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(ca. 40-135 C.E.).Great Talmudic scholar and leader. It is told that until he was forty years of age, he was an ignorant shepherd. Rachel, the beautiful daughter of Kalba Sabbua, a rich Jerusalemite, fell in love with Akiva and secretly married him. Enraged that his daughter married beneath her station, her father immediately disinherited her. Rachel’s ardent wish was that Akiva study Jewish law. Despite their poverty, Rachel encouraged Akiva as he studied for many years in the academy. When he finally returned home followed by thousands of pupils, Rachel came to meet him. When his students, not knowing who she was, wanted to turn her away, Rabbi Akiva rebuked them, saying, “Let her be. Your wisdom, as well as mine, are due to her.”

Akiva’s brilliant and penetrating mind is revealed in his interpretation of Jewish law. He assembled and edited the teachings of previous scholars, and in arranging them by subject, laid the foundation for the editing of the Mishnah. A great Jewish patriot, he joined Bar Kokhba in inspiring the Jews to rebel against Roman rule, sixty years after the destruction of the Temple. Akiva saw the Messiah in Bar Kokhba (See Messianism), applying to him the biblical prediction of the coming of the Messianic redeemer of the Jews: “A star (kokhav) shall rise out of Jacob” (Num. 24:17). However, the rebellion failed, and the Roman Emperor Hadrian prohibited, under penalty of death, the observance and study of Jewish law. Having defied the Emperor’s decree, Akiva was one of the ten martyrs sentenced to death by flaying. Accepting his fate to serve God with all his soul, he faced his end serenely. While the sage recited the traditional prayer of Shema (“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one”), he relinquished his spirit, setting a lasting example for the Jewish martyrs to come.

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