Rabbi Akiva and the Ten Tribes: A Negative Opinion (Extract from a soon-to-be published work, Rabbi Akiva, Bar Kokhba Revolt, and the Ten Tribes of Israel) by Alexander Zephyr
Will the lost Ten Tribes of Israel ever reunite with the remaining Jews and return to the God of their fathers and to the Promised Land? R. Akiva, 'The Chief of all Sages' answers No, 'The ten tribes will not return. Just as a day passes and it will never return so too, they will be exiled never to return.'
His teacher and opponent, R. Eliezer, says Yes, 'Just like a day is followed by darkness, and the light later returns, so too, although it will become 'dark' for the Ten Tribes, God will ultimately take them out of their darkness' (Talmud, Sanhedrin 110b).
Of course, there are some scholars who have attempted to reconcile the commonly unaccepted negative position of Rabbi Akiva towards the Ten Tribes by saying that what he meant is that most of the Ten Tribes had already returned during the time of the Second Temple: The remainder of the Ten Tribes are lost forever and will never return (Rabbi Joseph Albo, 1380-1444, Sefer ha-Ikkarim 4:42).
The other commentators (Rashi) say that Rabbi Akiva was not understood correctly. What he actually said is that the original generation of the exiled Ten Tribes would not be resurrected and stand in Judgment, but those of their future descendants would.
In our opinion these attempts do not really reflect what Rabbi Akiva meant. He himself forestalled any such speculations by introducing a very powerful example of a widow whose husband died naturally or was killed and never came back to her (Eichah Rabbah 1:3).
. This strengthened his position that the Ten Tribes never come back and will not have a part in the World-To-Come (Eichah Rabbah 1:3; Rabbi Don Yitzchak Abarbanel,1437-1508, Yeshuot Meshicho, Iyun 1:4).
The negative position of Rabbi Akiva is in contradiction to the teachings of the Bible (Tanakh), the Talmud, and the Sages, of whose opinions he undoubtedly had been aware. Despite that, this great scholar continued with incredible incomprehensibility to defend his negative conclusion towards the Ten Tribes: 'All Israel will be admitted to the future world, with the exception of the generation of the Wilderness and the Ten Lost Tribes' (Sanhedrin xi. 3; 110b).
Why such a persistently unjust attitude? The Talmud itself seems to disagree with this position and reprimands Rabbi Akiva for his view, saying that 'shavkah Rabbi Akiva lechasiduteh' - Rabbi Akiva has abandoned his usual spirit of kindness and generosity, for Rabbi Akiva would usually try to exonerate the Jewish people. (Note: the ten Tribes of Israel are not the Jewish People but rather their brother Israelites, who separated from them, were exiled, and lost their national identity!!).
Rabbah Bar Hana said in R. Johanan's name: "[Here] R. Akiva abandoned his love, for it is written, 'Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you; for I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep mine anger forever' (Jeremiah 3:12). " Â Â Â Â Â Â '
To properly understand R. Akiva's negative position concerning the return of the Ten Tribes, we need to understand the life and deeds of this great man. It may also be helpful to ask some unexpected questions: Why were his closest disciples, R. Simeon ben Yochai and R. Meir, against his position regarding the Ten Tribes? R. Simeon b. Judah, of the Kefar of Acco, said on R. Simeon's authority: 'If their deeds are as this day's, they will not return; otherwise they shall' (Sanhedrin 110b). This means that R. Simeon ben Judah made return of the Ten Tribes conditional upon their repentance. If they repent, God will bring them back. This is exactly what the Bible verses teach!
Why did R. Eliezer the Great, the mentor and teacher of Rabbi Akiva, consistantly oppose him on many occasions? Rabbi Eliezer contradicted him on different matters of Torah, and especially on this very subject of Israel's return. Why was this? R. Eliezer said: "I never taught anything which I had not learned from my masters" (Suk. 28a). Who was his teacher? It was none other than the much revered wise man of Israel, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai! There is an instruction in the Talmud for those searching justice and truth: "Seek a reliable court: go after R. Eliezer to Lydda, or after Johanan ben Zakkai to Beror Hel" (Sanhedrin 32b).
Why did the brilliant editor of the Mishnah, R. Yehudah Ha Nasi (The Prince, 135-219A.C.), also known as Rebbi or Rabbeinu HaKadosh (which in Hebrew means 'our Master, the holy one') reject the opinion of R. Akiva? 'The ten tribes are destined for the World to come,' he said.
Why are R. Akiva's explanations of the idea that Ten Tribes will not return so theologically shallow (cf. Deuteronomy 29:28; Leviticus 26:38 for instance) reminding us of the practice of Christian fundamentalists who often take verses out of context in order to prove their points?
Just let us take a look at the passage from Deuteronomy 29:28: Â 'And the LORD rooted them out of their land in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as it is this day'. Rabbi Akiva tried to claim that this refers to the Ten Tribes. Rabbi Akiva has been understood to imply: Just as it says, as it is this day, to be read for ever so too the Ten Tribes would be exiled forever.
As mentioned above, R. Akiva even gave an example of a widow whose husband died naturally or was killed and never come back to her, to strengthen his position that the Ten Tribes would never come back and will not have a part in the World-To-Come (Eichah Rabbah 1:3).
What was the reason for such a harsh punishment? Here is the answer:
'For they went and served other gods, and worshipped them, gods whom they knew not, and whom He had not given to them. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against this land, to bring on it all the curses that are written in this book' (Deuteronomy 29:26-27).
This attitude is all the more distressing when we see that the very next Chapter 30 fully retracts God's conditional curses against Israel and speaks of God's blessings awaiting Israel if they repent and turn to God.
'Then the LORD your God will return you from captivity, and have compassion upon you, and will return and gather you from all the nations, where the LORD your God has scattered you' (Deuteronomy 30:3). That is why R. Simeon ben Judah, R. Simeon ben Yochai, and R. Meir taught that the return of the ten Tribes depends on their repentance!
For R. Akiva to say that the Ten Tribes will not return is equivalent to stating that Ten Tribes will never repent and acknowledge the God of their fathers and His live-giving Torah; that they will never reunite with the rest of their brothers and sisters of the whole House of Israel in the days of Moshiach and never be redeemed by the Almighty. It also implies denying God's prophets, the Hebrew Bible, the Great Sages, the Talmud, Rabbinical literature, etc. All of these speak positively of the Messiah and the return of the Ten Tribes. How can they all be wrong? Is everyone mistaken except for Rabbi Akiva? This simply cannot be true! The truth is that Judaism does not esteem the Talmud as being holier than the Bible. There is a big difference between the Bible which is the Sacred Word of God, and the Talmud compiled by men discussing traditions and logic of interpretation. The Talmud explains the Bible: It does not contradict it!
Let us compare the verse of Deuteronomy 29:28 with the verse of Jeremiah 32:37, 'Behold, I will gather them out of all countries, whither I have driven them in mine ANGER, and in my FURY, and in great WRATH; and I will bring them again unto this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely.'
Is this not a direct answer to the negative position held by R. Akiva?Â The Ten Tribes will definitely return!
Or consider this passage: 'For thus says the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search for my sheep, and seek them out. And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country' (Ezekiel 34:11, 13).
In Tanakh there are numerous passages where God makes it perfectly clear that there will be a reunification and redemption of the two Houses of Judah and Israel (Joseph) in the time of the Messiah. Anyone who rejects these prophecies is guilty of rejecting the Sacred World of the Almighty!
The same goes for another 'proof' R. Akiva uses to justify his position, Leviticus 26:38.Â Let us examine what God is speaking about in this Chapter 26.Â In short, it consists of blessings with which God will reward the Israelites for obedience and keeping His Laws and the curses for rejecting God and His Torah. After outlining all the curses towards the Israelites, God says that Israel will repent and return to Him. God will punish them, but never break His Covenant with them. Rabbi Akiva quotes: ï¿½And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up' (Leviticus 26:38).
This was the curse against the Israelites for disobedience. But, as we mentioned, after the curses follow the verses of blessing consequent to repentance:
'But they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers. And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break My covenant with them: for I am the LORD their God. But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the heathen, that I might be their God: I am the LORD' (Leviticus 26:40, 44).
Â To ignore these Words of Almighty and say that the Ten Tribes will never return to God of their fathers, to His immortal Torah, to the Promised Land and will not have a part in a future World, would seem to verge on blasphemy!
Rabbi Akiva's argumentation in defending his position that the Ten Tribes will not return and will not merit the Judgment Day and the life in the World-to-come (Leviticus 26:28; Deuteronomy 28:29), as the readers have seen above, does not hold ground. It is refuted by Scriptural and rabbinical sources. Similarly he explained Exodus 8:2, ('But if you refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all your territory with frogs'), as meaning that only one frog came forth and then subdivided multiple times. This caused Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah to criticize Rabbi Akiva: 'Akiva, why do you not stick to the laws of purity, and leave Aggadah alone?' (Babylonian Talmud, Chagiga 14a). This simply meant that R. Akiva was not considered an authority in the realm of Aggadah (legends, homiletic explanations) and was advised to occupy himself instead with halakhah i.e. the practical application ofÂ Law.
If the Ten Tribes have disappeared, it will be impossible to fulfill future prophecies of Reunification, Redemption, and the Messianic Age, which in turn suggests that the Bible is not the holy Word of God. If they have not disappeared, they will have lost their identity. Obviously, they must be around, waiting for the time when Divine Providence will bring them back to the Almighty God of Israel and to His Divine Laws.
Â Â Â Concerning the Ten Tribes and their future return, it is not a secret that the Lost Ten Tribes will have become a different entity than Judah. Scripture says they will be speaking a foreign language (Isaiah 28:11) and will bear another name (Isaiah 65:15).
'For thus said the LORD; Like as I have brought all this great evil upon this people, so will I bring upon them all the good that I have promised them' (Jer. 32:42)!Â Â Â Â
The Almighty will not let His People completely degenerate into idolatry and become a 'Wilderness of the Nations' Â like the surrounding Heathen nations around. "And that which comes into your mind shall not be at all, that you say, We will be as the Gentiles, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone" (Ezekiel 20:32).
The destiny of Israel is better than this. They will have become a holy nation of priests, a light to the Gentiles. They will bring salvation and the glory of the God of Israel to the ends of the Earth (Isaiah 49:6).Â All of this will happen in the time of the Messianic Age. Israel will never be forgotten or rejected by God! God's Covenant cannot be broken! (Judges 2:1; Leviticus 26:44; Psalms 111:5; Jer. 31:36).
'Hear the word of the LORD, O you nations, and declare it in the coastlands afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd does his flock' (Jeremiah 31:10).
In the Mishnah (Tractate Sanhedrin 11:1) says: "All Israelites have a share in the World-to-Come, as it is says, 'your people also shall be all righteous, they shall inherit the Land for ever; the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified' (Isaiah 60:21)".
It does not say here that only the Jewish People (Judah, Benjamin and most of Levy) will share in the World-to-Come but all Israelites. This definitely includes the Ten Tribes.
Â Â Â Â Â How one can reconcile the negative position of R. Akiva towards the return of the Ten Tribes with the descriptions of the Prophet Ezekiel who in great detail predicted the reunification of the whole House of Israel, the advent of the Messiah, King of Israel, restoration of the glorious Kingdom of David, and even described how the Land of Israel will be divided among the Twelve Tribes (Ezekiel 37:15-28; 47:13; 48:1-7 and 23-28). Is it not obvious that all Twelve Tribes will have to be present in the days of Moshiach ("Yemot ha-Mashiach")?
'And I will return My people Israel, and they will re-build desolate cities and dwell in them, and they will plant vineyards and drink their wine and plant gardens and eat their fruit. And I will plant them on their land, and they will not be removed again from the land that I have given to them, says Hashem your God'Â (Amos 9:15, 16).
How is it possible to claim that Israel (i.e. the Ten Tribes) will perish and not return? Do we have a slightest doubt concerning God's Bible? How can we believe Rabbi Akiva and ignore the plain statements of our Creator? Do we have to take his opinion on the subject of the Ten Tribes as truthful over the Sacred Word of the Almighty?
All the Scripture and the Sages say that the Israelite Ten Tribes eventually will return to the Promised Land and receive the Heavenly Torah once more. Whosoever does not accept this plain Biblical truth is guilty of denying the Word of God.
'God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19)?
The Ten Tribes of Israel have never been lost for Almighty God:Â Â Â 'Mine eyes are upon all their ways; they are not hid from My face' (Jeremiah 16:17).
'Thus saith the LORD; If My covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth; Then will I cast away the seed of Jacob, and David my servant, so that I will not take any of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: for I will cause their captivity to return, and have mercy on them' (Jer.33:25, 26).
What purpose could it serve for R. Akiva to use certain verses as proof that the Ten Tribes will not come back to the Promised Land and will not have a part in the World-To-Come? Many verses (as we shall show) in other Chapter(s) of the Tanakh, Talmud, and Rabbinical literature overwhelmingly say the opposite!
'And I will cause the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel to return, and will build them, as at the first' (Jer.33:7)!!
Â Talmudic tradition says, 'It is forbidden to be amongst those who deny the redemption'. We should add that this includes those who deny the Redemption of the 'Lost' Ten Tribes of Israel!