[Avodah] Rabbi Akiva's Students' Deaths as Soldiers in Bar Kochba's Army? A thorough critique of the theory

Zvi Lampel zvilampel at gmail.com
Tue May 14 15:24:51 PDT 2024

> > https://asif.co.il/wpfb-file/6_2-pdf/
> > by R. Shmuel Yismach, Igud Yeshivot HaHesder
> > <
> https://asif.co.il/files_author/%d7%94%d7%a8%d7%91-%d7%a9%d7%9e%d7%95%d7%90%d7%9c-%d7%99%d7%a9%d7%9e%d7%97/
> >
> RMB: The idea that the Y-mi's "iskarah" wasn't a lung disease (askara) but
> the
> type of low-ranking Roman soldier who carried a dagger (sicarii) also fits
> Igeres R Sherira Gaon referring to their deaths as a "shamda". Persecution
> is a term we would use for something caused by people, not disease.
> But RSY in this article cites RSG and then uses R Hai Gaon, RSG's son, as
> proof that they died of disease -- by presuming the first definition of
> "iskarah" when RHG uses the word. Whereas the whole argument is based
> on assuming the two Greek words having the same transliteration.

RSY is here countering the known (to him) arguments that have been made
(and documents them naming names) based on Rav Sherira Gaon's attribution
of "shamda" to Rabbi Akiva's students' death ("vehayah shamda al talmidim
shel Rabbi Akiva") versus the Gemara's attribution of their death to
"iskara" (or Kares). Your thesis (that the Gemara's "iskarah" wasn't a lung
disease [askara] but the type of low-ranking Roman soldier who carried a
dagger [sicarii]) is intriguing and would indeed make RShG's "shamda"
virtually synonymous with it; but none of RSY's sources make that claim.

Most of them consider the two terms to have separate, if not contradictory,
meanings.* The closest approach to yours is the one that points out that
"askar" is Turkish (!) for "army." Perhaps they do not entertain your
suggestion on the grounds that the hidden daggers carried by the Sicarii
were weapons they hid up their sleeves to sneak up to their victims and
secretly stab them. They were not the swords used by armies in battle. (And
I have not found a source that "sicarii" was a type of low-ranking Roman

RSY is making the argument that 7 manuscripts of R'ShG's epistle do not
have the word "shamda" at all,** and his son, RSG, cites him as using the
word "iskara". So--again with the premise that the two words mean different
things--this indicates that the manuscripts that have RSh'G using the word
"shmad" are erroneous.

* One proposes that RShG's "shamda"=Rebbelion is the historical truth, and
the Talmud only said "iskara"/kares out of self-censorship so as not to
provoke government ire. Another takes "shamda" to mean persecution, which
led (not to rebellion, but) to fleeing to caves, which brought on sickness
and death from lack of air ("iskara"). Another proposes that death by the
sword cutting the throat ("shmad") is equivalent to choking ("iskara").
Another equates "iskara" to lashon hara, the cause Hashem's punishment
through the Roman killings ("shmad"). And then there's the one already
mentioned, of "iskara" coming from the Turkish word "askar" meaning "army."

**And in fact, in the passages where RSh'G does use use the word "shamda,"
he uses it to mean persecution to prevent allegiance to the Torah, not
warfare between two armies or its results.

Zvi Lampel
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