Friday, June 20, 2008

Disciple's Disciple

The Mishna states: Rabbi Yehoshua said: Who will remove the dust from your eyes, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai! For you used to say that another generation is destined to declare a loaf (of terumah) tahor even though it is a shlishi, since there is no verse in the Torah which states that it is tamei. But does not your student, Rabbi Akiva, cite a verse from the Torah that it is tamei, as it is said, whatever is in it, shall be tamei.

The Rambam in his introduction to his Yad HaChazakah, he writes that Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai had five outstanding students. They were: Rabbi Eliezer the Great, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Yosi HaKohen, Rabbi Shimon ben Nesanel and Rabbi Elozar ben Arach. The Rambam continues by stating that Rabbi Akiva studied under Rabbi Eliezer the Great. It would seem that Rabbi Akiva was not a disciple of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai.

It is evident from the Gemora at the end of Tractate Makkos that Rabbi Akiva lived in the times after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdosh. The Maharsha in Yevamos (16a) speaks this out as well. The Gemora there records an incident: In the times of Rabbi Dosa ben Hurkenas, the co-wife of a daughter was permitted to the yavam. This ruling was extremely troubling to the Sages, because Rabbi Dosa was a great Torah scholar and his eyes had stopped seeing, so that he was unable to come to the Beis Medrash to study. A discussion took place as to who should go and notify him that they disagree with him. Rabbi Yehoshua said to them, “I will go.” They asked, “And who will go after him?” Rabbi Elozar ben Azaryah agreed to go. They asked, “And who will go after him?” Rabbi Akiva agreed to go.

The Maharsha explains: Rabbi Yehoshua went first because he was the oldest, for he was a student of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai in the times when the Beis HaMikdash was in existence. Rabbi Elozar ben Azaryah was appointed to be the Nasi after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. Rabbi Akiva was in the times of Ben Kuziva in Beitar years afterwards, and that is why he went last. It emerges that Rabbi Akiva was clearly not a student of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, but rather, a student of his student!

Rabbi Yaakov Marcus in his sefer Minchas Yaakov asks: Why did Rabbi Yehoshua refer to Rabbi Akiva as the disciple of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, when he was in fact his disciple’s disciple? Further on in the Mishna, Rabbi Yehoshua (ben Chananyah) refers to Rabbi Yehoshua (ben Hurkanos) as being the student of the student of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai! Why was he not as accurate in the first part of the Mishna? (It would seem that the Rambam in his elucidation to the Mishnayos addresses this point as well.)