The Gemara (in Kesubos 63a) says, “When Rabbi Akiva returned, he brought twelve thousand students with him. As he approached his home, he heard a certain old man saying to [his wife], ‘Until when will you lead a life of living widowhood?’ She answered him, ‘If he would listen to me, he would sit in the beis medrash another twelve years.’ Hearing this, [R’ Akiva] said to himself, ‘I am acting with my wife’s permission.’ He went back and sat another twelve years in the beis medrash…”.

Being that a husband has a biblical obligation to have marital relations with his wife (onah), I assume that for the first 12 years R' Akiva received an exemption from his wife so that he did not need to return home to perform this mitzvah. I further assume that R' Akiva took his wife's (overheard) statement as a continuation of this exemption. I would like to know if any sources discuss this and if such an exemption (ie, not explicitly stated, but perhaps implied) can be learned out l'halacha from this aggadah.

If there are any sources which contradict my assumptions and offer other reasons why R' Akiva was exempt from this mitzvah (or state that he came home to perform it at certain periods) I would accept those as an answer as well.

  • 1
    Didn't his wife allow it? So what's the problem? This is nothing new
    – Double AA
    Dec 17, 2017 at 13:11
  • 1
    @DoubleAA that's exactly my question. I don't see anywhere in the text that she did so explicitly, especially for the second 12 year period. Dec 18, 2017 at 14:07
  • 3
    I'm not sure why you think the Gemara would bother telling us about an obvious and boring technical conversation. She says she wants him to stay another 12 years so he does. Clearly she's fine with it.
    – Double AA
    Dec 18, 2017 at 14:08
  • Are you asking about unconditional waiver of her right for Onah? Your last sentence is different from the first - what's your question?
    – Al Berko
    Dec 19, 2017 at 20:22

2 Answers 2


The Rambam writes (Hilkhot Ishut 14:2) that a talmid chacham is exempt from marital relations for up to 3 years without having to ask permission. It seems to flow that he can be exempt longer with permission.

In Ishut 15:1 the Rambam writes a woman can authorize her husband to ignore her conjugal rights when he has already fathered a boy and a girl.

There is also (Ishut 15:3) a special status for “a person whose soul desires to study Torah at all times and is obsessed with its study as was ben Azzai” in that he is not considered to have transgressed if he doesn’t marry.

It is unclear if the exemption to marry for such a Torah scholar extends to not requiring him to have children if marrried. Either that, or R Akiva had children before he left to study: this answer says 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. That answer goes in a similar direction.

In all cases, as long as his wife gave him permission (which is clear from the text you quote) he was not in violation of her mitzva of onah.


There is an interesting Maharshoh on that Gemoro in fact its on Daf 62b D.H.OZAL that it seems there are a few stories involving various Tanoim and Amoroim and 12 years in this Gemoro and this time lapse is based on the famous Mishna in Pirkei Ovos about the different stages in life at different years,so Ben 18 is LeChuppa and Ben 30 is Lirdoif ,so you could learn from this Maharshoh that perhaps Rabbi Akiva as mentioned in the Medrash at the end of Parshas Vayechi only started to learn when he was 40 got married and had relations with his wife before he left and maybe based on the above Mishna he started his 12 years to learn at 40 with the Brochoh of his new wife went off to learn for 12 years and on his return he heard her saying that she would be happy for him to learn another 12 years.

The Gemoro in Moed Koton Daf 21b clearly tells us that Rabbi Akiva definitely had children unfortunately they pre-deceased him and he had to give a Hesped for them.

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