The legendary Akiva ben Yosef has fascinated Jews for centuries. One of and arguably the most important of the Tannaim, or early Jewish sages, he lived during a crucial era in the development of Judaism as we know it today, and his theology played a major part in the development of Rabbinic Judaism. Reuven Hammer details Akiva’s life as it led to a martyr’s death and delves into the rich legacy Akiva left us.
That legacy played an extraordinarily important role in helping the Jewish people survive difficult challenges and forge a vibrant religious life anew and continues to influence Jewish law, ethics, and theology even today. Akiva’s contribution to the development of Oral Torah cannot be overestimated, and in this first book written in English about the sage since 1936, Hammer reassesses Akiva’s role in the period before the destruction of the temple in 70 CE until the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 135 CE. He also assesses new findings about the growth of early Judaism, the reasons why Akiva was so outspoken about “Christian Jews,” the influence of Hellenism, the Septuagint, and the canonization of the Hebrew Bible. Ultimately, Hammer shows that Judaism without Akiva would be a very different religion.
Reuven Hammer is the former director and dean of the Jerusalem branch of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS), 1974–92, where he served as a professor of Rabbinic literature. He holds a DHL from JTS and a PhD from Northwestern University. He was also the founding director of the Seminary of Jewish Studies (1987–90). He is the author or editor of many books, including Sifre: A Taanaitic Commentary on Deuteronomy and Entering the High Holy Days: A Complete Guide to the History, Prayers, and Themes (JPS, 2005), both National Jewish Book Award winners.
The book is available in both English and Hebrew.
“With insight and mastery of Rabbinic sources, Rabbi Reuven Hammer has produced an outstanding review of the life of Rabbi Akiva, clarifying his life, thoughts, beliefs, and concerns for the Jewish people. His book will enlighten and captivate readers.”—Shalom Paul, professor emeritus, Bible Department at Hebrew University of Jerusalem
“Reuven Hammer’s Akiva is a bold and sophisticated engagement with one of the best documented, but nevertheless elusive, figures in early Rabbinic Judaism. By judiciously weighing Akiva’s complex literary legacy, Rabbi Hammer encourages readers to explore how we know the past and what it can teach us in the present.”—Ivan G. Marcus, Frederick P. Rose Professor of Jewish History at Yale University