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>> The Seder ha'Doros states that Rebbi Akiva was born 68 years before the Churban. Avos d'Rebbi Nasan (6:2) tells us that by the age of 40, Rebbi Akiva had not yet learned anything. The Gemara in Kesuvos (62b-63a) relates that he went away for 24 years to learn and returned with 24,000 Talmidim. According to these figures, the earliest date that the 24,000 could have died would have been four years before the Churban.<<
I guess confusion exists because of suggestions (i.e. from the Yerushalmi) that the students died during the period of Bar Kochba. Unless it could be argued that some died much earlier while others died later. Rabbi Akiva then was born in the year "0" and died in 120, which was just BEFORE the beginning of Bar Kochba rebellion. He had to have already had the 5 new talmidim AND be killed by the Romans himself, yet this would have to have been BEFORE the start of the rebellion......
It is assumed that Rabbi Akiva had his 24,000 students after 24 years AFTER the age of 40 but BEFORE the chorban, and that he lived 120 years. Thus, since the chorban was in 68 CE, and 64 (40+24) years after the birth of Rabbi Akiva had to make the events at least a couple of years before the chorban, meaning Rabbi Akiva had to have died no later than about 122. But the persecutions leading up to the rebellion started AFTER that, and yet we are told that the 24,000 died and that he had 5 new students during the rebellion when he recognized Bar Kochba as mashiach according to the Yerushalmi. If so, then either he lived at least around 135 years or these events simply did not happen the way they are presented. A third possibility would have to be that the events of Bar Kochba erupted more than 15 years earlier than asssumed.
Unfortunately even Rambam does not clarify these historical matters. The problem is that the emperor Hadrian became leader around year 117, and did not get involved in Eretz Yisrael for many years.
D. Goldman, LA, CA
If we adopt the other opinion mentioned by the Seder ha'Doros, that Rebbi Akiva was 47 at the time of the Churban, this would mean that he was born in 21 CE and died at the age of 120 in 141 CE. I believe that the Bar Kochba revolt is dated as 132-135, so Rebbi Akiva could have been a part of that.
According to this, the earliest date that the Talmidim could have died is 21 + 40 + 24 = 85, which is 17 years after the Churban, but it could also have been later than that.
So if he was 47, that means that he was tranquilly learned Torah (as the talmid of talmidim of R. Yochanan ben Zakkai) in the midst of all the upheavals at the time of chorban, and then returned home, and left again, all with plenty of visible talmidim under such harsh circumstances. How he could march around with 12 or 24,000 talmidim in the midst of all of this seems far fetched. And then to be a major figure at almost 120 years old, even traveling around to Bavel etc. making gerim, etc. at an advanced age......
David Goldman, USA
1) If you look at Jewish history, you often find that the greatest Torah growth took place during periods of persecution. Rashi wrote his commentaries during the Crusades. The Rambam lived in a time of turmoil and oppression. Often, in times of tranquility, people are less attracted to learning Torah. In fact, the Rambam (Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:12) writes that the words of Torah do not remain with people who learn Torah amid pleasure and abundance of food and drink. Shlomo ha'Melech said, "Also (Af) my wisdom remained with me" (Koheles 2:9), which Chazal explain to mean that "the wisdom I learned amidst anger (Af) is what remained with me."
2) One could hardly say that Rebbi Akiva learned Torah tranquilly. By the age of 40 he did not even know how to say Birkas ha'Mazon, and he was afraid to go to Yeshiva because the other students would laugh at him (see Midrash ha'Gadol, Shemos 4:13). He and his wife were cut off by their families for marrying and wanting to be steeped in Torah learning; for years they had to sleep in hay.
3) I think one could say that the country in contemporary Jewish life which has suffered the most wars and terrorism is Eretz Yisrael, but it is also the country where the Torah has flourished the most, with thousands and thousands of Torah students. Torah is a miracle in our day just as it was in Rebbi Akiva's times.
4) The Mishnah (Kidushin 82a) states that Torah gives hope and finality in one's old age, as Tehilim 92:15 states: "They shall still bring forth fruit in ripe old age."
I once saw somewhere that all the talmidim died between pesach and Shavuos over the course of many years
I think that some want to be medayek from Midrash Rabah Koheles 11:6:-
" And Rabbi Akiva says 'I had 12,000 talmidim between Gabas and Antipras and they all died in my lifetime between Pesach and Atzeres' ".
The Midrash does not say explicilty that they all died in the same year.