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Keti'a Bar Shalom


KETI'A BAR SHALOM (first century c.e.), Roman councillor or senator who sacrificed his life to save the Jews of the Roman Empire from extermination (or persecution), probably toward the end of *Domitian's reign (c. 96 c.e.). According to the main source (Av. Zar. 10b), an emperor who hated the Jews – presumably Domitian – consulted his councillors as to whether a sore on the foot should be cut away, i.e., whether the Jews should be exterminated, or be left alone to cause pain. The councillors favored "radical" treatment, but Keti'a b. Shalom pointed out that the Jews, scattered as they were all over the world, could not be exterminated anyway; that the world could not exist without Israel; and that the empire would be crippled without the Jews. The emperor agreed with the soundness of Keti'a's reasoning, but nevertheless ordered him to be put to death. Advised by a Roman matron who exclaimed, "Pity the ship that sails without paying the tax," Keti'a circumcised himself, so that he should enter paradise as a Jew. Just before his execution he willed all his property to R. Akiva (cf. Ned. 50b) and his colleagues who were in Rome at the time.

In a similar story told in Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:24, an unnamed senator commits suicide (after having himself circumcised) in order to annul a Senate decree to exterminate the Jews within 30 days. Graetz plausibly identifies Keti'a with Flavius *Clemens, Domitian's nephew, who was executed for "atheism," i.e., for Judaizing tendencies. Keti'a b. Shalom is a fictitious name meaning "through circumcision he obtained salvation" (so J.Z. Lauterbach, quoted by Braude) or, more probably, "the circumcised one, may he rest in peace."


Graetz, Gesch, 4 (19084), 109–11, 402f.; idem, in: mgwj, 1 (1852), 192–202; J. Kobak, in: Jeshurun, 8 (1871/72), Heb. pt. 161–70; B.J. Bamberger, Proselytism in the Talmudic Period (1939; repr. 1968), 235–8, 279, 282f.; W.G. Braude, Jewish Proselyting (1940), 75; Alon, Toledot3, 1 (1959), 74f.

[Moses Aberbach]

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