BERURIAH (=probably Valeria):

Daughter of the martyr R. Hananiah ben Teradion, and wife of R. Meïr; born in the first quarter of the second century, she lived at Tiberias after the Hadrianic persecutions. Her traits of character, gleaned from Talmudic passages, show her to have been a helpmate worthy of her great husband, and to have possessed a personality corresponding to the emergencies of the troublous times following upon the failure of Bar Kokba's insurrection. They betray intellectual qualities and attainments as well as womanly tenderness and stanch virtues. It is said that she studied three hundred Talmudic subjects daily (Pes. 62b), and R. Judah endorsed a decision of hers, on a question about clean and unclean, in which she went counter to the view of "the wise" ("ḥakamim") (Tosef., Kelim, B. M. i. 6).

Her womanly tenderness is shown by a Biblical interpretation (Ber. 10a): Her husband, grievously vexed by wicked neighbors, prayed for their extermination. Beruriah exclaimed: "What! do you dare pray thus because the Psalmist says: 'Let ḥaṭaïm be consumed out of the earth'? (Ps. civ. 35) Observe that he does not say ḥoṭeïm ["sinners"], but ḥaṭaïm ["sins"]. And then look to the end of the verse: 'And the wicked will be no more.' Once sins are rooted out, there will be no more evil-doers." Of her ready wit the following is a specimen (ib.): In a dispute between Beruriah and a sectary, the latter quoted Isa. liv. 1: "Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear," and mockingly asked whether barrenness is cause for singing. Beruriah directed him to look to the end of the verse: "More are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife." The principle upon which both interpretations rest, "Look to the end of the verse"( ), became an exegetical rule current among the later Talmudical sages.

Her Wide Knowledge of Scriptures.

In 'Er. 53b et seq. there are other examples of her knowledge of Jewish Scriptures and her almost coquettish playfulness, coexisting in her with a capacity for righteous indignation, displayed when it was proposed, for her father's sake, to pay funeral honors to her scape-grace brother. Father, mother, and sister alike denounced his conduct, the last applying to him Prov. xx. 17 (R. V.), "Bread of falsehood is sweet to a man; but afterward his mouth shall be filled with gravel" (Sem. xii.; Lam. R. iii. 16).

Beruriah's life fell in calamitous times. Not only did she lose her father through the Hadrianic persecutions, but her mother at the same time suffered a violent death, and her sister was carried off to Rome, or perhaps Antioch, to lead a life of shame under coercion. At Beruriah's instance, R. Meïr set out to save her sister's honor, and succeeded ('Ab. Zarah 18a; Sifre, Deut. 307; Eccl. R. vii. 11). In consequence he had to flee to Babylonia, and Beruriah accompanied him.

Sudden Death of Her Two Sons.

Beruriah is best known in connection with the touching story of the sudden death of her two sons on the Sabbath, while their father was at the house of study. On his return, at the conclusion of the Sabbath, he at once asked for them. Their mother replied that they had gone to the house of study, and, feigning to disregard her husband's rejoinder, that he had looked for them there in vain, she handed him the cup of wine for the Habdalah service. His second inquiry for them was evaded by a similar subterfuge. After R. Meïr had eaten his evening meal, Beruriah asked formally for permission to put a question to him. "Rabbi," she then said, "some time ago a deposit was left with me for safe-keeping, and now the owner has come to claim it. Must I return it?" "Can there be any question about the return of property to its owner?" said R. Meïr, half astonished and half indignant that his wife should entertain a doubt. "I did not care to let it go out of my possession without your knowledge," replied Beruriah, seemingly in excuse, and, taking him by the hand, led him into the room in which the bodies of their two sons were lying on the bed. When she withdrew the cover, R. Meïr broke out in tears and plaints. Gently Beruriah reminded him of his answer to her question about the return of a treasure entrusted to one for safe-keeping, adding the verse from Job (i. 21): "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." This story, which has found a home in all modern literatures, can be traced to no earlier source than the Yalḳuṭ. (Prov. 964, quotation from a Midrash).

With Beruriah's death is connected a legend mentioned by Rashi ('Ab. Zarah 18b). To explain R. Meïr's flight to Babylonia, the commentator relates the following:

"Once Beruriah scoffed at the rabbinical saying, 'Women are light-minded' (Ḳid. 80b), and her husband warned her that her own end might yet testify to the truth of the words. To put her virtue to the test, he charged one of his disciples to endeavor to seduce her. After repeated efforts she yielded, and then shame drove her to commit suicide. R. Meïr, tortured by remorse, fled from his home."

The historical kernel of this story can not be disengaged. As told, the narrative is wholly at variance with what is known of Beruriah's character and that of R. Meïr. Beruriah probably died at an early age.

  • Adolf Blumenthal, Rabbi Meïr, pp. 108-111;
  • M. Kayserling, Die Jüdischen Frauen in der Geschichte, Literatur und Kunst, pp. 120-124;
  • Henry Zirndorf, Some Jewish Women, pp. 162-173;
  • Bacher, Ag. Tan. i. 400, ii. 5.
J. Sr. H. S.
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