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The Gemmorah in Bavli Kiddushin 81a brings several similar stories:

.ר' עקיבא הוה מתלוצץ בעוברי עבירה
.יומא חד אידמי ליה שטן כאיתתא בריש דיקלא
.נקטיה לדיקלא וקסליק ואזיל
'כי מטא לפלגיה דדיקלא שבקיה וכו

Rabbi Akiva would likewise ridicule transgressors. One day, Satan appeared to him as a woman at the top of a palm tree. Rabbi Akiva grabbed hold of the palm tree and began climbing. When he was halfway up the palm tree, the evil inclination left him, etc.

I truly understand the educational purpose of such a story, to warn us about the severity of Arayos prohibitions. However, it seems so improbable and unimaginable that R' Akivah would override so many Halachos (incl Hillel's "אל תאמין בעצמך עד יום מותך", Avos 2,4), and climb a palm tree to get to a random woman, no matter how tempting it might be, that I doubt if this story is real. It does not appear in Yerushalmi or other earlier sources that I searched (suggestions welcomed).

This story is only an example, there are many other stories of Tannoyim's somewhat weird behavior that only appear in Bavli.

Do some commentators agree with my view and state that some Talmudic stories are not authentic and seek educational purposes only?


This question is about personal stories in the Talmud, about specific Rabbis of distant generations, not Agadetah in general (metaphorical stories). I agree that most stories are original, but some are some outrageous that it is hard to believe they were real. Also those stories are NOT metaphorical, though they could be interpreted so.

marked as duplicate by DonielF, Salmononius2, msh210 Jun 3 at 14:53

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    Why isn’t this a duplicate of a broader question? Why would a complete answer to that question, detailing in what instances one should assume Midrashim are literal and in what instances one should assume they’re metaphorical, not address stories in the Gemara? – DonielF Jun 3 at 13:14
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    I fail to see how these are “halachic stories” and not Aggadah. They’re stories told to make a point. And you still haven’t answered why you feel an answer to that question wouldn’t answer yours here. – DonielF Jun 3 at 13:49
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    @DanF It’s Bava Metzi’a 84a. Take a look at Maharsha and Tosfos there, who each give very different interpretations as to why the Gemara discusses that. – DonielF Jun 3 at 15:37
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    @AlBerko I think you misunderstand the concept of a metaphor. If it’s meant to be taken metaphorically it never happened, either - it’s meant to teach a lesson. – DonielF Jun 3 at 17:12
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    @msh210 et al. Midrashim are usually Biblical interpretation. This question is about stories of tanna'im – b a Jun 3 at 18:07