On April 5th, Rabbi Cosnowsky captivated a cross-generational audience of 40 congregants with a little-known truth about the highly revered Rabbi Akiva, who lived during the end of the first/beginning of the second century, and was one of the most beloved and heroic figures in Jewish history.
Setting the stage for this one spot on the record of this leading contributor to the Mishnah and Midrash Halakha, she began with a discussion of reasons behind Jews not accepting Jesus as the Messiah, including: One, the martyr’s death of Jesus does not atone for either the collective sins of humanity or the sins of the individual. Two, God does not take a human form, nor is any human suitable for worshipping. Three, the life and death of Jesus certainly does not render the elaborate system of Jewish law and observances functionally useless. In addition, though Jews of the time believed, and Orthodox Jews still do, the coming of a Messiah would restore the Davidic line of kings over reunited Israel, the scattered exiles would miraculously return to Israel, and there would follow an endless era of world peace and harmony.
During the time Rabbi Akiva lived, the level of hostility and mistreatment of the Jews escalated throughout the Roman Empire, to the extent of becoming unbearable. In response, the Jews revolted several times, and thousands of them were killed. When Hadrian took power, he seemed to look upon Jews with more tolerance. For some reason, probably influence of the Greeks, he became hostile and embarked on an effort to turn Jerusalem into a pagan city-state. Along came the charismatic leader the Bar Kochba, who managed to unite the Jewish people into revolting yet again. The battles that ensued from 132 to 135 CE were bloody and costly. To many Jews, particularly Rabbi Akiva, the Bar Kochba (son of the star) appeared to have Messianic potential. Rabbi Akiva was so convinced, in fact, that (citing Numbers 24:17 “a star shall go forth from Jacob”) he proclaimed, “This is the King, the Messiah.” However, in the end, the Bar Kochba became so arrogant that he thought himself the Messiah. As if this were not bad enough, the final battle was lost, and Hadrian decided to end the fighting once and for all by cutting Jews off from their land.
In her inimitable style, Rabbi C. brought both scholarship and humor to the program. At the end, she asked people to find someone he/she did not know and have a conversation. People socialized for another half an hour. Rabbi, and we, look forward to her teaching on this topic and many others.
Submitted by Barbara Turner