A Positive Assessment of Rabbi Akiva and Zionism



By Menachem Mevashir for VT

I have written some very pejorative things about Rabbi Akiva, the great founder of modern rabbinical Judaism. For a Jewish believer in Jesus, Akiva presents a unique challenge in that he apparently deliberately anointed as an alternative messiah a violent figure named Shimon Bar Cosiva aka Bar Kochba (BK) to lead a rebellion against Rome. At first glance this appears to contradict the teachings of Jesus about pacifism. However last night, while I tossed and turned in the aftermath of getting the Covid vaccine (the J&J version) I thought of an alternative perspective on Akiva that is much more positive.

It is risky to share any criticism of Akiva with Jewish people because he is regarded with overwhelming fondness. His gruesome martyrdom at the hands of the Romans is recalled every year in the Yom Kippur liturgy. Even secular Jews tend to regard Akiva with reverence. While pondering these things, I thought of an alternative way to view Akiva’s actions even as a believer in Jesus as Messiah of Israel and Savior of the World. I would like to share that with you today.

I believe we can see Akiva as an early precursor to the American revolutionaries who fought a war to gain independence from Britain. Akiva early in his career as a rabbinical leader in Judea frequently traveled to Rome to plead for his community. According to the Talmud he was regarded with favor by the Roman authorities who granted many concessions for religious freedom to his community. Only later in life did Akiva decide to back BK as a revolutionary against the Roman occupation of Judea. This seems parallel to the American revolutionaries, who initially saw themselves as loyal members of the British Empire and only later made the fateful decision to revolt militarily against the world’s greatest imperial power.

Even from a Christian perspective it is possible to view Akiva in a positive light. All bible scholars agree that Jesus’ earliest followers expected his return soon. The Book of Revelation depicts a violent struggle against the Roman Empire to reestablish Jerusalem as the spiritual center of the universe. It is conceivable that even these figures might have viewed BK’s revolt against Rome favorably.

His name was Shimon echoing Simon Peter Jesus’ leading disciple. As for the objection to his violence, recall that the Roman Emperor Constantine, who is viewed by Catholic and Orthodox Christians as a saint and hero of the faith (called Brother to the Apostles), was no less violent than BK and certainly far more. BK did not intend to destroy the entire Roman Empire but merely to secure Jewish independence. The Roman authorities believed were he successful it would set a bad precedent throughout the Empire so they ruthlessly suppressed his revolt. But nevertheless it is impossible to see BK as more violent than Constantine.

As for Daniel Gruber’s contention that Akiva illegitimately elevated the authority of the rabbis over the priests, he seems to forget that with the Temple in ruins there was no priesthood. Also BK intended to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple after overthrowing the Roman occupiers of the Holy Land and would have reestablished a functioning priesthood. So I think Gruber’s criticism of Akiva on this ground is completely unfounded. Jesus himself says in Matthew 23:1-3 that the Jews should obey their rabbinical leaders which certainly includes Akiva.

Akiva עקיבא is related to the name Yaakov יעקב. It’s like saying Acob instead of Jacob or Ames instead of James. James/Yaakov was the head of the Jerusalem Messianic community. He was murdered by the Jewish High Priest prior to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. His followers fled across the Jordan to Pella and survived the destruction but were later ostracized and excommunicated by the Catholic Church under the leadership of Augustine. Perhaps Rabbi Akiva and his general Simon bar Kochba Providentially emerged to replace the Yaakov who had been killed, who’s Messianic followers came to be unjustly despised by the rising Gentile Church in Rome.

As for the criticism of contemporary Zionism, which also views Akiva as a nationalistic hero even of secular Jews, as a racist ideology, that also is false. Israel is a multi-ethnic state united around a common Jewish religious and cultural identity. Israeli Jews come from every corner of the globe. Israel has a right to define itself as much as any other nation state. Israel was not founded to be a multi-religious nation as Western democracies have evolved into, but rather a multi-ethnic Jewish nation.

I offer these thoughts as a correction to my previous hostile assessment of Rabbi Akiva, who is like a combination of George Whitfield Benjamin Franklin and George Washington: a religious revivalist, a savvy political leader, and a militant nationalist.








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  1. “As for the criticism of contemporary Zionism,………., as a racist ideology, that also is false.”
    I don’t know about “Zionism,” but as far as Talmudic “Judaism” goes (is there any other kind); yes it is most definitely a racist ideology/”religion”. It’s all about the “Jews” being their own “god,” and everyone else a subhuman, fit only for exploitation.
    Also, in Matthew 3, 1-3 Jesus is not holding the Pharisees up for emulation: “””Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”””

  2. When i lived in Israel one of my closest friends was Yemenite. Ofra Haza was Yemenite. The most recent Miss Israel was Ethiopian. Yes, Israel suffers from intra-Jewish racism, but what society doesn’t suffer from ethnic strife?

    The crucial consideration is that after WWI the Western nations reluctantly agreed to the creation of a Jewish homeland to deal with the post-Holocaust Jewish refugee crisis. The Arab nations were UN members and chose not to consent to this majority UN decision. They went to war, lost and have been fighting a rear guard action ever since trying to recoup diplomatically what they lost militarily.

    If the West had used all the billions of dollars sent to Palestinian refugee organizations instead to relocate them all to the West, the problems would have been resolved.

    • that should read:

      “The crucial consideration is that after WWII the Western nations reluctantly agreed to the creation of a Jewish homeland to deal with the post-Holocaust Jewish refugee crisis.”

    • this line in the article should read:

      “Akiva עקיבא is related to the name Yaakov יעקב. It’s like saying Jake instead of Jacob or Jim instead of James.”

  3. Tell that to the Ethiopian or Yemeni Genuine Hebrew Semitic Jews. The Entity Known As The State Of “Israel” is an Apartheid State. Discrimination, Sterilisation – the Whole Nine Yards and that is to Genuine Jews, let alone the Semitic Palestinians.

  4. Truth be told, the Ashkenazim are Europeans who have no God-given right to occupy Palestine, displace and murder its indigenous inhabitants, and steal their land. Zionism in the USA, Christian and otherwise, has been the biggest monetary supporter of what Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud is doing to the Palestinians.

    Pastor John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel, gave the following sermon in 2018, “Jerusalem is the preordained capital of Christ’s 1,000-year empire, during which Christians and [the Ashkenazim, or at least some of them] shall live in peace, after the “unsaved” have endured seven years of unspeakable horrors.” Wow, what a glorious end-times scenario for which Donald Trump has paved the way by moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.

  5. A son of God, one who does God’s will, fights not against flesh and blood but against evil. Those who spill blood for satanic tropes such as nationalism and patriotism are not doing God’s will. WHen you realize that “your enemy” did this to you or your country because the devil has blown so much smoke up RethugliKKKlan’s arse, then your path is clear: scold the sinner but forgive him if he repents. Period. No son of God takes up arms for “tribal” considerations.

    The king, Jesus, did not intend to heap authority upon rabbis with this Scripture this man quotes and if the authour had just kept going, he would find this truth which is totally against his ideas:

    8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

    God’s Creation can be explained in a simple and straightforward way. A child would get it right away, which is His intention. The problem is the “rabbis” want to inject their egos into the picture or they don’t really understand God and His intentions at all. I believe the author suffers from both of these afflictions.

    • The author states; “Israel is a multi-ethnic state united around a common Jewish religious and cultural identity.”
      Yes, the modern “state” of Israel may be multi-ethic in that the returnees from the worldwide Jewish diaspora represent the varied”ethnic” backgrounds of their respective host nations, and are only Jews, in that they share a devotion to a “Jewish”/quasi-religious self-worshipping cultural heritage; the main tenets of which are “all Jews for one tribe, and one tribe for all Jews.” Plus, the mandatory litmus test of absolute denial and rejection of the Messiah Jesus Christ.
      And, as for Jesus’s admonishtic teaching in Matthew 3, 1-3: “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”

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