=====

אל תחי צריק חרבח ואל תתחכם יותר למח תשומם, (קהלת ז:טז):
ואומר קהלת : אל תהי צדיק הרבה, הזהיר בזה החכם שלא יאמר אדם, הואיל והקנאה והתאוה והכבד מעבירים את האדם מן העולם, אפרוש מהם ואתרחק מהם, ולא אוכל בשר ולא אשתה יין ולא אשא אשה ולא אשב בדירה נאה, ולא אלבש מלבוש נאה, אלא השק, גם זו דרך רעה ואסור לילך בה, ור,הולך בה נקרא חוטא, כמו שנאמר בנזיר : וכפר עליו מאשר חטא על הנפש, והרי הנזיר לא פירש עצמו אלא מן היין ונקרא חוטא, המונע עצמו מכל דבר על אחת כמה וכמה, ולא ימנע אדם עצמו אלא מדברים שמנעתו התורה בלב.ד ולא יהא אוסר עצמו בנדרים ובשבוע ת על דברים המותרים, כמו שאמרו חז"ל : לא דייך במה שאסרה התורה אלא שאתר, אוסר עליך דברים אחרים, ובכלל זה אלה שמתענים תמיד אינם הולכים בדרך טובה ועל כל הדברים האלו ודומיהם צוח שלמה ואמר אל תהי צדיק הרבה ואל תתחכם י תר למה שתשומם, ובכלל זה שלא יפרוש אדם מן העולם הזה מחשש שמא יכשל באיסורים, ואומר למה לי לישא אשה וללבוש מלבושים נאים, אלך לי בנקיקי הסלעים ואסתגף כל ימי בשביל הבורא, על זה נאמר ואל תתחכם יותר למה תשומם, היינו שגופך יהיה שומם,
ובכלל זה המחמיר על עצמו במקום שהתורה התירה, כגון חולה שצריך לאכול ביום הכפורים והוא אינו רוצה לאכול, עליו נאמר אל תהי צדיק הרבה, כן אל יהיה אדם חסיד שוטה, כגון שרואה אשה טובעת בנהר ואמר אין זה ממדת דרך ארץ להסתכל בה ולהצילה, או שרואה תינוק טובע ואומר לכשאחלוץ תפילין אצילנו, ועד שחלץ זה התפילין הוציא זה נפשו,
ורבותינו ז"ל דרשוהו כנגד שאול שחמל על עמלק ובסוף הרג את נוב עיר הכהנים, וכמו שמצינו שענותנותו של רי זכריה בן אבקילס החריבה את בית אלקינו, ואל תתחכם הרבה, כמו קרח שאמר ומה חוט אחד של תכלת פוטר, טלית שכולה תכלת על אחת כמה וכמה, למד בקל וחומר שבית מלא ספרים פטור מן המזוזה, וזהו שאומר למה תשומם, למה תגרום לך שממה, כמו שגרם קרח לאבדונו, וכן הענותנות הנ"ל גרמה לחרבן בית המקדש,
ועוד ואל תהי צדיק הרבה לנהוג בדקדוק ולא לפנים משורת הדין, כמו שאמרו חז"ל לא חרבה ירושלים אלא על שהעמידו דבריהם על דין תורה

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  1. Zecharia b. Avkulos is criticized for not adapting to changing scenarios, and not willing to take action when the situation requires it.
    Remember also the case with Gedaliah. who also refused to assassinate Ishmael, who was planing to kill him. Precisely the same kind of situation.

  2. Whoever translated this probably mixed up the story of R' Zechariah ben Akilas and the Gemara at the end of Sotah that says that כשצרו מלכי בית חשמונאי זה בזה, one faction besieged Yerushalayim. They would send up a sheep in a basket each day for the korban tamid. When they realized that so long as the avodah continued, the city would stand, they sent up a pig instead of a sheep.

  3. I'm really not sure if this should be posted as a post, or if you should just take this as a note to you.

    This is distressing but it requires some further research before one can accuse Rabbi Kaplan of completely distorting the original here. Regrettably, many of his works would have benefited greatly from source checking and thorough editing. He was brilliant and worked under tight deadlines, it is said that he never checked sources and wrote everything from memory. Truly an incredible feat, but despite his repeated requests to have the material edited, it is reported that the publisher refused to invest those resources. His introduction to Sefer Yetzirah there is an eggregious distortion in his retelling of the conception of Ben Sira.

    As I recall, where there was an original Ladino addition by Rabbi Yaakov Culy, the translation was taken from there. The translation is based on Hebrew only on those volumes that were originally written in Hebrew by Rabbi Shmuel Yerushalmi.

  4. @Ari B - this volume was not translated by Rabbi Kaplan and it has been around for over 30 years. Without apparrently being noticed.

  5. there must be a mistake in the referance to igros moshe! it's not yd 3:101

  6. Perhaps the translator was working with a faulty original text?

  7. yd 1:101 - thanks for catching the error

  8. The Hebrew text is at the bottom of the post. He clearly was not doing a literal translation and he seem to have forgotten the gemora in Gittin. If he had known the gemora in Gittin he could not have written what he did.

  9. Both cited by Mesillas Yesharim as improper chasidus.


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