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In this lecture, historian Gershon Bar-Kochva recounts the story of how Rabbi Akiva's parents met.

In short, his mother, Sarah, was an orphan living in Lod. Her neighbor was a non-Jew who was impressed by her middot. One day, a Roman legion passed through Lod and kidnapped Sarah, planning on making her a slave in Rome. Her neighbor decided to try to save her. He followed her all the way to Rome. Shortly after arriving in Rome, he wandered outside of the city. He came upon a hunter whom he recognized as the son of the emperor. The hunter attempted to kill a lion, but the lion attacked him. The man grabbed a stick and beat the lion, until it turned and ran away. The prince was badly injured, and so the man did for him what he could and then carried him back to the city. The royal doctors managed to save his life. Grateful, the emperor asked the man what he could do for him. The man requested he let Sarah return with him to Judea. The emperor agreed. Upon returning, the man, still impressed by Sarah's middot and faith, decided to convert. He changed his name to Yosef and studied for five years. After that, he married Sarah. Shortly after she became pregnant, Yosef passed away. Sarah decided to move to Yerushalayim, where she became a cook in Kalba Savua's household. While there, her son Akiva was born, and he grew up and became a shepherd in the household (and the rest is history...).

I had never heard this story before. Does anyone know where this appears?

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    Well, at least one part of the story (that Yosef passed away before R. Akiva was born) is demonstrably false, since Semachot 9:3 reports that when he passed away, "everyone else bared their shoulder [in mourning], but [R. Akiva] did not."
    – Meir
    Aug 22 at 22:03
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    Sounds like a medieval Jewish fairy tale.
    – pcoz
    Aug 22 at 22:56
  • It's possible that Rav Akiva's mother was a cook for Kalba Savua but he didn't always work there. In one of the only stories (the only?) about Rav Akiva before he learned he was working for Horkenus not Kalba Savua. According to the Marcus Lehman book about Rav Akiva (which he strived for accuracy when writing) Rav Akiva had only recently started working for Kalba Savau when he met Rachel
    – Schmerel
    Sep 23 at 15:49
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One part of the story that could be corroborated, is the fact that R' Akiva came from a convert (although it may not of been his father, possibly a grandfather). In Sanhedrin 96b it says that the grandchildren of Sisra learned Torah in Yerushalaim. Rav Nissim Gaon in Brachos 27b says this was R' Akiva (it seems he had this language in his Gemara)

נוקי לר' עקיבא לית ליה זכות אבות. איתה בסנהדרין בפרק כל ישראל יש להן חלק (דף צו) מבני בניו של סיסרא למדו תורה בירושלים ומאן אינון ר' עקיבא ואיתה נמי בפ' הניזקין דמסכת גיטין (דף נז):

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  • This is one of the famous parts of his story. Not what I'm looking for, though.
    – Harel13
    Aug 23 at 3:16
  • Thanks anyway. (15 char)
    – Harel13
    Aug 23 at 3:35

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