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R' 'Akiva famously spent 12 years away from his wife learning Torah, returning home just in time to to overhear her tell someone she'd be happy if he spent another 12 years away learning Torah; at that point, he turned around and went back to Yeshivah.

But the Gemara Pesahim 109a says he used to leave early to go home 'Erev Pesah to make sure his children were still up for the Seder, as well as 'Erev Yom Kippur to feed them.

So was this later in his life? When did he even have his children?

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Assuming the 24 years started when R' Akiva started learning (age 40) he would have been 64 when he came home. He was killed at 120, so he would have had time to have kids, etc. –  Menachem Oct 9 '13 at 0:20
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According to Avos d'Rabbi Nassan (6:2, הלך הוא ובנו וישבו אצל מלמדי תינוקות), at least one of Rabbi Akiva's sons was born before he began attending yeshiva. See also this answer. –  Fred Oct 9 '13 at 14:27
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I'd always read it about Rabbi Akiva letting his shiur out early, so his students could put their kids down for a nap.

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That's kind of how I read it myself, but the person giving the Shi'ur I was listening to seemed to say "his children", so I assumed he knew something I didn't know. But simple translation seems to be "their children". –  Seth J Oct 9 '13 at 2:54
    
@SethJ Rabbeinu Chananel could be read as referring to R' Akiva's children (with respect to Erev Yom Kippur). –  Fred Oct 9 '13 at 14:37
    
@Fred, thanks for bringing that to my attention. So we're back at square one (according to him). –  Seth J Oct 9 '13 at 14:53
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The sefer תולדות תנאים ואמוראים here says that R. Akiva had a son from a previous marriage before he married Rachel, and that he learned for many years locally after he married her until he felt that he was no longer an עם הארץ and it was time to go and learn from the leading Rabbis of the generation, at which time he asked her permission to leave for twelve years, which subsequently became twenty-four years.

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