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Akiba ben Joseph

Akiba ben Joseph

The Palestinian rabbi Akiba ben Joseph (ca. 50-ca. 135) was a founder of rabbinic Judaism. He developed a method of Hebrew scriptural interpretation.

The early life of Akiba ben Joseph is enshrouded in legends, anecdotes, sayings, and numerous references in the Talmud. He was born in the vicinity of Lydda to a humble peasant family. Until well on in years, he was an illiterate shepherd employed by the wealthy Ben Kalba Sabua, whose daughter Rachel married Akiba on condition that he devote himself to learning. Her father opposed the match and banished Rachel from his home.

Akiba labored hard to earn a meager livelihood. When his child started school, Akiba accompanied him, and together they learned to read. Despite many discouragements, Akiba persevered in his studies and at the age of 40 entered the rabbinical academy of Johanan ben Zakkai, a Pharisaic teacher, at Yabneh (Jamnia). In the academy Akiba, himself a commoner, invariably championed the plebeian viewpoint rather than the patrician.

In the year 96 Akiba went with other rabbis on a mission to Rome to persuade the emperor Domitian to revoke an anti-Jewish edict. Shortly after their arrival, Domitian was assassinated, and his successor, Nerva, adopted a more humane policy toward the Jews. From a convert to Judaism in Rome, Akiba received a generous bequest, which enabled him to establish an academy at Bnei Berak near Jaffa. He attracted thousands of students, to whom he lectured under the shady boughs of a palm tree.

Akiba developed a new method of textual interpretation which attached significance and meaning to every word, letter, jot, and tittle of the scriptural text. It was imaginative, but unlike the logical system employed by Hillel, it was rather artificial. With this new approach Akiba was able to adjust the law to the needs of the times. His disciples applied this approach in the Midrashic (biblical expositional) works they compiled.

Another of Akiba's outstanding contributions to scholarship was his arrangement according to subject matter, in divisions and subdivisions, of the earlier collections of the Oral Law, which heretofore had been organized hazardly. His system was further developed by his disciple Rabbi Meir, and it was set up in its present form, the Mishnah, by Judah I (Judah Hanasi, the Prince) about 200.

Akiba played an important role in the Bar Kochba revolt against Rome (132-135) and insisted on continuing to teach the Law, though to do so was a capital offense. He was imprisoned, tortured, and executed by the Romans, dying with the Shema Yisroel ("Hear O Israel," Deuteronomy 6:4), Israel's profession of faith, on his lips.

Further Reading

Herbert Danby's translation of the Mishnah (1933) is excellent. A splendid account of Akiba's life, times, and thought is in Louis Finkelstein, Akiba: Scholar, Saint and Martyr (1936). Finkelstein's chapter, "Akiba," in Simon Noveck, ed., Great Jewish Personalities in Ancient and Medieval Times (1959), is essentially a summary of his book-length study. Morris Adler, The World of the Talmud (1959), deals with the background of the Talmud.

Additional Sources

Finkelstein, Louis, Akiba: scholar, saint, and martyr, Northvale, N.J.: J. Aronson, 1990.

Rabbi Akiva: sage of all sages, Woodmere, N.Y.: Bet-Shamai Publications, 1989. □

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Akiba ben Joseph (ca. 50-135 C.E.)

Akiba ben Joseph (ca. 50-135 C.E.)

A Jewish rabbi of the first century, who began as a simple shepherd, then became a learned scholar, spurred by the hope of winning the hand of a young lady he greatly admired. According to Jewish legend, he was taught by the elemental spirits, was a wonder worker, and at his peak had as many as 24,000 disciples. He was reputed to be the author of a famous work entitled Yetzirah (On the Creation), which is by some ascribed to Abraham, or to Adam. An early Hebrew edition of the Sepher Yetzirah was printed at Lemberg in 1680: a Latin version was printed in Paris in 1552.

Rabbi Akiba was a great teacher who developed a rabbinical school at Jaffu, and his Mishnah became the foundation of the religious code. He was involved in the revolt of Bar-Cochba against Hadrian in 132 C.E. and suffered martyrdom by being flayed alive.

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Akiba ben Joseph

Akiba ben Joseph (əkē´bə), c.AD 50–c.AD 135, Jewish Palestinian religious leader, one of the founders of rabbinic Judaism. Although the facts of his life are obscured by legend, he is said to have been a poor and illiterate shepherd who began his rabbinic studies at the age of forty. Tradition views him as one of the first Jewish scholars to systematically compile Hebrew oral laws, the Mishna. He is believed to have been executed by the Romans in the aftermath of the messianic revolt of Bar Kokba (AD 132–135), though the extent of his participation is a matter of controversy. He is one of the martyrs mentioned in the Jewish penitential prayer.

See study by L. Finkelstein (1936, repr. 1970).

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Akiba Ben Joseph

Akiba Ben Joseph (ad 50–135) Jewish rabbi and martyr in Palestine. He developed a new method of interpreting the Halakah, Hebrew oral laws, and supported a revolt (132) against the Roman Emperor Hadrian. He was imprisoned by the Romans and tortured to death.

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