The Talmud is a great collection of law, ritual, precept, and example, which was composed during the period extending from the First Century B.C. to the Fourth Century A.D. The work was the result of a vast amount of compilation begun, so far as the actual writing is concerned, in the year 219 A.D. by Rabbi Jehudah Hanassi. About the year 500 A.D. it was complete, having been combined with a good deal of material brought together since the first parts were written down. The colossal work is interspersed throughout with parables, like Rabbi Akiva and The Jewish Mother, all of which were used for purposes of illustration.
The texts of these stories are based, by the editors, upon two early translations. There are no titles to the stories in the original.
The Rabbis tell us that once the Roman Government made a decree forbidding Israel to study the law. Thereupon Pappus, son of Yehudah, one day found Rabbi Akiva teaching it openly to many whom he had gathered round him to hear it. “Akiva,” he said, “dost not thou fear the Government?” “Listen, was the reply, and I will tell thee how it is through a parable. It is the same with me as with the fishes which a fox, walking by a river s bank, saw darting distractedly to and fro in the stream; and, speaking to them, inquired, `From what, pray, are ye fleeing?` `From the nets,` they answered, `which the sons of men have set to snare us. Why, then, rejoined the fox, `not try the dry land with me, where we can live together, as our fathers managed to live before us?`
`Surely,` they exclaimed, thou art not he of whom we have heard as the most cunning of animals; for in this thing thou art not wise, but foolish. For if we have cause to fear where it is natural for us to live, how much more reason have we to do so where we must die!` Exactly so,” continued Akiva, “is it with us who study the law, in which it is written, `He is thy life and the length of thy days; for if we suffer while studying the law, how much more shah we suffer if we neglect it?”
Not many days afterward it is related that Rabbi Akiva was arrested and thrown into prison. It so happened that they led him out for execution just at the time when Hear, O Israel was being repeated, and as they gashed his flesh Witfi currycombs, and as he was with longdrawn breath uttering the word One, his soul departed from him. Then there came forth a voice from heaven saying, “Blessed art thou, Rabbi Akiva, for thy soul and the word One left thy body together.”
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