On Yom Kippur and Tisha B'av we read about the Ten Martyrs who were gathered and killed by Emperor Hadrian to atone for the Sale of Yosef HaTzadik.

In addition to the idea that the Ten Martyrs didn't live at the same time, the Talmud records the deaths of at least some of the Ten Martyrs in a very different manner (I remember learning about the deaths of some of the Rabbis, and assume that the rest are also recorded). According to the Talmud each Rabbi was individually found guilty of a crime (such as teaching Torah or giving Semicha) and executed.

So, if we assume that the poet was taking some poetic license and the deaths of the Ten Martyrs didn't happen exactly as described (i.e. they weren't all gathered together and then killed at one time). How did they actually die?

Where in the Talmud (or other sources from the same time period) are those deaths recorded and what crime did the Rabbis commit? How were they actually killed? If there are conflicting accounts in other places, please mention them.

I'm setting up a community wiki answer in order to try and get a complete answer in one place.


1 Answer 1

  1. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel

  2. Rabbi Yishmael the Kohen Gadol.

  3. Rabbi Akiva: Recorded in Berachot 61B - Arrested for gathering large groups of Jews and teaching Torah publicly in a time when learning Torah was outlawed. Was killed by having his skin raked off with iron combs.

  4. Rabbi Haninah ben Teradion: Avodah Zarah 18A - Was caught teaching Torah in public with a Torah Scroll on his lap. The Romans took that Torah Scroll, wrapped him up in in, and lit him on fire. They put wet wool over his heart to prolong his suffering. (The Talmud there (17B-18A) records that that Heaven decreed his death because he used to say G-d's name in public)

  5. Rabbi Hutzpit the Interpreter

  6. Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua

  7. Rabbi Hanina ben Hakinai

  8. Rabbi Yesheivav the Scribe

  9. Rabbi Judah ben Dama

  10. Rabbi Judah ben Baba: Sanhedrin 14A, Avodah Zarah 8B - Killed for giving Semicha to some students at a time when the Romans outlawed the practice. Stabbed by 300 spears while delaying the Romans so his newly ordained students could escape.

The above list is according to the poem Eleh Ezkera, recited on Yom Kippur. Mattis Kantor, in his Codex Judaica, brings different opinions regarding who the Ten Martyrs are. The names he adds as possibilities are:

  1. Rabbi Chanina Sgan HaKohanim:

  2. Yehuda Ben Teima

  3. Eliezer Ben Dama

  4. R' Yehuda HaNachtum

  5. R' Tarfon

Midrash Eicha Rabba lists 10 names of Rabbis who were killed and Shlomo Buber says that these are the Ten Martyrs. (link to regular Midrash Eicha Rabba for comparison). Shlomo Buber mentions that he discusses this in more details in his Midrash Tehillim, but I don't have a access to it. Other names mentioned there:

  1. R' Shimon ben Azai

  2. R' Elazar ben Charsom

According to the Zohar Chadash on Eicha (apparently brought in the Me'am Loez), there were really only 9 Martyrs, since Reuven wasn't there at the time of the sale, and therefore the Rabbi who was supposed to die for him was miraculously saved. This is referring to:

  1. R' Eliezer ben Hurkenos (also known as R' Eliezer HaGadol): The Gemara in Avodah Zarah (16B-17A), tells us how R' Eliezer was arrested and tried for heresy, but was freed because of a misunderstanding.

This article describes how each of the Martyrs died, but does not give a source.

  • 1
    Rabbi Akiva actually declared some guy to be messiah and then fought the Roman. I wonder where the Joseph connection comes from but Hadrian must have made that up. While I am not condoning it, the Roman did have plenty of incentive to torture him. It's "understandable" :(
    – user4951
    Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 10:05
  • @JimThio - It was not Hadrian who killed R. Akiva but actually Turnus Rufus, a Roman governor in Eretz Yisrael. The Ten Martyrs poem in the Yom Kippur Machzor obviously says something else, but if you look in the ArtScroll notes they say the poem is not written like the way it actually happened, it is more for effect.
    – ezra
    Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 23:09
  • not Hadrian? Turnus Rufus is the governor that has conversation with Akiva right?
    – user4951
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 8:13

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