Rabbi Akiva (approximately 50-135) was one of the greatest of the Tannaim (Scholars of the Mishnah, the earliest written form of the Oral Torah). He was also a founder of rabbinic Judaism.
Akiva was not educated as a youth. His wife Rachel encouraged him to study. It is said that he began to study Torah at the Yavneh academy at the age of forty. It is said he studied for thirteen years without expressing any opinion. And that the first opinions he did express were brilliant. His logic, method of exposition, and memory made him an extraordinary student. In time, Akiva, with novel and liberal views, became a leader at the Yavneh Academy.
After receiving a bequest that made him financially secure, Akiva opened his own academy in Bene Berak. Akiva's success as a Torah Scholar is revealed by the fact that his name is mentioned over 270 times in the Mishnah.
When the Romans declared they would build a pagan temple on the site of the destroyed Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, the Jews, led by Shimon Bar Kochva, rebelled. Rabbi Akiva became the spiritual leader of the Bar Kochba Revolt. Rabbi Akiva even proclaimed Bar Kochva to be the Messiah early in the struggle, but he later retracted this opinion.
Despite Roman decrees against teaching Torah, the aged Rabbi Akiva continued to teach. Akiva was arrested by the Romans. Some say he died in prison. Tradition, however, says that after being imprisoned for three years, he was put on trial and sentenced to death. While the Romans were torturing him to death, he recited the Shema and explained to those present that now he understood the true meaning of loving the Lord with all they heart, soul, and might.
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