Who is Beruriah:
- Daughter of the martyr R. Hananiah ben Teradion,
o Teacher in 2nd century
o One of 10 teachers murdered by Romans for refusing to follow ban against teaching Torah
- Wife of R. Meïr;
o one of the greatest scholars of his time
o frequently quoted in the Talmud (3rd most frequently mentioned in the Talmud)
- Born in the first quarter of the second century,
- She lived at Tiberias (Northeast Israel by Sea of Galilee)
- One of the only women named in the Talmud
DISCUSSION- TIME TO TALK!
What characteristics do we learn about Beruriah from these texts?
What type of woman is she?
Then Rashi comes along!
Rashi on Talmud Bavli Avodah Zera: 18b; serves as a turning point in our understanding of Beruriah (her story shifts)
Context: Rashi commenting on a story within Talmud Avodah Zera in which Rabbi Meir (Beruriah’s husband) goes to rescue her sister who has become a prostitute after the killing of their father.
The text ends by saying: "Rabbi Meir is forced into exile to Babylonia."
Rashi comes along and surmises the following background to the reason why Rabbi Meir was forced into exile:
“One Beruriah mocked the rabbinic dictum, ‘Women are flight’ (i.e. easily seduceable). Meir said, ‘By your life! You will end by affirming their words.’ He commanded one of his students to tempt her to immorality. The student urged her for many days before she agreed. When it (the plot) became known to her, she strangled herself. Rabbi Meir fled because of the disgrace.” (Translation by Rachel Adler, pg. 103)
DISCUSSION- TIME TO TALK!
What is Beruria’s character role in this episode? How is Rashi using her character (because he is surmising; this story is not actually in the text!) to make a statement about women?
Using the texts from Talmud and Rashi's damning story Beruriah's story now appears like this:
"Once there was a woman named Beruriah, and she was a great talmudic scholar. She was the daughter of the great Palestinian rabbi Hananyah ben Teradyon, who was martyred by the Romans. Even as a young girl, she far outstripped her brother as a scholar. It was said she had learned three hundred laws from three hundred teachers in one day. She married Rabbi Meir, the miracle worker and great Mishnaic sage.
One time when Rabbi Meir prayed for some robbers to die, Beruriah taught him to pray that their sin would die, that they would repent. She also taught Meir resignation when their two sons died. Loving and gentle as she was with Meir, Beruriah could also be arrogant and biting. She ridiculed a Sadducee, derided an erring student, and made a fool of Rabbi Yose the Galilean when he met her on the road.
Finally, she mocked the sages' dictum that women are easily seduced, and she came to a shameful end. Rabbi Meir set one of his students to seduce her. After long denial she yielded to him. When the plot was revealed, she strangled herself, and Rabbi Meir fled to Babylonia because of the disgrace."
"The Virgin in the Brothel and Other Anomalies: Character and Context in the Legend of Beruriah" by Rabbi Rachel Adler, Tikkun Vol. 3, No. 6
DISCUSSION- LET'S TALK ABOUT IT!
So what do we think of Beruriah?
Adler writes: "Beruriah's story is thus imbued with profound ambivalence. On the positive side are Beruriah's brilliance, her special usefulness as a woman who vindicates rabbinic Judaism, and the uniquely appealing depictions of her relationship with her husband. On the negative side, Beruriah is viewed as a threat, a competitor, an arrogant woman contemptuous of men and of rabbinic tradition. This negative pole of the rabbinic attitude toward Beruriah, which culminates in a the tale of her adultery and suicide, is filled with malignant power. It so pervades the legend retroactively that we cannot mention Beruriah's intelligence or accomplishments without adding, if only mentally, 'But she came to a bad end.' This mental reservation brings the iron barrs of the rabbinic context crashing down upon the anomalous woman, indeed upon all women." (pg. 29)
Do we reconstruct Beruriah's story? Highlight certain points, not others? Argue against Rashi's damning story? We have the power...what do we do with this character Beruriah?