Both Rabbi Akiba and Prophet Muhammad were illiterate

Even though both Akiba and Muhammad were illiterate; Akiba became a rabbi and Muhammad became a prophet.

When Rachel told Akiba that she would only marry him if he promised to learn to read Hebrew and to study Torah, she started him on his path to becoming a Rabbi.

But why was Akiba illiterate in the first place? Why didn’t he receive a Jewish education as a child?

Because his father was a non-Jew who did not convert to Judaism until Akiba was already a teen.

Akiba did not want to go to school with the little kids in order to learn to read Hebrew.

Most Jews, and even most Rabbis, do not know that the famous Rabbi Akiba was the son of a convert.

Rambam in his Introduction to the Mishneh Torah, Seder HaDorot; tells us that Rabbi Akiba ben Yosef received Torah from Rabbi Eleazar the great. Yosef, his father, was a righteous convert.

How did it come about that Rabbi Akiba’s father converted to Judaism?

No one really knows but the following Aggadah might explain it:

A man named Tiberias Alexander, a Philistine living in the city of Gaza, once went to work for a Jewish man named Joseph.

Alexander was very curious about Jews because he had been married to a Jewish orphan for over twenty years.

Joseph always tried to answer Alexander’s questions and often lent him books about Judaism.

Joseph also encouraged Alexander to come with him to Shabbat services.

When Alexander asked questions that Joseph couldn’t answer, Joseph encouraged Alexander to meet with a Rabbi.

Joseph, unlike Alexander’s wife, was very proud to be Jewish. He loved telling non-Jewish people about the meaning of Jewish holidays and the reasons for Jewish customs and ceremonies.

After several years Tiberias Alexander told Joseph that he had decided to become Jewish. He had stopped believing in the Philistine religion years ago and Judaism made much more sense to him.

Even his wife had now come back to Jewish life.

In addition, his son Akiba had married a Jewish woman named Rachel almost a year before.

Rachel had been encouraging her father-in-law to become Jewish; and she was also encouraging his son Akiba, to learn Hebrew and study Torah.

Since Rachel and Akiba had married on Log BaOmer, Alexander was planning to convert to Judaism on Log BaOmer.

Alexander invited Joseph to be a witness at his conversion ceremony. Joseph was happy to come.

During the conversion ceremony the person who is becoming Jewish is given a Hebrew name.

Joseph was surprised when he heard that Alexander had picked the Hebrew name Joseph because as he told everyone, Joseph and Rachel had been the ones who had most encouraged him to learn about Judaism.

Joseph was filled with joy and pride that his efforts had such a wonderful outcome. When Akiba became a famous Rabbi, Joseph and Rachel were even prouder.

To this day more Jews are named after the great Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph the convert, then King Alexander the great.

When one encourages non-Jews to become Jewish one does a Mitsvah that can produce benefits for many generations to come.

Welcoming non-Jews into the Jewish people is a Mitsvah that keeps on giving.

Log B’Omer would be a good time to honor people who have become Jewish and to plan activities encouraging Jews to promote conversion.

The plagues of modern Jewish life could also be reduced if more Jews encouraged open minded non-Jews to learn Hebrew and study Torah.

Two other aggadot about Rachel and the conversion of Rabbi Akiba’s father are in my posts during the last two weeks.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.