Rabbi Akiba

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Akiba ben Joseph (born about 50 / 55 ; died 135 .. AD, Hebrew עקיבא בן יוסף 'Ăqīḇā Bɛn Yosef , as Akiva or Akiba transcribed), usually Rabbi Akiba called, is one of the most important fathers of rabbinical Judaism and becomes the Tannaim counted the second generation. He is one of the Ten Martyrs who were killed under Emperor Hadrian .


Historically secured information about the life of Rabbi Akiba is difficult to make out. Much is entwined with legends. Obviously exaggerated traditions like his age of 120 years or the 24,000 students he taught at the same time show the paramount importance of this man for Judaism in general. Most of the statements made only in rabbinical literature about his life, work and views are hardly or not at all verifiable from a historical-critical perspective.

The year of birth of Akiba ben Josef is not known. The most common statement is that he was born around the year 50 AD. What is certain is that he died at the end of the Bar Kochba revolt against the Romans, around 135 AD.

He was a student of Eliezer ben Hyrkanos , Jehoschua ben Chananja , Nachum from Gimso and Tarfons , head of his own school in Bene Beraq , teacher of Rabbi Meir , Rabbi Jehuda bar Ilai , Rabbi Shimon ben Jochai and Rabbi Jose ben Chalafta (see below) .

Rabbi Akiba's grave in Tiberias

According to the Talmud , Akiba ben Josef was of simple origin and a shepherd by profession. He is said to have been completely uneducated until he was forty. Only his wife Rachel asked him to learn to read and write. He did not begin studying the Torah until he was 40 and became a Torah scholar himself after 13 years. Legend has it that Akiba, like Moses, lived to be 120 years old, which underscores its importance. According to other legends, he is said to have both had a Jewish wife and later married the legendary beautiful wife of the Roman governor Quintus Tineius Rufus . In Jewish mysticism, this fact is seen as a sign of the connection between the religious and the secular in the person of Akiba. The name Akiba comes from the Hebrew word eqeb , which can be translated as “alternative”.

The treatise Berachot of the Babylonian Talmud describes the end of Rabbi Akibas as a martyr's death with previous torture, in which Rabbi Akiba unwaveringly prayed the Shema of Israel before he died. Then a heavenly voice was heard with the words “Hail, Rabbi Akiba, for you are destined for the life of the world to come” (Berachot 61 b). His death is dated around the year 135 and is considered the result of his support for the Jewish rebel Bar Kochba as the religious and political messiah . Before the Bar Kochba uprising , Rabbi Akiba took a more moderate stance in the conflict between the Jewish people and the Roman occupying power over the establishment of a Roman colonia called Aelia Capitolina , tried to calm the Jewish people down and negotiated - albeit unsuccessfully - with the emperor Hadrian on a peaceful settlement of the conflict. According to the Mischnatraktat Ta'anit (4.8) Akiba is said to have seen the messianic "Star from Jacob" ( Num 24.17  EU ) in the rebel, who was originally called Ben Kosiba , which led to his later name Bar Kochba. Since the Bar Kochba uprising against Rome ended in a catastrophic defeat for the Jewish people, Akiba was sharply criticized by later rabbis for this assessment. However, this did not diminish its reputation as a whole.


Rabbi Akiba has become important for Judaism in various ways. He is considered to be the first collector and designer of the stock of laws, discussions and texts for the Mishnah (Hebrew: “repetition”), the Jewish interpretation of the oral Torah, which was previously only passed on orally. He systematized the interpretation of scriptures, for example, according to subject areas such as Sabbath laws, laws on marriage, laws on property, differentiated between Midrash and Midrash Aggadot and thus provided the basis for the Mishnah. He was instrumental in the canonization of the Hebrew Bible and the creation of the Greek translation of Aquila .

Rabbi Akiba was closer to the school of Hillel ha-zaqen in his views / interpretations . In discussions between the Hillel School and Rabbi Shammai's school , he is often found positioned on the Hillel School's side, and several legal views of the Hillel School have been cited on his behalf. He may also be largely responsible for the successful enforcement / dominance of the views of the Hillel School after 70 AD. The central role of Rabbi Akiba and his disciples also had an impact on the material preserved before 70 AD. Thus he and his school played a key role in determining the content and structure of the later Mishnah. Rabbi Akiba appears as the central authority in the rabbinical traditions ascribed to the period between AD 70 and 130. Its importance is explained, among other things, by the role of his students, who, after the Bar Kochba uprising, sifted through and edited the rabbinical traditions from the period between 70 and 130 AD and gave their teacher a correspondingly important place. Akiba's disciples favored those authorities who were related to Akiba, his school and his views. Other important authorities of the time were either ignored or only mentioned in relation to Rabbi Akiba. An example of this is Rabbi Ishmael , a friend of Rabbi Akiba , of whom numerous individual traditions are often incorrectly reproduced in connection with discussions of Akiba or his students, while independent statements from him are hardly mentioned.

It is said of Rabbi Akiba in Men. 29b that he knew how to interpret "mountains of Halachoth " from every tick in the written law . In this he is traditionally regarded as an opponent of Ishmael ben Elisha . Both characterizations are historically questionable. That Akiba really derived laws from the ornamentation of the letters cannot be proven by practical examples. The legend alludes more to Akiba's artistry in interpreting the Torah. Since the writing was given literally by God, no letter could be unnecessary here, so that Akiba attached a special meaning to the letters and words that appeared superfluous, since they could only be set for the purpose of something special, something that went beyond the simple literal sense of the word, to express. Like many Talmudic legends, this legend is to be understood as ironic and contains a criticism of Akiba's overly sophisticated interpretation of the Torah. It was certainly not the intention of the legend to highlight Akiba as superior.

The Tanakh owes Rabbi Akiba's intercession the song of songs . His most important student was Rabbi Meir . In the Jewish festival calendar, the 50 Omer days between the festivals of Passover and Shavuot are counted as the time in which 24,000 students of Akiba are said to have fallen in the revolt against the Romans. Akiba is also considered a great mystic. Another important student of Rabbi Akiba was Rabbi Shimon ben Jochai , the author of the most important (but in fact wrongly ascribed) work of the Kabbalah , the Zohar .

After his death, Rabbi Akiba was immortalized in the transfigured retrospect of tradition, just like martyrs and saints by Christians, as nobly and close to God as possible.


הלכה למשה מסיני

“When Moses went to heaven, he found the Almighty busy decorating every single letter of the Torah with flowers and drawings. Moses asked God what he was doing, and God replied that in one of the future generations there would be a man who would derive heaps of rules from every single pull of the pen: Akiba ben Joseph. Then Moses wished to see the man, which he was promised. The days of Akiba came, and Moses went to his school and sat in the back rows and listened. But he did not understand the arguments taught and became more and more dismayed. When a difficult problem arose and a brave disciple asked Akiba where he got the authority from to deduce his rule, the rabbi replied:
הלכה למשה מסיני
('It is a prescription of Moses from Sinai.')
Then Moses became again proud and cheerful. "

- BT Menachot 29b



  • Israel Konovitz: Rabbi Akiba. Collected Sayings, in Halakah and Aggadah in the Talmudic and Midrashic Literature. Mossad Harav Kook, Jerusalem 1965 2 (Hebrew).
  • Louis Finkelstein: Akiba. Scholar, Saint and Martyr. New York 1936 (reprinted New York 1970).
  • Shmuel Safrai: Rabbi Akiba ben Josef. His Life and Teaching. Jerusalem 1970 (Hebrew).
  • Charles Primus: Aqiva's Contribution to the Law of Zera'im. Leiden 1977.
  • Pierre Lehnhardt, Peter von der Osten-Sacken : Rabbi Akiva. Texts and interpretations on rabbinic Judaism and the New Testament. ANTZ 1; Berlin 1987.
  • Louis GinzbergRabbi Akiba. In: Isidore Singer (Ed.): Jewish Encyclopedia . Funk and Wagnalls, New York 1901-1906.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. From the Mishnah: (...); Probably never a person developed such a teaching activity as Rabbi Akiba; 24,000 men and youths gathered around him, whom he taught in the open field; (...) ; in Marcus Lehmann: Sprüche der Fathers , Victor Goldschmidt Verlag, Basel, 1989, p. 117
  2. ^ Peter Schäfer: Studies on the history and theology of rabbinic Judaism ; EJ Brill, Leiden, 1978, chapter: R. Aqiva and Bar Kokhba, pp. 65-121
  3. Michael Krupp: Der Talmud / An introduction to the basic script of Judaism with selected texts , Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1995, pp. 41 and 237
  4. ^ Susanne Galley: Das Judentum , Campus Verlag, Frankfurt a. M., 2006, p. 67
  5. Abba Eban: This is my people / The history of the Jews , Droemersche Verlagsanstalt, Munich / Zurich, 1970, p. 87
  6. Abba Eban: This is my people / The history of the Jews , Droemersche Verlagsanstalt, Munich / Zurich, 1970, p. 87
  7. Pierre Lehnhardt, Peter von der Osten-Sacken: Rabbi Akiva , pp. 307-317
  8. Gerhard Krause and Gerhard Müller: Theologische Realenzyklopädie , Part I, study edition, de Gruyter, Berlin, 1993, pp. 146 and 147
  9. ^ Susanne Galley: Das Judentum , Campus Verlag, Frankfurt a. M., 2006, p. 68
  10. Michael Krupp: The Talmud / An introduction to the basic script of Judaism with selected texts , Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1995, p. 41
  11. Summary from P. Winter: On the Trial of Jesus ; Studia Judaica 1; Berlin: De Gruyter 1961, p. 69, note 15.