Second Century C.E., Israel
Article by Tzvee Zahavy in the Encyclopedia of Religion
Beruryah was one of the few famous women in rabbinic Judaism of late
antiquity. She was the daughter of R. Hananyah ben Teradyon, wife of R.
In rabbinic sources Beruryah appears several times together with the
rabbis of the generation of scholars centered around the Galilean town
of Usha. She is mentioned twice in Tosefta (in T. Kelim B.M. 1:6 by
name and referred to in T. Kelim B.Q. 4:17 as the daughter of R.
Hananyah ben Teradyon) and seven times in the Babylonian Talmud.
Beruryah's contemporary importance lies in her prominence as a rare
woman-scholar in the male-dominated rabbinic culture. Goodblatt
believes that Beruryah exemplifies the possibility, though quite
uncommon, of a woman receiving formal education within rabbinic
society. Goodblatt argues however that the traditions which ascribe
rabbinic learning to Beruryah appear to be late, not telling us about
Roman Palestine, the setting which they depict, but informing us better
concerning the situation of Sassanian Babylonia, the place where they
were formulated in the process of Talmudic compilation.
Whether historical or not, the rabbinic traditions do portray
Beruryah as a sensitive yet assertive figure. The Talmud recounts
anecdotes illustrating Beruryah's piety, compassion and wit. In one
source she admonishes her husband Meir not to be angry at his enemies
and not to pray for their death. She suggests that instead he pray that
their sins cease and that they repent (b. Berakhot 10a).
When two of her sons died one Sabbath day, a story in the Midrash
reports that she delayed telling her husband until Saturday night when
he had finished observing the Sabbath day in peace (Midrash to Proverbs
The Talmud also recounts anecdotes of Beruryah's sharp wit. When
Yose the Galilean asks her for directions on the road, one story tells
us, she derides him for speaking to much with a woman (b. `Eruvin 53b).
The folklore surrounding Beruryah is extensive and poignant.
Accounts which weave together the rabbinic sources retell the tragic
events of Beruryah's life and the life of her family. According to
tradition, Beruryah's father was martyred in the Bar Kokhba rebellion.
Two of her sons died suddenly one Sabbath day. Her sister was taken
captive to Rome. Her brother became a brigand, possibly an anti-Roman
terrorist, and was murdered.
The drama of her life climaxes in the so-called Beruryah Incident.
She is said in an eleventh century tradition preserved by the French
rabbi Solomon ben Isaac (Rashi commentary to Talmud Babli Avodah Zarah
18b) to have mocked a mysogynistic rabbinic tradition which labelled
women as flighty. Meir is said to have sent a student to tempt her to
prove her actions were wrong. Tragically, she is thought to have
committed suicide after submitting to the advances of her husband's
One study (Goodblatt) takes a skeptical view of the identification
of Beruryah as the wife of Meir and the daughter of Hananyah ben
Teradyon. It is thought that these associations are late Babylonian
The Beruryah Texts
David Goodblatt, "The Beruryah Traditions," in Persons and Institutions in Early Rabbinic Judaim,
ed. W. Green (Missoula, 1977), pp. 207-229 translates and analyzes all
of the materials relating to Beruryah in rabbinic literature. The texts
below are based on his article.
1. Babylonian Talmud, tractate Berakhot 10a
Certain brigands who were in the neighborhood of Rabbi Meir used
to trouble him greatly. He prayed [lit.: sought mercy] that they die.
Beruryah his wife (devethu) said to him, "What is your opinion [i.e.,
on what do you base your prayer?] Because it is written [Psalms
104:35], 'Let sins cease...?' Is 'sinners' written? [Rather] 'sins' is
written. Furthermore, cast your eyes to the end of the verse, 'And they
are wicked no more.' Since sins will cease, they will be wicked no
more. So pray that they repent and be wicked no more. He prayed for
them, and they repented.
2. Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 10a
A certain Sadducee said to Beruryah, "It is written [Is. 54:1],
'Sing, O barren one, who did not bear.' Because she did not bear
[should she] sing?" She said to him, "Fool. Cast your eyes to the end
of the verse where is written, 'For the children of the desolate one
will be more than the children of her that married, says the lord.'
What then does, 'Barren one who did not bear' mean? [It implies that
you] rejoice, sons of the assembly of Israel, who resemble a barren
woman who did not bear sons of gehenna like you."
3. Babylonian Talmud 'Eruvin 53b
Rabbi Yosi the Galilean was going along the road. He met Beruryah.
He said to her, "By which road shall we go to Lod?" She said to him,
"Galilean fool! Did not the sages say, 'Do not talk too much with a
woman' [Mishnah Avot 1:5, b. Nedarim 20a]? You should have said, 'By
which to Lod?'"
4. Babylonian Talmud 'Eruvin 53b-54a
Beruryah found a certain disciple who was reciting his lesson in a
whisper. She [kicked] derided him and said to him, "Is it not written
[2 Samuel 23:5], 'Ordered in all and secure?' [That is,] if it is
ordered by means of [all] your 248 limbs, it will be preserved. But if
not, it will not be preserved.
5. Babylonian Talmud Pesahim 62b
Rabbi Simlai came before Rabbi Yohanan and said to him, "Let the
master teach me the Book of Genealogies (sefer yuhasin)." He said to
him, "Where are you from? He answered, "From Lod." "And where is your
residence?" In Nehardea." He said to him, "One engages in discussion
neither with Lodites nor with Nehardeans. How much more so with you who
are from Lod and whose residence is in Nehardea." He pressed him, and
he consented. He [Simlai] said to him, "Let the master teach me [the
material] in three months." He [Yohanan] picked up a clod, threw it at
him, and said to him, "If Beruryah, the wife (devethu) of Rabbi Meir,
the daughter of Rabbi Hananyah ben Teradyon, learned 300 traditions in
a day from 300 masters, and even so did not fulfill her obligations in
three years--how can you say in three months? As he [Simlai] was
getting up to go he said to him, "Master, what is [the difference]
between 'for its own sake' and 'not for its own sake,' [between] 'for
those who eat it' and 'not for those who eat it' [referring to Mishnah
Pesahim 5:2-3]?" He said to him, Since you are a disciple of the
masters (surba merabbanan), come and I will tell you..."
6. Tosefta Kelim Bava Mesi'a' 1:6
A claustra--Rabbi Tarfon declares unclean, but the sages declare
clean. And Beruryah says, "One removes it from this door and hangs it
on another, on the Sabbath."
These things were said to Rabbi Joshua. He said, "Beruryah said well."
7. Midrash Sifré Deuteronomy, S307, ed. Finkelstein, p. 346
Another matter: "The Rock, his work is perfect" (Deut.
32:4a),--when they arrested Rabbi Hananyah ben Teradyon, he was
sentenced to be burned together with his book. They said to him, "You
have been sentenced to be burned with your book." He recited this
verse, "The Rock, his work is perfect [for all his ways are justice]."
They said to his wife, "Your husband has been sentenced to be burned,
and you [have been sentenced] to be killed." She recited this verse, "A
God of faithfulness and without iniquity, [just and right is he] (Deut.
They said to his daughter [Beruryah], "Your father has been sentenced
to be burned, your mother to be killed, and you [have been sentenced]
to do work'" She recited this verse (Jer. 32:19), "Great in counsel and
mighty in deed; whose eyes are open to all the ways of men, rewarding
every man according to his ways and according to the fruit of his
Rabbi [Yehudah the Patriarch] said, "How great are these three
righteous people! In the hour of their distress they summoned three
verses vindicating [God's] judgment--which is unprecedented in all of
Scripture. The three of them directed their hearts and vindicated the
judgment for themselves."
8. Minor Tractates, Semahot, Chapter 12, end
It happened that the son of Rabbi Hanina ben Tardion [sic] fell
into evil ways. Brigands seized him and slew him. His mutilated body
was found after three days. They wrapped it in a net and placed it on a
bier. They then brought him into the city and acclaimed him by praising
His father cited this verse for him: And thou moan, when thine end
cometh, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed, and say 'How have I
hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof, neither have I
hearkened to the voice of my teacher, nor inclined my ear to them that
instructed me I was nigh in all evil' (Prov. 5:14). Having finished, he
went back to the beginning of the verse.
His mother cited this verse for him: A foolish son is a vexation to his
father, and bitterness to her that bore him (ibid., 17:28)
His sister [Beruryah] cited this verse for him: Bread of falsehood is
sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall He filled with gravel
9. Babylonian Talmud Avodah Zarah 18a
Our masters taught (teno rabbanan): When Rabbi Yosi ben Qisma took
sick, Rabbi Hananyah ben Teradyon came to visit him....They [the Roman
authorities] found Rabbi Hananyah ben Teradyon sitting and engaging in
Torah, convening public assemblies, and a Torah scroll was in his
breast pocket. They brought him, wound the Torah scroll around him,
surrounded him with bundles of twigs, and set them on fire. They
brought wool sponges, soaked them in water, and laid them on his breast
so that he would not die quickly. His daughter [Beruryah] said to him,
"Father, how can I see you thus!" He said to her, "If I were being
burned alone, the matter would be hard for me. But now that I am
burned. together with the Torah scroll--he who seeks [to avenge] the
humiliation of the Torah scroll will seek to avenge my humiliation."
10. Midrash Mishle [Proverbs], ad 3l:10
Another matter [to explain the verse], "A good wife who can find
(Prov. 31:10)?" It once happened that Rabbi Meir was sitting and
lecturing in the house of study on Sabbath after-noon, and his two sons
died What did their mother [Beruryah] do? She laid the two of them on
the bed and spread a sheet over them.
After the departure of the Sabbath, Rabbi Meir came home from the house
of study. He said to her where are my two sons?" She said, "They went
to the house of study.'' He said, "I was watching the house of study,
and I did not see them."
She gave him a cup for havdalah, and he recited the havdalah prayer. He
again said, ''Where are my two sons?" She said to him, "They went to
another place and will soon come."
She set food before him, and he ate and blessed. After he blessed, she
said, "Master, I have a question to ask you." He said to her, "Ask your
question." She said to him, "Master, some time ago a man came and gave
me something to keep for him. Now he comes and seeks to take it. Shall
we return it to him or not?" He said to her, "Daughter, whoever has an
object in trust must return it to its owner." She said to him, "Master,
I would not have given it to him without your knowledge."
What did she do? She took him by the hand and led him up to the room.
She led him to the bed and removed the sheet that was on them. When he
saw the two of them lying dead on the bed, he began to cry and say, "My
sons, my sons..."
At that time she said to Rabbi Meir, "Master, did you not say to me
that I must return the trust to its master? He said, "The Lord gave and
the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21).
R. Hanina said, "In this way she comforted him, and his mind was set at
ease. Regarding such an instance does it say, "A good wife who can
11. Babylonian Talmud Avodah Zarah 18b
Beruryah the wife (devethu) of Rabbi Meir was the daughter of
Rabbi Hananyah ben Teradyon. She said to him [Meir], "It is a disgrace
for me that my sister sits in a house of prostitution. He took three
qabs of denarii and went [to Rome] He said, "If no forbidden thing has
been done to her, a miracle will occur. If she has done what is
forbidden, no miracle will occur for her."
He went and presented himself [to the sister] as cavalryman [or: member
of the equestrian class]. He said to her, "Submit to me." She said, "I
am menstruating." He said to her, "I am very aroused [and do not
care]." She said to him, "There are many more beautiful than I." He
said, "One may infer that she has not done what is forbidden. She says
this to whoever comes."
He went to her keeper and said, "Give her over." He said, "I fear the
government." He said to him, "Take the three qabs of denarii. Use half
for bribes and keep half." He said, "When the half [for bribing] is
gone, what shall I do?" He said to him, "Say 'God of Meir, answer me,'
and you will be saved." He said to him, "Who says that it is so?" Some
man-eating dogs were there. He [Meir] picked up a clod and threw it at
them. They came to eat him, and he said, "God of Meir, answer me," and
they left him alone. So he [the keeper] gave her to him.
Eventually the matter became known to the palace. They brought him,
[the keeper] and crucified him. He said, "God of Meir, answer me," and
he brought him down. They said to him, "What is this?" He told them
what happened. They carved the likeness of Rabbi Meir on the gates of
Rome and said that whoever sees this face should bring him [to the
authorities]. One day they saw him and ran after him. He ran away from
them and entered a house of prostitution. Some say he saw gentile food,
dipped one finger in it, and licked another [giving the impression that
he ate food unfit for Jews]. Others say that Elijah appeared in the
form of a prostitute and embraced him. They said, "If that were Rabbi
Meir, he would never have done that."
He arose and fled to Babylonia. Some say because of this matter, while others say because of the Beruryah incident.
12. Rashi's commentary to b. 'Avodah Zarah 18b, on the phrase, "And some say because of the Beruryah incident."
One time she [Beruryah] mocked what the sages said [cf. b.
Qiddushin 80b], "Women are flighty." He [Meir] said to her, "By your
life! You will eventually concede [the correctness of] their words." He
instructed one of his disciples to tempt her to infidelity. He [the
disciple] urged her for many days, until she consented.
When the matter became known to her, she strangled herself, while Rabbi Meir fled because of the disgrace.
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