Life, Legend, Legacy

Reuven Hammer

272 pages
1 timeline


October 2015


$29.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

October 2015


$29.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

October 2015


$29.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

The legendary Akiva ben Yosef has fascinated Jews for centuries. Arguably the most important of the Tannaim, or early Jewish sages, Akiva 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 he delves into the rich legacy Akiva left us.

That legacy played an extraordinarily important role in helping the Jewish people survive difficult challenges to forge a vibrant religious life anew, and it 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 from 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.

Author Bio

Rabbi Reuven Hammer is the former director and dean of the Jerusalem branch of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS), where he served as a professor of Rabbinic literature. He holds a Doctor of Humane Letters from JTS and a PhD from Northwestern University and was also the founding director of the Seminary of Jewish Studies. He is the author or editor of many books, including Entering the High Holy Days: A Complete Guide to the History, Prayers, and Themes (JPS, 2005) and Sifre: A Taanaitic Commentary on the Book of Deuteronomy, both of which are National Jewish Book Award winners.



"Hammer performs a delicate balancing act—not only between deciding between fact and legend, but in showing the struggles within the rabbinic community. Readers looking to learn more about Akiva and the growth of rabbinic Judaism will find his work has much to offer."—Rabbi Rachel Esserman, Reporter Group

"Hammer is to be heartily congratulated for producing yet another book to be added to his list of prodigious publications."—Shalom M. Paul, Jerusalem Report

"With this new work, readers will be able to move past the coarse legends and refine their understanding of Akiva's true characteristics, which turned this seemingly simple man into a rabbinical giant, and make his achievements still relevant to this day."—Benjamin Glatt, Jerusalem Post Magazine

“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 Reuven 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

Table of Contents

Author’s Note    
Chapter One. Akiva’s Early Life    
Chapter Two. Becoming a Sage    
Chapter Three. The New Sage and Public Figure    
Chapter Four. The Mystical Interpreter of Torah    
Chapter Five. The Organizer of Torah    
Chapter Six. Akiva and the Song of Songs    
Chapter Seven. Aspects of Akiva’s Theology    
Chapter Eight. Akiva—Resistance, Imprisonment, and Death    
Epilogue: The Man and His Legacy    

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