Meir’s saying saves the jailer, but now makes R. Meir into the most wanted man in Rome.
Some Romans see R. Meir and in order to convince them that he is not R. Meir, he acts in a way that R. Meir would not act. He either enters a brothel, pretends to eat forbidden food, or Elijah disguised as a prostitute embraces him. This works and the Romans let him go.
Nevertheless, R. Meir still runs away to Babylonia. There are two suggestions as to why he runs away. The first is due to the incident described above. The second is due to “the incident about Beruria.” This is not explained anywhere in the Talmud. Rashi adds the following legend. Beruriah made light of the Talmudic assertion that women are “light-minded.” To vindicate the Talmudic maxim, Rabbi Meir sent one of his students to seduce her. Though she initially resisted the student’s advances, she eventually acceded to them. When she realized what she had done she committed suicide out of shame.
I should emphasize that this legend is not in the Talmud itself; it is found only in the commentary of Rashi. It is likely that someone (I do not imagine Rashi himself) made this up as a mirror image of Beruriah’s sister. Beruriah is known elsewhere for being learned in matters of Torah. Someone may have invented this text as a way of deterring women from studying Torah. Such study, in the eyes of the author of the legend, will lead to women taking Talmudic learning lightly, for the tradition itself deprecates women. This will eventually lead them to become sexually licentious. Whereas Beruriah’s sister, who does not seem to be learned, cannot be seduced, Beruriah, the learned one, is seduced. Whereas Beruriah’s sister escapes both shame and death, Beruriah is shamed and as a result takes her own life. Note that this is not a case of martyrdom—the martyr does not take his own life.
The tale has strong misogynist tones and probably was composed by a man who wanted to offer women a cautionary tale—do not become learned like Beruriah.
The baraita here opens a new topic—warning Jews not to visit stadiums or other places where sorcerers or various types of clowns and other entertainers perform. The meaning of the words that I have italicized is not certain. Rashi says that they are all clowns, but probably the meaning is broader than the modern word for clown.
This baraita allows a Jew to go to both a stadium and a siege camp because he may do some good there. At the stadium he could shout and try to save the victim. At the siege camp he may be able to save the Jews under siege. The only thing he is not allowed to do there is to participate in the siege itself by consulting with the Romans.
We can resolve the contradictions concerning the siege camps—he may go as long as he does not conspire with them. But it is difficult to resolve the contradiction with regard to the stadiums. One baraita unconditionally allows a Jew to go to the stadium while the other does not.
There is indeed a dispute among tannaim about whether one may go to a stadium. The first opinion holds that despite the fact that he might do some good there, it remains prohibited. But R. Natan allows a Jew to go to the stadium because he might have the opportunity to save the victim and even if he cannot, he will be able to serve as a witness to allow the man’s wife to remarry.
Meir prohibits going to a theater or circus because idolaters offer sacrifices there. We should note that the Hebrew states, “spread manure,” but clearly this is a malephemism (opposite of euphemism) for offering sacrifices. The other rabbis offer two reasons why one should not go to a circus—if sacrifices are being offered there, then they will be suspected of offering sacrifices. If they are not offering sacrifices, then it still is forbidden because it is participating in a “gathering of the scornful.”
However, the Talmud notes that there is a difference between the two reasons. If sacrifices are not being offered and he engages in business there, then the proceeds of his business are not prohibited.
This derashah on the verse from Psalms is located here because the same verse was used above.
Since the verse had spoken of “scoffing” the Talmud brings some general moral exhortations against such behavior.
This derashah is brought here because it is similar to the previous one, using the same verse and nearly the same message.
This section contains another derashah by R. Shimon b. Pazzi, again related to the prohibition of going to pagan theaters and circuses.
Shimon b. Pazzi applies the first verse of Psalms to the prohibition of attending pagan circuses, theaters, contests of wild beasts or engaging in evil conspiracies with idolaters. In their place, a Jew should not sleep—he should study Torah.
Yonatan applies each part of this verse to Abraham, using prooftexts to show how each section of the verse applies to various peoples whom Abraham did not join—the people who built the tower of Babel (they are called in rabbinic literature the “generation of the division of the world, for when the tower fell, the world was divided), the people of Sodom and the Philistines (against whom Abraham went to war).