Don't the Zionists have a Gaonic source to say that Rabbi Akiva's students died in battle?

10/25/06

Dear Rabbi,
in your newsletter (Tazria/Metzrora)

http://www.truetorahjews.org/parsha_pearls/omer

you claim that the zionists have no source for understanding the gemora yevamos 62b askara (croup) as anything to do with battle. this is not entirely true, as the zionists base themselves upon the understanding of the geonim (Rav Hai Gaon) on the above gemorra. whom read not askara but something like ?sikaryah? whick means sword.
perhaps rabbi Akiva was the first rosh yeshiva of a hesder yeshiva.
Chaim

Dear Chaim,

Thank you for the information. In any case, it doesn't affect the main points in the Parsha Pearls. Whether Rabbi Akiva actually sent his talmidim into battle, or whether he merely supported Ben Koziva's revolt as the Yerushalmi says, we still have to explain why this was not against the oaths. And the answer we gave is that he was following someone who had the criteria to be Moshiach; in contrast to the hesder yeshivos who are going to battle in the absense of any moshiach.

In the Steinsaltz Gemora he brings no other girsa in askara, but he brings that Rav Sherira Gaon in his famous letter says there was a "shmad" on the talmidei Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Steinsaltz says this might mean a gezeirah or a war. Then he says it was probably the war of Ben Koziva, and the talmidim were probably soldiers in that war.

In the Igeres Rav Sherira Gaon it turns out there are two versions; one version doesn't have the sentence in question. Also, in the same breath he is quoting the Gemora in Yevamos, and it doesn't stand to reason that he would be giving a different version from the Gemora.

The Doros Harishonim speaks about this word of Rav Sherira Gaon on page 382 of volume 4. He makes this point that I just mentioned, and he says that the word shmad must mean killing or death, not martyrdom, and thus refers to the askara of the Gemora.

The Doros Harishonim also says that all these 24,000 talmidim learned from Rabbi Akiva before the churban beis hamikdash, as we see from the story that he came home to his wife with all the talmidim and his father-in-law, Kalba Savua, was still alive then, and he didn't live past the churban. If so, it can't be that these talmidim were soldiers 52 years later in Ben Koziva's army.

All in all, Rabbi Steinsaltz's contention is very shaky, and it is much more likely that Rav Sherira Gaon meant the same thing as the Gemora.