Akiba ben Joseph


Akiba ben Joseph

:"Akiva redirects here. For other people and things with this name, see Akiva (disambiguation)."Akiba ben Joseph (ca.50–ca.135 AD) (Hebrew: עקיבא) or simply Rabbi Akiva was a Judean tanna of the latter part of the 1st century and the beginning of the 2nd century (3rd tannaitic generation). He was a great authority in the matter of Jewish tradition, and one of the most central and essential contributors to the Mishnah and Midrash Halakha. He is referred to in the Talmud as "Rosh la-Chachomim" (Head of all the Sages). He is considered by many to be one of the earliest founder's of rabbinical Judaism [Yer. SheḲ. iii 47b, R. H. i. 56d.] .

Parentage and youth

A great many legends have been passed down about Akiva. But despite the rich mass of material afforded by rabbinical sources, only an incomplete portrait can be drawn of the man who marked out the path followed by rabbinical Judaism for almost two millennia.

Akiba ben Joseph (written עקיבא in the Babylonian talmud, and עקיבה in the Jerusalem talmud — another form for עקביה) who is usually called simply Akiba, was of comparatively humble parentage [Yer. Ber. iv. 7d, Bab. ibid. 27b.] . A misunderstanding of the expression "Zechus Avos" (Ber. l.c.), joined to a tradition concerning Sisera, captain of the army of Hazor (Giṭ. 57b, Sanh. 96b), is the source of another tradition (Nissim Gaon to Ber. l.c.), which makes Akiva a descendant of Sisera. Of the romantic story of Akiva's marriage with the daughter of the wealthy Jerusalemite, Kalba Savua, whose shepherd he is said to have been (see below "Akiba and his wife" and "His relationship with his wife"), only this is known to be true: that Akiva was a shepherd (Yeb. 86b; compare ibid. 16a). His wife's name was Rachel (Ab. R. N. ed. S. Schechter, vi. 29), and she was the daughter of an entirely unknown man named Joshua, who is specifically mentioned (Yad. iii. 5) as Akiva's father-in-law. She stood loyally by her husband during that critical period of his life in which Akiva, thitherto the mortal enemy of the rabbis and an "am ha-aretz" (ignoramus) (Pes. 49b), decided to place himself at the feet of those previously detested men. Prior to this change of heart, he used to say: "O that I would find a Talmid Chacham and bite him like a donkey" [Exact quote needed.] (Pesachim, 49b).

A reliable tradition (Ab. R. N. l.c.) narrates that Akiva at the age of 40, and when he was the father of a numerous family dependent upon him, eagerly attended the academy of his native town, Lod, presided over by Eliezer ben Hyrkanus. According to the Talmud

There is some disagreement about the extent of Akiva's involvement in the Bar Kochba rebellion. (Source: Encyclopedia Britannica online)Participation in a rebellion would be a more serious threat to Roman rule than merely teaching a deviant religion—even one that questions the validity of worshipping the Emperor as a god. Fact|date=September 2007

Akiba's martyrdom—which is an important historical event—gave origin to many legends. The following account of his martyrdom is on a high plane and contains a proper appreciation of his principles: When Rufus—"Tyrannus Rufus," as he is called in Jewish sources—who was the pliant tool of Hadrian's vengeance, condemned the venerable Akiba to the hand of the executioner, it was just the time to recite the "Shema". Full of devotion, Akiba recited his prayers calmly, though suffering agonies; and when Rufus asked him whether he was a sorcerer, since he felt no pain, Akiba replied, "I am no sorcerer; but I rejoice at the opportunity now given to me to love my God 'with all my life,' seeing that I have hitherto been able to love Him only 'with all my means' and 'with all my might,'" and with the word "One!" he expired (Yer. Ber. ix. 14b, and somewhat modified in Bab. 61b).

The version in the Babylonian Talmud (Berachot 61b) tells it as a response of Akiva to his students, who asked him how even now—as he is being tortured—he could yet offer prayers to God. He says to them, "All my life I was worried about the verse, 'with all your soul,' (and the sages expounded this to signify), even if He takes away your soul. And I said to myself, when will I ever be able to fulfill this command? And now that I am finally able to fulfill it, I should not? Then he extended the final word "Echad" ("One") until his life expired with that word. A heavenly voice went out and announced: "Blessed are you, "Rabbi" Akiva, that your life expired with "Echad". Pure monotheism was for Akiba the essence of Judaism: he lived, worked, and died for it.

Contrary to the vision (Men. 29b), which sees Akiba's body destined to be exposed for sale in the butcher's shop, legend tells how Elijah, accompanied by Akiba's faithful servant Joshua, entered unperceived the prison where the body lay. Priest though he was, Elijah took up the corpse—for the dead body of such a saint could not defile—and, escorted by many bands of angels, bore the body by night to Cæsarea. The night, however, was as bright as the finest summer's day. When they arrived there, Elijah and Joshua entered a cavern which contained a bed, table, chair, and lamp, and deposited Akiba's body there. No sooner had they left it than the cavern closed of its own accord, so that no man has found it since (Jellinek, "Bet ha-Midrash," vi. 27, 28; ii. 67, 68; Braunschweiger, "Lehrer der Mischnah," 192-206).

His students

Akiva taught thousands of students: on one occasion, twenty-four thousand students of his died in a plague. [ Talmud Bavli, Yevamoth 62b ] His five main, last remaining students were Judah bar Ilai, Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Nehemiah, Jose ben Halafta and Shimon bar Yochai.

His wealth and influence

Akiba's success as a teacher put an end to his poverty; for the wealthy father-in-law now rejoiced to acknowledge a son-in-law so distinguished as Akiba. There were, however, other circumstances which made a wealthy man of the former shepherd lad.

It appears that Akiba, authorized by certain rabbis, borrowed a large sum of money from a prominent heathen woman—a matrona, says the legend. As bondsmen for the loan, Akiba named God and the sea, on the shore of which the matrona's house stood. Akiba, being sick, could not return the money at the time appointed; but his "bondsmen" did not leave him in the lurch. An imperial princess suddenly became insane, in which condition she threw a chest containing imperial treasures into the sea. It was cast upon the shore close to the house of Akiba's creditor, so that when the matrona went to the shore to demand of the sea the amount she had lent Akiba, the ebbing tide left boundless riches at her feet. Later, when Akiba arrived to discharge his indebtedness, the matrona not only refused to accept the money, but insisted upon Akiba's receiving a large share of what the sea had brought to her (Commentaries to Ned. l.c.).

The Talmud also enumerates six occasions in which Akiva gained his wealth (Nedarim, 50a-b). Akiba's many journeys brought numerous adventures, some of which are embellished by legend. Thus in Ethiopia he was once called upon to decide between the swarthy king and the king's wife; the latter having been accused of infidelity because she had borne her lord a white child. Akiba ascertained that the royal chamber was adorned with white marble statuary, and, basing his decision upon a well known physiological theory, he exonerated the queen from suspicion (Num. R. ix. 34). It is related that during his stay in Rome Akiba became intimately acquainted with the Jewish proselyte ḳeṭia' bar Shalom, a very influential Roman—according to some scholars identical with Flavius Clemens, Domitian's nephew, who, before his execution for pleading the cause of the Jews, bequeathed to Akiba all his possessions (Ab. Zarah, 10b).

Another Roman, concerning whose relations with Akiba legend has much to tell, was Tinnius Rufus, called in the Talmud "Tyrannus" Rufus. One day Rufus asked: "Which is the more beautiful—God's work or man's?" "Undoubtedly man's work is the better," was Akiba's reply; "for while nature at God's command supplies us only with the raw material, human skill enables us to elaborate the same according to the requirements of art and good taste." Rufus had hoped to drive Akiba into a corner by his strange question; for he expected quite a different answer from the sage, and intended to compel Akiba to admit the wickedness of circumcision. He then put the question, "Why has God not made man just as He wanted him to be?" "For the very reason," was Akiba's ready answer, "that the duty of man is to perfect himself" (Tan., Tazri'a, 5, ed. S. Buber 7).

His relationship with his wife

Akiva was the shepherd of a rich man nicknamed Kalba Savua because anyone who entered his house hungry like a dog "(kalba)" went out satiated "(savua)" (a reference to his hospitality toward guests). Kalba Savua's daughter, whose name was Rachel, noticed his modesty and good nature. She saw that he had a great mind, and that if he would put his mind to The Almighty's Divine Torah, he would flourish into a great teacher in Israel. She spoke with Akiva about G-d and the role of the Jewish people, and it sparked his interest. One day Akiva came to Rachel by a river, and asked her why the Jewish people, if they were G-d's Chosen people, had to suffer so much. She replied,

:"The greater, the higher a man's task is, the more he must endure, the more he must fight and suffer. An ordinary simple man who doesn't bother about anything usually lives a quiet an undisturbed life. The man who wants to do something, who is concerned with the general welfare has troubles and worries. When G-d elevated Israel and chose us from all the nations, He placed us in the midst of every conflict. Wherever something great is being fought for, Israel must be there. Few peoples rise above the others, to put their foot on the neck of the nations. The various generations come up, grow, flourish and disappear. Israel must play its part in all of them. Of course, that involves suffering and sorrow. Sometimes we are hurled down to earth, and the ploughs are drawn across our backs and we are marked by long furrows. But G-d has always raised us up again. He has never punished us as He has punished those who torment us. He has never doomed us to die like those nations who oppress us. If we must suffer more than other peoples, G-d has also given us the strength to bear our troubles; to endure." Fact|date=January 2007

Rachel's words moved Akiva, and he told her that he could only dedicate himself to Torah if he had a wife like her by his side. She said that she would accept his "wooing" if he would devote himself to the study of G-d's law. He said he would, and they married in secret. Her father, hearing this, drove her out of his house and prohibited her by vow of having any share in his assets.

Rachel brought Akiva to Gamzu, a small place near Lod, to learn from the Torah sage Nochum of Gamzu. He learned with him until he died, at which point he moved to Yavneh to study at the feet of ben Zakkai, as well as Gamliel II "HaNasi" (the Prince), and Yehoshua ben Chananya. After 12 years, he returned to his home with twelve thousand disciples following him. He overheard a neighbor saying to his wife Rachel: "How long will you live as a widow while still married? Your husband has probably forgotten all about you!" She answered her: "If he would listen to me, he should go study another twelve years." Hearing this, Rabbi Akiva said: "So I'm doing it with her approval!" and went and studied another twelve years.

When he came back this time, he had twenty-four thousand disciples with him. Hearing this, his wife was about to go out and greet him. Her female neighbors said to her: "Go borrow garments and dress yourself!" She replied: "A righteous man knows the spirit of his domestic beast" ("Proverbs" 12:10). When she reached him she prostrated herself and started kissing his feet. His servants started pushing her away. He said to them: "Let her be! What both I and you have is hers."

Her father heard that a great man had arrived in town. He said: "Let me go to him, perhaps he may annul my vow." "Rabbi" Akiva asked him: "Had you known that her husband would become a great man, would you have vowed?" Kalba Savua answered: "Why, if he even knew one chapter, even one "Halakha"!" "Rabbi" Akiva then said: "I am him." He prostrated himself and kissed him on his feet, and gave him half his assets (Ketubot 62b-63a).

His Favorite Maxim

This was not the only occasion on which Akiba was made to feel the truth of his favorite maxim ("Whatever God doeth He doeth for the best"). Once, being unable to find any sleeping accommodation in a certain city, he was compelled to pass the night outside its walls. Without a murmur he resigned himself to this hardship; and even when a lion devoured his ass, and a cat killed the cock whose crowing was to herald the dawn to him, and the wind extinguished his candle, the only remark he made was, "All that G-d does is for the good." When morning dawned he learned how true his words were. A band of robbers had fallen upon the city and carried its inhabitants into captivity, but he had escaped because his abiding place had not been noticed in the darkness, and neither beast nor fowl had betrayed him (Ber. 60b).

Akiba and the Dead

A legend according to which the gates of the infernal regions opened for Akiba is analogous to the more familiar tale that he entered paradise and was allowed to leave it unscathed (Ḥag. 14b). There exists the following tradition: Akiba once met a coal-black man carrying a heavy load of wood and running with the speed of a horse. Akiba stopped him and inquired: "My son, wherefore dost thou labor so hard? If thou art a slave and hast a harsh master, I will purchase thee of him. If it be out of poverty that thou doest thus, I will care for thy requirements." "It is for neither of these," the man replied; "I am dead and am compelled because of my great sins to build my funeral pyre every day. In life I was a tax-gatherer and oppressed the poor. Let me go at once, lest the demon torture me for my delay." "Is there no help for thee?" asked Akiba. "Almost none," replied the deceased; "for I understand that my sufferings will end only when I have a pious son. When I died, my wife was pregnant; but I have little hope that she will give my child proper training."

Akiba inquired the man's name and that of his wife and her dwelling-place; and when, in the course of his travels, he reached the place, Akiba sought for information concerning the man's family. The neighbors very freely expressed their opinion that both the deceased and his wife deserved to inhabit the infernal regions for all time—the latter because she had not even initiated her child into the Abrahamic covenant. Akiba, however, was not to be turned from his purpose; he sought the son of the tax-gatherer and labored long and assiduously in teaching him the word of God. After fasting 40 days, and praying to God to bless his efforts, he heard a heavenly voice (bat Ḳol) asking, "Wherefore givest thou thyself so much trouble concerning this one?" "Because he is just the kind to work for," was the prompt answer. Akiba persevered until his pupil was able to officiate as reader in the synagogue; and when there for the first time he recited the prayer, "Bless ye the Lord!" the father suddenly appeared to Akiba, and overwhelmed him with thanks for his deliverance from the pains of hell through the merit of his son (Kallah, ed. Coronel, 4b, and see quotations from Tan. in Isaac Aboab's "Menorat ha-Maor," i. 1, 2, § 1, ed. Jacob Raphael Fürstenthal, p. 82; also Maḥzor Vitry, p. 112). This legend has been somewhat elaborately treated in Yiddish under the title, "Ein ganz neie Maase vun dem Tanna R. Akiba," Lemberg, 1893 (compare Tanna debe Eliyahu Zuṭṭa, xvii., where Johanan ben Zakkai's name is given in place of Akiba).

References

*. The JE cites the following sources:
** Z. Frankel, Darke ha-Mishnah, pp. 111-123;
** J. Brüll, Mebo ha-Mishnah, pp. 116-122;
** Weiss, Dor, ii. 107-118;
** H. Oppenheim, in Bet Talmud, ii. 237-246, 269-274;
** Isaac Gastfreund, Biographie des R. Akiba, Lemberg, 1871;
** J. S. Bloch, in Mimizraḥ u-Mima'Arab, 1894, pp. 47-54;
** Heinrich Grätz, Gesch. d. Juden, iv. (see index);
** Ewald, Geschichte der Volkes Israel, vii. 367 et seq.;
** Joseph Derenbourg, Essai, pp. 329-331, 395 et seq., 418 et seq.;
** Hamburger, R. B. T. ii. 32-43;
** W. Bacher, Ag. Tan. i. 271-348;
** Isaak Markus Jost, Gesch. des Judenthums und Seiner Sekten, ii. 59 et seq.;
**Landau, in Monatsschrift, 1854, pp. 45-51, 81-93, 130-148;
**Dünner, ibid. 1871, pp. 451-454;
**Neubürger, ibid. 1873, pp. 385-397, 433-445, 529-536;
**D. Hoffmann, Zur Einleitung in die Halachischen Midraschim, pp. 5-12;
**H. Grätz, Gnosticismus, pp. 83-120;
**F. Rosenthal, Vier Apokryph. Bücher . . . R. Akiba's, especially pp. 95-103, 124-131;
**S. Funk, Akiba (Jena Dissertation), 1896;
**M. Poper, PirḲe R. Akiba, Vienna, 1808;
**M. Lehmann, Akiba, Historische Erzählung, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1880;
**J. Wittkind, Ḥuṭ ha-Meshulash, Wilna, 1877;
**Braunschweiger, Die Lehrer der Mischnah, pp. 92-110.

Notes

See also

*Ten Martyrs
*Mishnah
*Midrash
*Talmud

External links

* [http://www.chabad.org/277384 A biography of Rabbi Akiva]
* [http://www.ou.org/chagim/elul/akiva.htm OU.org: Rabbi Akiva, Master of Teshuvah]
* [http://www.chabad.org/search/keyword.asp?scope=6198&kid=1418 A collection of articles on Rabbi Akiva's teaching] from [http://www.Chabad.org Chabad Knowledge Base]
* [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=1033&letter=A Jewish Encyclopedia article on Akiba] , by Louis Ginzberg.


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