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Masecheth 'Avodah Zarah (18b) cryptically mentions "מעשה דברוריה" - "The Beruriah Incident" - as a reason R' Meir fled to Bavel. Rashi (ad loc) explains that R' Meir was teasing his wife (the noted scholar Beruriah) that she would one day admit that the rabbis were correct when they said "נשים דעתן קלות הן" - "Women's intellects are light" (my own translation, but its actual meaning is subject to dispute). To that end, he asked one of his students to "test her to a matter of sin" (presumably this means to seduce her sexually). After resisting for "many days", she succumbed, and when "she realized", she hanged herself and R' Meir fled out of shame.

According to the above-linked Wikipedia entry on Beruriah, Rashi is alone in his explanation of the incident, and there is a tradition among Orthodox rabbis to name their daughters after her to defy that story and reclaim her name as a righteous and scholarly woman of Israel.

My question:

a. If Rashi's explanation is correct, what was R' Meir thinking?? Even if it was to goad his wife to some non-sexual sin, what about Lifnei 'Iver? What happened to loving and honoring one's wife?

b. If Rashi's explanation is incorrect, where on earth did it come from, and what was he thinking??

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c. What other explanations of 'The Beruriah Incident' are there? –  Double AA May 29 '12 at 18:23
    
@DoubleAA, see the Wikipedia entry. According to it (I haven't really studied this), R' Nissim Gaon says it was persecution by the Romans. It has a link to this Sefer on Hebrewbooks.org in the footnotes (which I've just skimmed). –  Seth J May 29 '12 at 18:27
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1 Answer

R. Eitam Henkin (R. Y.H. Henkin's son) wrote an essay on the curious Rashi.

He claims there that the text attributed to Rashi was a later interpolation by an errant student, since it is not referred to by any of the subsequent commentaries for centuries. His argument is not the usual "must have been an errant student" type, but rather is quite convincingly laid out from textual evidence.

He concludes (based on another rishon) that the simple understanding of the maaseh referred to on 18b is actually the maaseh mentioned on 18a about Beruriah and her embarrassment:

ברוריא דביתהו דר' מאיר ברתיה דר' חנינא בן תרדיון הואי אמרה לו זילא בי מלתא דיתבא אחתאי בקובה של זונות שקל תרקבא דדינרי ואזל

Beruria, the wife of R. Meir, was a daughter of R. Hanina b. Teradion. She said to R. Meir 'I am ashamed to have my sister placed in a brothel.' So he took a tarkab-full of denarii and set out.

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What is the incident on 18a? –  Isaac Moses Jun 5 '12 at 18:26
    
@curiouser, thanks for adding in the incident from 18a. I've heard of that as an (or perhaps the) alternative explanation for their fleeing, but that doesn't account for the errant student. Unless those are two separate points that you're making? –  Seth J Jun 5 '12 at 19:20
    
@SethJ They are separate -- Rashi's "version" is the result of an errant student's marginalia becoming incorporated into the text; R. Henkin then explains the view of Yechusei Tanaim (regarding the other incident) as a possible alternative explanation. But please read his essay. –  Curiouser Jun 5 '12 at 21:05
    
@Curiouser, I will try to when I get a chance. As for the errant student, does the essay address where the student might have gotten this story? –  Seth J Jun 5 '12 at 21:11
    
Does he explain what the mistake could have been that led to such a specific and detailed description? +1 I've read this myself and it definitely has merit, especially the part about Rav Eliashiv zt"l's reaction to it. I'm just curious because it isn't like a misspelling or a word change, its a whole new piece! –  Baby Seal Jan 25 at 23:54
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