Tuesday, November 30, 2004
R. Zevi Hirsch Chajes, The Student's Guide Through the Talmud
Beruriah, the scholarly wife of the Tanna R. Meir, is mentioned a handful of times in the Talmud, always in a very positive light. It is therefore surprising that Rashi, in his commentary to Avodah Zarah (18b), should relate a very negative story about Beruriah in which she ends up committing suicide. There is no extant earlier source for this story, yet anyone familiar with Rashi's style of commentary knows that it is not in his nature to create stories.
R. Zevi Hirsch Chajes (AKA Maharatz Chayes) offers an explanation of this puzzle in a brief comment in chapter 31 (pp. 237-238) of his Mevo Ha-Talmud, translated into English and annotated by R. Jacob Shachter as The Student's Guide Through the Talmud and now being reprinted by Yashar Books. In a helpful footnote, R. Shachter summarizes the story of Beruriah's fate as told by Rashi:
The Gemara relates that in the opinion of some, R. Meir ran away to Babylon because of the incident involving Beruriah. Rashi, however tells the following story: Once Beruriah criticized the Rabbinic view (Kid. 80b) that women are light-minded, to which R. Meir replied that one day her own experience would testify to the truth of the Rabbi's words. The day came when she succumbed to the temptation of one of R. Meir's own disciples. Beruriah committed suicide and R. Meir fled from his home for shame.R. Chajes explains that "all such stories relating to various Talmudical sages as reflect no honour upon them... have been removed from our editions of the Talmud" but might still be reflected in the manuscripts or traditions available to the Geonim and early Rishonim. Thus, for example, the Halakhos Gedolos contains a story about how Mar Shmuel's father almost succumbed to a certain Median woman. Similarly, R. Chajes suggests, the story of Beruriah's fate was removed from the Talmud by an early editor but Rashi recorded the tradition in order to explain the cryptic passage about R. Meir.