The Sage Who Was Also a Gladiator


Strong, sexy rabbis bathing and talking about beautiful women. Sounds like a pitch for a new HBO show, but actually, it’s a scene from the Talmud.

Though you might have always pictured the rabbis of the Talmud as bearded old men, the texts tell another story. Rabbi Shimon Ben Lakish, often known as Resh Lakish, was originally a bandit and a gladiator, known for his amazing strength. In fact, Resh Lakish’s strength was instrumental in bringing him from banditry to Judaism.

According to the Talmud (Baba Metzia 84a), Rabbi Yohanan, another famously gorgeous rabbi, was bathing in the Jordan river. Resh Lakish saw him and in just one leap he was next to Yohanan in the water. Yohanan was impressed by this feat of strength, but said to Lakish, “Your strength would be better suited for studying Torah.” Resh Lakish responded, “And your beauty would be better suited for women.” Yohanan then promised Resh Lakish his sister’s hand in marriage if Resh Lakish would come to the beit midrash to study. And thus a Torah scholar was brought into the fold.

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