So many of you when reading my books in the Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series ask about Miriam’s brother Binyamin and whether Jews indeed became gladiators, even whether some rabbis became gladiators or vice versa.

The answer to both questions is yes. Apparently, it was common knowledge at the time that Jews became gladiators. Most sold themselves out of necessity and, in fact, were bought for large sums. The minority, however, were like Binyamin, volunteers eager to experience the thrill of the arena. But the most remarkable example is Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish (aka Resh Lakish), a gladiator who became a Torah scholar.

Legend has it that ben Lakish was a man of gigantic might who under the stress of unfavorable circumstances gave up the study of Torah to sell himself to a gladiator school. Then one day, Rabbi Johanan saw him swimming in the Jordan and was so impressed by his beauty and strength that he offered ben Lakish his sister in marriage if he would return to his studies. The deal was struck, and through his talent and diligence, ben Lakish came to be among the most incisive sages of his generation.

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