Tag Archives: Rabbi Akiva

The Final Positive Mitzvot (P#224-248)

Read the full text here. 

A goring bull, one of the most common causes of damage in ancient times.

Summary: Mitzvot #224-231 deal with meting out various forms of punishment for sins and crimes, including both corporal punishment and four kinds of capital punishment. The next four mitzvot deal with laws of slavery. Mitzvot #236-246 all have to do with laws of damages, including the four main categories of damages which are a goring ox, a hazardous pit, grazing animals, and fire (as discussed at length in the Talmud, tractate Bava Kamma). Mitzvah #247 is to save a person who is being pursued. The final positive mitzvah deals with the laws of inheritance.

Insight: Although the Torah commands four kinds of death penalties, in reality the death penalty was quite rare in ancient Israel. The Mishnah (Makkot 1:10) states that a Sanhedrin that put someone to death even once in seventy years was called a “destructive” or “bloodthirsty” court, and was looked upon unfavourably. Great sages like Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon said they would never rule to put anyone to death. Ultimately, the Sages found a way to abolish the death penalty altogether. Similarly, while the Torah does allow for servitude, the laws are so favourable towards the slave that our Sages stated “one who gains a slave, gains a master!” Among other things, a slave was required to eat the same meals as his master, and sleep in the same kind of bed. The Torah prohibits owning a slave for more than six years, as every seventh year all slaves were freed. Interestingly, the Torah speaks of the procedure when a slave wishes to remain in servitude to his master beyond the seven years. Such a possibility exists only because the slave was treated so well.

Introduction to Mishneh Torah – Part 3

The Rambam continues to explain the chain of transmission in the rabbinic period following Rabbi Yehuda haNasi.

Read the full text of the Introduction here. 

Summary: Among Rabbi Yehuda haNasi’s disciples were Rav and Shmuel, who later moved to Babylon to open new schools of Torah learning where much of the Talmud would be developed. Rav also composed two important works for understanding Torah law called Sifre and Sifra. Meanwhile, another disciple, Rabbi Chiya composed the Tosefta, a set of additional teachings to supplement the Mishnah, while Rabbis Hoshaya and Bar Kappara put together the similar Baraita. (Later, in the discussion of the Talmud, the Sages will quote from various Tosefta and Baraita to help make sense of the Mishnaic verses.) The Rambam also makes sure to note the Talmud Yerushalmi, the “Jerusalem Talmud” that was composed in the Holy Land, alongside the better-known Talmud Bavli, the “Babylonian Talmud” put together in Mesopotamia. The Talmudic period comes to a close with Rav Ashi, who was the 40th generation from Moses. The Rambam explains that between the two Talmuds and the additional texts of exegesis mentioned above, one can come to properly understand all the laws of the Torah, as well as the necessary “fences” instituted by the Sages to ensure Torah law is not broken.

An illustration of Rabbi Akiva from the 16th century Mantua Haggadah

Insight: Although Rabbi Yehuda haNasi is credited with composing the Mishnah, he did not do this single-handedly. In fact, the overall framework of the Mishnah (its six “orders”) is thought to have already been devised by Rabbi Akiva a generation prior. (Interestingly, there is a tradition that Rabbi Yehuda haNasi was born at the same moment that Rabbi Akiva passed away!) The teachings in the Mishnah are usually cited in the name of a particular rabbi. The most oft-cited individual rabbi is Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai, a student of Rabbi Akiva. Second most is Rabbi Meir, another of Rabbi Akiva’s students. There is a general rule in Torah-learning that a stam Mishnah, meaning an anonymous Mishnah that doesn’t mention the name of its teacher, is actually always Rabbi Meir. In third place is Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, of Lag b’Omer fame, who was also a student of Rabbi Akiva! And in fourth place is Rabbi Yose bar Halafta, yet another of Rabbi Akiva’s students. So, we see how the bulk of the Mishnah’s teachings were transmitted by a handful of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples. (Many other Mishnahs are taught in the name of Rabbi Akiva himself, or his teacher Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, as well as the famous schools of Hillel and Shammai, together with other Chakhamim, “Sages”, more broadly.)