BERURYAH


BERURYAH (second century), a learned woman mentioned once in the Tosefta, and identified in the aggadot of the Talmud Bavli as the daughter of R. *Hananiah b. Teradyon and wife of R. *Meir. Beruryah is the only woman mentioned by name in tannaitic sources whose view on an halakhic matter was taken into account by the scholars of her time. Tosef., Kelim, BM 1:6 reports a dispute between R. Ṭarfon and the Sages, in the context of which Beruryah expressed an opinion. The Tosefta goes on to state: "When this matter was reported to R. Judah, he said: 'Beruryah spoke well." Significantly, the daughter of R. Hananiah ben Teradyon is also mentioned in Tosefta Kelim (BK 4:17), where her halakhic opinion also is quoted with approval, and in a very similar fashion: "When this matter was reported to R. Judah ben Bava, he said: 'His daughter spoke better than his son.'" Aside from the similarity of the two cases and their proximity to each other in the Tosefta, there is no positive reason to identify these two figures. Moreover, if we assume that R. Ṭarfon was alive and active during the final years of the Second Temple (cf. Tosef. Soṭ. 7:16), it does not seem likely that a woman who was old enough to debate with Ṭarfon could have been R. Hananiah ben Teradyon's daughter, let alone R. Meir's wife. Indeed, one source mentions R. Meir's wife, but without mentioning her by name (Mid. Prov. to 31:1). It would seem, therefore, that the figure of Beruryah – talmudic scholar, daughter of R. *Hananiah b. Teradyon and wife of R. *Meir – is in fact a conflation of a number of distinct figures, mentioned either by name or without name in earlier sources. The fascinating and problematic figure of Beruryah, therefore, must be seen as a synthetic literary product of the Talmud's method of "creative historiography," as was shown by David Goodblatt in his classic study, "The Beruriah Traditions." The notion that Beruryah was largely a product of the talmudic "collective consciousness" only increases the significance of her figure for an understanding of the talmudic mind and its problematic attitude toward scholarly and assertive female figures (Tal Ilan, 3–8). We will therefore summarize the basic elements of the Bavli's Beruryah aggadot in outline:

The Talmud tells of her great knowledge (Pes. 62b). It describes her as restraining her husband Meir in a moment of moral weakness. When certain evil persons antagonized her husband and he prayed for their death, she rebuked him, interpreting Psalms 104:35 as expressive of God's desire for the destruction of sin, and not of sinners, and exhorting him to pray, rather, that they repent of their evil ways (Ber. 10a). The aggadah also tells of her mocking wit. Once, when R. Yose the Galilean, meeting her along the way, asked, "By which road should we travel in order to reach Lydda?" she replied: "Galilean fool! Did not the rabbis say, 'Talk not overmuch with women?' You should have asked: 'How to Lydda?'" (Er. 53b). Another instance of her sharpness is her reply to a sectarian concerning the interpretation of a verse from the Prophets (Ber. 10a). Beruryah also guided students in their study. When she found a student studying in an undertone, she rebuked him, saying: "Is it not stated (II Sam. 23:5) 'Ordered in all things, and sure'? – If the Torah be ordered in the two hundred and forty-eight organs of your body, it will be sure, and if not, it will not be sure" (Er. 53b–54a). Finally, Rashi, in explaining the obscure phrase "the story of Beruryah," mentioned in Av. Zar. 18b, quotes a legend to the effect that as a result of her exaggerated self-confidence – feeling that she was above "feminine weakness" – she ultimately was led astray, with tragic consequences. Beruryah was also the heroine of a number of belletristic works and plays in Hebrew and in other languages.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Hyman, Toledot, 294–5; Graetz, Gesch, 4 (19084), 172–3; D. Goldblatt, in: JJS, 26:1–2 (1975), 68–85; T. Ilan, in: AJS Review, 22:1 (1997), 1–17.

[Stephen G. Wald (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.