Get ready for some more strange Antoninus and Rabbi stories.
In this strange story, Antoninus’s daughter commits a sin, assumedly fornication. He sends Rabbi an herb called “gargira” which is an Aramaic wordplay for “Gira fornicated.” Rabbi sends back coriander, “kusbarta,” an Aramaic hint at “kill your daughter.” Antoninus sends back leeks, an Aramaic hint at “if I do so, I too will be cut off.” Rabbi sends back lettuce an Aramaic hint at “if so leave her be.” Seems like Rabbi and Antoninus communicated quite well through some simple herbs and vegetables.
In this story, Antoninus sends gold to Rabbi, but disguises it as dust. Antoninus seems to think of this as some sort of long term deposit. Antoninus’s descendants will eventually be paid back.
Antoninus was so zealous about hiding his frequent visits to Rabbi’s house that he would kill the slaves who accompanied him there and back.
This story again illustrates how much Antoninus wanted to make sure that no one would be in Rabbi’s how when he comes for a visit. Even a person with super human abilities like R. Hanina b. Hama.
This conversation sets the notion that Antoninus, the Roman emperor, secretly acted like Rabbi’s personal servant. Rabbi recognized that such behavior was not becoming. But Antoninus seems to have thought that this was his way to get into the world to come.
Antoninus is worried that he will not be allowed into the world to come. After all, the verse implies that anyone from the house of Esau will not be allowed into the world to come. Antoninus is Roman, and is therefore assumed to be from the house of Esau. But Rabbi relaxes him—only those who actually act like Esau themselves will have no future in the world to come. This seems to me to be an important Jewish message in general. A person’s place in the world to come is determined not by his genealogy, but by his deeds.
Again, Antoninus cites a verse that proves that all rulers from Edom are prevented from entering the world to come. But Rabbi puts him at ease by reading the verse midrashically. The verse does not mean that no Roman king will make it to the world to come. Indeed, Antoninus is promised a place there. As is Keti’ah bar Shalom, the subject of tomorrow’s sugya.
Today’s section discusses who Keti’ah b. Shalom was.
Again, we find the Romans speaking cryptically. But this one is pretty easy to understand, I think. By the way, there is probably a pun here—the word for “cut away” and “keti’ah” sound very similar.
Keti’ah b. Shalom manages to convince the king that he cannot and should not kill all of the Jews. Interestingly, this Roman general interprets a verse midrashically.
The king submits to Keti’ah b. Shalom’s advice, but still sentences him to death.
Keti’ah now performs another activity that matches his name—he circumcises himself, theoretically in order to convert. This is the “tax” that he must pay in order to get to heaven.
Keti’ah gives away all his property to R. Akiva and his colleagues. R. Akiva finds a quite self-serving midrash to justify taking half of the property. Just as half the show-bread will go to Aaron, so too half of Keti’ah’s property will go to R. Akiva. The rest of it will be divided by everyone else.
A heavenly voice goes out and states that Keti’ah has earned his right to heaven in a single moment. While others toil all of their lives to earn their space in heaven, Keti’ah does so with one single act.
This is the end of the Antoninus/Rabbi cycle of stories. Antoninus “serves” Rabbi—in other words, he acts as a disciple. A Persian general by the name of Artaban served Rav, the leader of Babylonian Jewry. But these types of relationships ended with their deaths.