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??


3 Answers 3


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.

  • @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
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 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
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 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
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 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
    Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 23:54
  • This explanation bothers me. The Gemara (A.Z. 18a) is trying to explain R. Meir's self-exile. The Gemara cites the brothel incident as one reason, and the cryptic "missa Bruriah" for a second possibility. Rashi's detailed discussion is there to explain the second. It seems to be too detailed to be a mistake. Perhaps Rashi brought down a mesorah that was taught but suppressed from the public (it is, after all, terrible loshon hora); the error may have been in the decision to reveal it. Given R. Meir's plot to embarrass R. Shimon ben Gamliel (Hor. 13b) R. Meir appears to lack good judgment. Commented May 28, 2015 at 17:24

The reason he chose such an extreme way is, the statement is referring to a women's particular ability to judge in an extreme sexual challenge. (Rashi kidushin 80 b) And not at all to a women's knowledge in general, as we know B'rurya was extremely wise and knowledgeable.

In the original saying "women's knowledge is light on them" "דעת" is translated as knowledge, in Genesis when referring to the tree of knowledge a more accurate translation to biblical "Daat" should be- ability to judge or understand good and evil. (Ibn Ezra Genesis 2:17 )

  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya, Aaron! Could you edit in sources for your answer? We generally don't consider people's personal opinions to make the highest-quality answers. Hope to see you around!
    – Scimonster
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 12:06
  • (Administrative note: This was penned as an answer to another question and merged hither.)
    – msh210
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 14:49
  • @Aaron S How does this answer the question? The question is asking how it's not assur. This doesn't really explain why it's not. Additionally as I point out above this is such a extreme case that it doesn't really prove anything, especially considering how long it did for her to succumb.
    – Orion
    Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 17:25

If the story was found in the margin written by an 'errant' student, what might the student's motive to do this, commenting on this highly respected torah scholar a thousand years after she lived?

If there is any truth to the story, the yeshiva student sent to 'seduce' Beruriah was violating halacha by being in the home of Rabbi Meir without his presence. Surely, a tzadeket of the stature of the wife of Rabbi Meir would not allow this. Perhaps she was raped and a false story was fabricated to cover the criminal's crime? Not unheard of. Hanging herself after this humiliation would not be the first or last time a woman did this after being raped and unable to prove it.

Too many questions to believe this story at all as factual.

  • Interesting take, I like it! Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 18:02

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .