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The Gemara in Nedarim (50a) lists six sources of wealth from which Rabbi Akiva became exceedingly wealthy, including half of Ben Kalba Savua's money (Kesuvos, 63a). Rashi on Bechoros (58a) maintains that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karcha was Rabbi Akiva's son (though Rabbeinu Tam and the Ran disagree). The Gemara in Shabbos (152a) relates that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karcha was walking without shoes (and one can infer from the context that he had no shoes). The Gemara in Shabbos (129a) states that a person should even sell beams from his house to purchase shoes to wear: אמר רב יהודה אמר רב לעולם ימכור אדם קורות ביתו ויקח מנעלים לרגליו . It would seem that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karcha was quite poor.

If Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karcha was Rabbi Akiva's son, what happened to Rabbi Akiva's wealth?

  • Could it be that the Roman authorities confiscated Rabbi Akiva's estate when they executed him (B'rachos, 61b), leaving his son with no wealth?
  • The estate of Nakdimon ben Gurion, who was one of the wealthiest men of Jerusalem (Gittin, 56a; Ta'anis 19b), fell to ruin and his daughter became impoverished (Kesuvos, 66b), either because he sometimes gave charity with extravagant flair for his own honor or that his great wealth obligated him to give even more charity than he did (ibid, 67a). Rabbi Akiva's humility and his tremendous efforts for charity seem to discount the possibility that he lost his fortune for any such reason. However:
  • There is a concept that a person should not give a massive, unsustainable portion of one's wealth to charity and thereby bankrupt oneself. Did Rabbi Akiva do this? Could the needs of the time have been so imperative that this guideline was suspended?
  • Might Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karcha merely have refused to accept any money from Rabbi Akiva?

Sources would be appreciated.


Edit: It's likely that no sources explicitly address this question. Unsourced suggestions are fine as answers, too, but please justify them if possible. For example, if you suggest that R' Akiva's money was confiscated by the Romans, you might support this with a Jewish or historical source that the Romans of that era would sometimes/typically confiscate the estates of people they would execute.

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For your possibility #3, note that according to one version recorded in Kesubos 50a, R. Akiva himself objected to his colleague R. Yesheivav doing so. –  Alex Apr 30 '12 at 22:36
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A fifth possibility: maybe this story happened before R. Akiva himself had returned from his 24 years of study and reconciled with Ben Kalba Savua. (I've seen a suggestion that R. Yehoshua was R. Akiva's son from his first marriage - there is a source that describes the two of them going to cheder together at the beginning. So R. Yehoshua could have been close to 30 years old before the lean years were over.) –  Alex Apr 30 '12 at 22:49
    
@Alex - Excellent points! –  Fred Apr 30 '12 at 23:21
    
@Alex - Isn't that an answer? –  Seth J May 8 '12 at 18:52
    
@SethJ - seems so to me. It would be really great if someone found the source about R' Akiva having a son from a first marriage, too. –  Fred May 8 '12 at 19:13
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1 Answer

up vote 7 down vote accepted

We do have indications that #1 could have happened. Doros Harishonim (vol. 3, pp. 139ff) understands Josephus (Wars 7:6:6) to be saying that after the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash, Vespasian nationalized all property belonging to victims of the war who had left no known heirs. (He also cites Eusebius (4:8 - should be 4:6:1) as saying that the same thing happened after the failure of Bar Kochba's revolt, although the English translation there simply says that the Roman governor Rufus - presumably the same as the Turnus Rufus often mentioned as R. Akiva's nemesis - "reduced their country to a state of complete subjection.") And he explains an episode recorded in Shabbos 116a-b, concerning Rabban Gamliel and his sister Ima Shalom arguing about their inheritance before a Roman judge, in this light too: since their father Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel had been killed during the war (whether by the Romans, the Zealots, or of natural causes), they needed to get the judge's ear so that he would release the estate to them.

[In general, confiscating the property of those condemned to execution was pretty common in the ancient world, and even later. We find Achav doing so (I Kings 21), and also Yehoyakim (Vayikra Rabbah 19:6); and Alexander the Great suggested, as a "solution" for a case where two people each claimed that the other one deserved a found treasure, that he'd have executed both of them and kept the treasure himself (ibid. 27:1).]

If, then, we suppose that R. Yehoshua ben Korchah escaped (or hid) after R. Akiva's execution, then indeed Rufus or his minions may have helped themselves to his possessions.


For possibility #5 (in my comment to the question): Avos d'R. Nassan 6:2 says that R. Akiva started out his studied by going "with his son to sit before a children's teacher" - which implies that he had already been married (and either divorced or widowed) before marrying Rachel. (The alternative would be to assume that she was willing to wait a good six years after their marriage for him to follow through on his commitment to study Torah.) Toldos Tannaim V'Amoraim speculates, then, that this son was R. Yehoshua ben Korchah. A possible support for this is that Yadayim 3:5 mentions a "R. Yochanan ben Yehoshua the son of R. Akiva's father-in-law" - which, if we take that to mean that Yehoshua was the father-in-law (i.e., that "son of..." refers back to R. Yochanan), could possibly indicate that R. Akiva named his firstborn son after the child's grandfather, a common practice in those days (as it is to this day among Sephardim).

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Great answer, thanks! –  Fred May 8 '12 at 21:47
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