Who Was Rabbi Akiva and What Can His Story Teach Us?

The Donkey and the Garden book cover
Signs in the Well book cover


Like other ancient leaders of the Jewish people, Rabbi Akiva (circa 2nd century CE) started out as a shepherd. Rabbi Akiva’s legacy lies in his teachings, his yeshiva (learning academy), and the thousands of students who followed him. In addition to being a rabbi, leader, and judge, Akiva contributed some of the most profound and enduring teachings in the Mishnah, an important text of rabbinic law and debate that is still studied today. All this from someone who didn’t even know how to read for the first half of his life!

Who Was Rabbi Akiva?

Rabbi Akiva is considered among the best and most dedicated Torah scholars in Jewish history. He lived during the time of the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (70 CE). With the Temple gone, studying Torah became the focus of Judaism, and yeshivot (academies) flourished across Israel in places like Lod and Yavneh, which are near the modern city of Tel Aviv. Rabbi Akiva studied for many years with famous rabbis and then started a yeshiva in the town of B’nei Brak.

According to tradition, when Rabbi Akiva started to study, he was in a classroom with his son, and they held the writing tablet together. When their teacher started writing the letters of the aleph-bet (Hebrew alphabet) on the tablet, father and son began their learning journey together. It’s never the wrong time to learn something new – let the story of Rabbi Akiva inspire your family to try a new skill or hobby today.

Rabbi Akiva Stories:

The Donkey and the Garden book cover

The Donkey and the Garden

by Devora Busheri

Recommended for ages 6 to 7

Akiva the shepherd is 40 years old and still illiterate. In a creative way, his wife, Rachel, helps him overcome his embarrassment and join a group of children as they learn to read and write.

Audiobook version

Signs in the Well book cover

Signs in the Well

by Shoham Smith

Recommended for ages 7 to 8

Akiva liked being a shepherd. He was good at it. Yet he wished he knew how to read. Being a grown man, he thought it was too late to learn, but one day he noticed something inside a well that helped him to think differently.


Rabbi Akiva’s tenacious pursuit of learning – lifelong learning – is an example of perseverance and inner strength. Explore both of these Jewish values further with these book lists:

Amazing Graphic Novels That Help Kids Learn Perseverance
Teaching Children About Inner Strength