Throughout our long history, many Jewish leaders have been imprisoned, tortured and/or put to death. Compiling a list of even a portion of the names would be an impossible task. Thus, this list merely highlights a few of the more famous incidents.

1. Abraham

As the first to go out and teach the masses the then-novel idea of monotheism, Abraham also has the distinction of being the first to be imprisoned for believing and spreading this idea. While many are familiar with the story of Abraham being thrown into the fiery furnace in Ur Kasdim, the Talmud1 relates that Abraham was actually imprisoned for 10 years prior to that incident. Ultimately, after this incident, Abraham increased in spreading the knowledge of G‑d wherever he went.

Read: Who Was Abraham?

2. Joseph

After being sold by his brothers, Joseph became the supervisor of the household of Potiphar, his Egyptian master, who was a member of King Pharaoh’s court. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, and when he refused her advances, she framed him and he was thrown into prison. Ultimately, upon correctly interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, he was released and appointed viceroy of Egypt.

Read: The Story of Joseph

3. Moses

The Targum, ancient Aramaic rendering of the Torah, relates that when Jethro first learned that Moses had fled Egypt, he threw him into a pit, where he remained imprisoned for 10 years. Tziporah, Jethro’s daughter and Moses' future wife, secretly brought food to Moses throughout the duration of his imprisonment. Upon his release, he saw the rod with which he would eventually perform miracles. The rod had been stuck in the ground, and no one but Moses was able to retrieve it. When he did, Jethro gave him his daughter Tziporah as his wife.2

Read: 17 Facts About Moses Every Jew Should Know

4. King Jeconiah

Eleven years before the destruction of the First Holy Temple, King Jeconiah (also referred to as Jehoiachin or Coniah) succeeded his father, Jehoiakim, as king of Judah. Just three months later, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia laid siege to Jerusalem and King Jeconiah surrendered. Nebuchadnezzar plundered Jerusalem, took King Jeconiah as a captive, and installed Jeconiah’s uncle Zedekiah as king (see next entry). Eventually, in the 37th year of Jeconiah’s captivity, Evil-Merodach ascended the throne of Babylonia and freed Jeconiah from prison.

This act gave renewed hope to the exiled Jews that, eventually, the royal house of David would once again rise from the ashes. In fact, this is the origin of the semi-royal position of the “exilarch” (“head of the exile”), reish galuta.

Read: Who Was the Exilarch?

5. Jeremiah

Jeremiah was a prophet who lived in the waning years of the First Holy Temple. For the “crime” of prophesying about the impending destruction of Jerusalem, King Zedekiah (also known as Tzidkiyahu) had Jerimiah imprisoned. Jeremiah’s imprisonment lasted for two and a half years, until Jerusalem was conquered and he was freed by the Babylonians.3

King Zedekiah, however, was captured by Nebuchadnezzar when he attempted to escape together with some of his followers. He was then taken to Riblah, where he was made to witness his son's execution and then had his own eyes put out. He was then taken as a captive to Babylon, where he died a prisoner.

Read: The Prophet Jeremiah

6. Rabbi Akiva

After the destruction of the Second Holy Temple, the Romans decreed that Jews were not allowed to teach Torah. Despite their decree, Rabbi Akiva, the leading sage at that time, continued to teach Torah. He was eventually arrested for his “crimes” but continued to teach, meticulously observe the mitzvahs, and even render many halachic decisions while in prison. He was eventually barbarically executed. Thanks to his perseverance, the Torah traditions stretching back to Sinai were preserved until this very day.

Read: Rabbi Akiva Stories

7. Rabbeinu Gershom

At an early point of his life, Rabbeinu Gershom (960-1040), Meor Hagolah ("Light of the Exile"), the first great sage and leader of Ashkenazic Jewry, found himself in Constantinople. Since his wife was unable to bear him children, at her behest he took a second wife. During the course of events, he was framed and imprisoned for stealing from the royal treasury, partially due to the actions of his second wife. He managed to escape with the help of his first wife and moved to Maintz. He is famous for enacting many religious bans (cheiramim). Perhaps the most famous of them all is his ban against polygamy.

Full Story: Rabbeinu Gershom

8. Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg

Rabbi Meir (Maharam) of Rothenberg (1215–1293) was captured and imprisoned by King Rudolph of Austria when he and many other Jews attempted to flee Germany to escape the ongoing oppression of the Jews. Although the community was ready to pay the exorbitant amount of money demanded of them to free their beloved leader, Rabbi Meir cited the halachah that it is prohibited to redeem a captive for more than their value, so as not to further encourage the capturing of Jews. He passed away in prison seven years later. His body was not surrendered for burial until 14 years later, when a heavy ransom was paid by a generous Jew, Alexander Suskind Wimpfen of Frankfort. In prison, he was provided with writing implements and allowed visits by his students. He managed to write and transmit thousands of halachic rulings as well as a Torah scroll.

Full Story: The Maharam of Rothenburg

9. Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipman Heller

Rabbi Gershon Shaul Yom-Tov Lipman Heller (c. 1579–19 August, 1654), better known as the Tosefet Yom Tov for his classic commentary on the Mishnah by that name, was arrested in the summer of 1629 by order of the imperial court of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II. He was accused of insulting Christianity and imprisoned in Vienna. He was sentenced to death. However, after much intervention he was freed (with a large fine). In 1631, he left Prague (where he had served as rabbi at the time of his arrest) and spent the second part of his life in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Rabbi Heller instructed that the first day of the month of Adar be celebrated by his descendants in commemoration of his imprisonment and his release from prison. To this day, his many descendants celebrate the day and read the story of his imprisonment from the Megillat Eivah (“Scroll of Hostility”), which he wrote.

Read Why That Date Was Chosen

10. Rabbi Schneur Zalmen of Liadi

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad Rebbe (1745–1812), also known as the Alter Rebbe, was the leader of the Chassidic movement in Lithuania and White Russia, which was also the stronghold of the Chassidic movement’s opponents. As such, he drew much ire and jealousy. In 1798, he was arrested by the Czarist government and accused of treason, based on libelous accusations made by his opponents. The trumped-up charges included attempting to become king over the Jews, as well as sending funds to the Chassidic community in the Holy Land, then ruled by the Turks, enemies of Russia.

Eventually, the fallacy of the accusations came to light, and he was released from prison 53 days later, on the 19th day of Kislev, which is celebrated annually as the “New Year of Chassidism.”

The Chassidic masters explain that, like an olive, which only releases its oil when it is crushed, the Alter Rebbe only imparted his deepest teachings after he was imprisoned and freed.4

Explore: The New Year of Chassidism

11. Rabbi Dovber Schneuri of Chabad

Rabbi Dovber Schneuri (1773–1827) was the second Chabad Rebbe and son of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. In the autumn of 5587 (1826), he was arrested and instructed to appear in Vitebsk, the provincial capital, on charges that he was planning a rebellion against the Russian government. He was officially informed that he was exonerated of all suspicion and released on the 10th of Kislev, a date that has since been a festival amongst chassidim.

Read: The Arrest and Liberation of Rabbi Dov Ber of Lubavitch

12. Rabbi Yisroel Friedman of Ruzhin

After being falsely accused of murder, Rabbi Yisroel Friedman (1796–1850), the Ruzhiner Rebbe, a great-grandson of the Maggid of Mezeritch, was imprisoned by Czar Nicholas of Russia for two years. When he was temporarily released on Shushan Purim, 1840, he managed to escape and eventually settled in the town of Sadigura, Austria, where he continued his leadership until his death in 1851. He was the patriarch of several Chassidic dynasties.

Read: The Life and Teaching of the Holy Ruzhiner Rebbe

13. Rabbi Yitzchak Meir, First Rebbe of Ger

Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Rotenberg-Alter (1799–1866) was the first rebbe of the Chassidic dynasty of Ger, known by the name of his commentary on the Talmud, the Chidushei Harim. As the proponents of assimilation spread through Poland, gaining power and influence, they were successful in influencing the government to issue a decree against the unique mode of Jewish garb of that era. The idea was to force the Jews to further assimilate with the non-Jews.

In the year 1851, knowing that Rabbi Yitzchak Meir stood steadfast against the decree, the Russian governor, Fuerst Poskiwitz, had him arrested and tried to get him to publicly approve of the decree. However, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir refused. He ruled (somewhat controversially as many, including the Tzemach Tzedek of Lubavitch5 and Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, disagreed) that, although this decree seemed to be simply about modes of dress, it was essentially a decree aimed at uprooting Judaism, therefore, there could be no compromise and one must be ready to even give up their life over this.

As news of his imprisonment spread, many non-Jews condemned the brutal act as well. This alarmed the government officials, who were afraid that nationalistic Poles would use this as an excuse to increase Jewish support for their revolutionary activities. They therefore were forced to free him. He then resumed his leadership, but moved out of Warsaw and changed his name from Rotenberg to Alter.

14. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the Sixth Rebbe

In 1927, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880–1950), the sixth Rebbe of Chabad, was arrested and accused of counter-revolutionary activities and sentenced to death. His “crime” was establishing and funding a network to strengthen Judaism throughout Communist Russia. Eventually, his sentence was commuted and he was exiled to three years of exile in Kazakhstan. However, due to enormous international pressure, this too was commuted and he was freed on the 12-13th day of the month of Tammuz. The anniversary of his miraculous release from prison is celebrated by chassidim to this day as a festive day.

Read: 13 Pictures That Illuminate the Arrest and Liberation