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The gemara in Avodah zara 20a brings a Baraisa that says,

ואף רבי עקיבא ראה אשת טורנוסרופוס הרשע רק שחק ובכה רק שהיתה באה מטיפה סרוחה שחק דעתידה דמגיירא ונסיב לה בכה דהאי שופרא בלי עפרא

We know that Tyrannus Rufus was an evil Roman leader (Tannis 29a) and possibly executed R' Akiva himself (see Kohelet Rabba 3:17). Why did R' Akiva marry the wife of this "רשע" and Anti-semite? Is there any evidence that R' Akiva actually acted on this vision/prophecy and married her, and if yes, did he marry her while Rachel was still alive, or after she died?

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    If, as you wrote in a comment below on Yaacov Deane's answer, you're not looking for Kabbalistic reasons, but "a practical understanding and pragmatic reason," then please state so in the question.
    – Meir
    Nov 6, 2020 at 19:12

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R' Yonasan Eibeschutz (Yaaros Devash) cites the Arizal as saying that R. Akiva was a gilgul of Zimri, and Mrs. Rufus of Kozbi. So he married her after she converted, thereby correcting the mistake made by that earlier pair (where Zimri consorted with her without her having converted).

As for "any evidence that R' Akiva actually acted on this vision/prophecy and married her" - yes, the Gemara (Nedarim 50a) mentions her as one of the six sources of R. Akiva's wealth, and all of the mefarshim there (Mefaresh, Ran, Tosafos, Rosh) unanimously say that he married her, and her wealth became part of their marital assets.

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  • good answer! How fitting is it then that Pinchas killed Zimri, and then he ended up burying him by burying Rav Akiva which is Zimri, because Tosfos Bava Metziah 114b says that Eliyahu (which is Pinchas) buried Rav Akiva!! Mar 22, 2023 at 21:34
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Based upon the history in Seder HaDorot, this story about how Rabbi Akiva would, in the future, marry the wife of Tyranus Rufus after she converted to Judaism is to be understood as a prophetic vision of a future life. Tyranus Rufus was appointed to put down the rebellion of Bar Kochba. This culminated in the destruction of Beitar.

Rabbi Akiva was born in 3760. The rebellion of Bar Kochba and the fall of Beitar was in 3880. So Rabbi Akiva was at the end of his life. Somewhere between 118 and 120 years old when Tyranus Rufus arrived.

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    This doesn't really answer the OP's question.
    – Chaim
    Aug 27, 2017 at 1:02
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    @Chaim According to the actual history, it would mean that the marriage would be in a future incarnation of Rabbi Akiva. In other words, via gilgul. That means the vision Akiva saw showed him some kind of tikkun either for her or for him or both. Aug 27, 2017 at 1:10
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As to the question why Rabbi Akiba married Rufina I heard somewhere that when Rachel died, Rufina refused to leave Rabbi Akiba's side. Rabbi Akiba explained to Rufina that by jewish law they could not be alone together as per the laws of Yichud. Rufina cried out that she could not live without him. Rabbi Akiba then stated that the only solution was for them to marry, and this is what happened. Rabbi Akiba did marry Rufina.

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As @YaacovDeane wrote, Rabbi Akiva married Turnus Rufus's wife because he saw in a vision that he was going to marry her after she converted. As to why he may have had such a vision in the first place, Ben Zion Fischler wrote an essay on Rabbi Akiva and his wives1 and brings the Ari in Likutei Hashas, Yevamot, who says:

"היינו דאמרי אינשי רחילא בתר רחיאל אזלא. דע כי רע"ק הוא דוגמת יעקב אע"ה ולכן עקיבא אותיות יעקב א' וכשם שיעקב רועה צאן חמיו כן ר"ע גם כן והנה כשם שליעקב היה ב' נשים כן ר' עקיבא נשא בת כלבא שבוע ואשת טורנוסרופוס היתה כנגד לאה ולכן אמר על ברתיה דר' עקיבא רחילא בתר רחילא אזלא כי אמה בסוד רחל וכן בתה ג"כ בסוד רחל והנה ר' עקיבא הוא ניצוץ מרע"ה ומה שאירע לו היותו רועה צאן של כלבא שבוע דוגמת מרע"ה צאן יתרו ויעקב צאן לבן וכן קחתו את בתו דוגמת רחל וצפורה וקחתו אשת טורנוסרופוס כמו קחת מרע"ה מלכת כוש."

Translation: "This that people say: The ewe follows the ewe. Know that Rabbi Akiva is a typification of Yaakov Avinu A"H and for this Akiva is the letters Yaakov A' [short for Yaakov Avinu] and so, like Yaakov [was] the shepherd of his father-in-law, so Rabbi Akiva as well, and as Yaakov had two wives, so Rabbi Akiva married the daughter of Kalba Savua and the wife of Turnus Rufus was against Leah and for this he said on the daughter of R' Akiva The ewe follows the ewe for her mother was a part of the secret (sod) of Rachel and her daughter was also in the secret (sod) of Rachel and R' Akiva is a spark of Moshe Rabbeinu A"H and what happened to him in his being the shepherd of Kalba Savua in a typification of Moshe Rabbeinu A"H the flock of Yitro and Yaakov the flock of Lavan and so also his taking of his daughter a typification of Rachel and Tzipporah and his taking of the wife of Turnus Rufus like Moshe Rabbeinu's taking of the Queen of Kush.

It seems that according to the Ari, the reason Rabbi Akiva married the wife of Turnus Rufus was because of his connection to Yaakov and Moshe; his life reflected their lives and this was a continuation of that "trend", so to speak. Perhaps this is the reason he received a vision that he would marry her, to push him to do that, as a continuation of his life reflecting those of Yaakov and Moshe.

This Ari also seems to answer the other question: Yes, he was married to both at the same time, much like Yaakov was married to Rachel and Leah at the same time.


1 I found it on the site of Haaretz, which is a subscription site, but the essay can be seen for a few moments before being blocked.

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  • I'm not looking for kabbalistic or mystical reasons, I was looking for a practical understanding and pragmatic reason of why R akiva would go into such an absurd and controversial relationship.
    – Bach
    Nov 6, 2020 at 17:17
  • @Bach as I see Meir wrote above, that was not clear from the question and therefore I second Meir's suggestion that you clarify your question. I can only assume that you're the one who down voted both of our answers, but the real problem is that you never clarified what sort of answer you were looking for.
    – Harel13
    Nov 7, 2020 at 16:00
  • An answer by the Arizal is a very specific answer for a very specific question. If my question was about kabbala then you would expect an answer from a kabbalist. My question on the other hand was about a historical truth which involvs a mundane act done by r akiva for obvious political or social reasons. Why would you think that the Arizals mystical explanation would in any way satisfy me? I don't think I'm required to clarify this. To me this is self understood.
    – Bach
    Nov 8, 2020 at 2:21
  • I do appreciate your time and effort, just not what I was looking for, and you may wanna clarify next time with a comment before posting a full blown answer.
    – Bach
    Nov 8, 2020 at 2:21
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    @Bach I don't claim to understand everyting in the gemara and certainly can't understand every single thing our sages did, but a. I wouldn't equate Rufus to Hitler - when did Hitler invite rabbis for philosophical debates, and let them live afterward? b. Similarly, Yehoshua is said to have married Rachav, and we all know what pshat says about her occupation. Same about the prophet Hoshea marrying Gomer. c. A number of odd individuals whom our sages converted - descendants of Haman, Nevuzardan and the nephew of Hadrian, to name a few.
    – Harel13
    Nov 10, 2020 at 4:12

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