- RACHEL (first century C.E.), wife of R. Akiva . The daughter of kalba savua , one of the three richest men of Jerusalem, Rachel secretly married Akiva, who was ignorant and her father's shepherd, because she saw in him a man of modest and noble character. When her father found out about the secret betrothal, he took a vow against her deriving any benefit from his estate. Akiva and Rachel lived in straitened circumstances, but Akiva promised her a gift of a golden ornament with an engraving of Jerusalem on it. According to legend, the prophet elijah once came to them disguised as a poor man and begged them for some straw for a bed for his wife who had just given birth, in order to make them realize that there were people worse off than they (Ned. 50a). Akiva later decided to study Torah. Encouraged by Rachel he stayed away for 24 years (Finkelstein assumes that this absence did not last more than three years). He returned home with 24,000 disciples to whom he said, "mine and yours are hers," i.e., the credit for all our achievements is hers. When Akiva was able to fulfill his promise and give Rachel the "Jerusalem of Gold," rabban gamaliel 's wife envied her and told her husband of Akiva's generosity. He replied, "Did you do what she did, selling her hair in order that he might study?" (TJ, Sot. 9:16,24c). Akiva's love for Rachel is reflected in his saying, "who is wealthy?… He who has a wife comely in deeds" (Shab. 25b). When Akiva's daughter became secretly betrothed to simeon ben azzai , the Talmud concluded that this was indeed an illustration of the proverb "Ewe (Heb. raḥel) follows ewe; a daughter acts like her mother" (Ket. 63a). Two major traditions are preserved in the Talmud about Rachel. One is that it was she who encouraged Akiva to study (Ket. 62b, 63a; see also Ned. 50a, which is a more legendary source), while the other presents the stimulus as coming from himself and his gift to his wife as a compensation for her suffering during his absence (ARN1 6, 29). -BIBLIOGRAPHY: L. Finkelstein, Akiba; Scholar, Saint, and Martyr (1936), 22ff., 79ff.
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.
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