Why did 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiba die?

Why did 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiba die [1]?

This is a question that has always fascinated me since the days I was a young rabbinical student in Israel. According to rabbinical tradition, it is because R. Akiba’s students failed to display proper respect to one another. Another tradition claims that R. Akiba’s students died because of a plague that took place during the the first day of the Omer [barley offering that began on the second  day of Passover], ca. 130 CE.

Of all the explanations that seems to make the most amount of sense, Rabbi Akiba not only offered moral support to Bar Kochba, a man he believed to be the Messiah, he also encouraged his vast number of students to join in the apocalyptic battle against the Evil Empire of his day—Rome, as was first suggested by Rav Hai Gaon back in the 9th century C.E. Continue reading “Why did 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiba die?”