It is not very often that we find the name of a woman mentioned in the Talmud. Bruriah was one such exception, a great Jewish woman whose wisdom, piety, and learning inspire us to this day.
Beruriah lived about one hundred years after the destruction of the Second Beth Hamikdosh, which occurred in the year 70 CE. She was the daughter of the great Rabbi Chananiah ben Teradion, who was one of the "Ten Martyrs" whom the Romans killed for spreading the teachings of the Torah among the Jewish people.
When the Romans caught Rabbi Chananiah with a Torah scroll, they burnt him, his wife and a daughter. They wrapped the scroll about his body and put wet sponges around him so that he should not burn too quickly, but that his death should be long and painful. But Rabbi Chananiah remained staunch and steadfast to the very end. His Roman hangman was so inspired by the courage and faith of this great Jewish Sage, that he removed the sponges to ease his victim's suffering and jumped into the flames to burn and die with the saint.
Beruriah was not only the daughter of a great man but was also the wife of an equally great Sage, the saintly Rabbi Meir, one of the most important teachers of the Mishnah.
The Talmud tells us many stories about Beruriah. She studied three hundred matters pertaining to Halachah (Jewish law) every day, which would be quite an amazing feat for any scholar. Thus, the Sages frequently asked her views regarding matters of law, especially those laws which applied to women. For instance, the Sages had different opinions about the law of purity and asked Beruriah for her opinion. Rabbi Judah sided with her and recognized her authority.
There was another case where there was a dispute between Beruriah and her brother, Rabbi Simeon ben Teradion. One of the greatest authorities was asked to judge the case and he said: "Rabbi Chananiah's daughter Beruriah is a greater scholar than his son Rabbi Simon."
Beruriah was very well versed in the Holy Scriptures and could quote from them with ease. To illustrate what her character was like, we are told the following stories in the Talmud:
Beruriah had a sister who was spared by the Romans and carried off to the city of Antioch where they wanted to force her to live a life of shame. Beruriah urged her husband Rabbi Meir to take the great risk of going to Antioch and saving her sister. Not only did Rabbi Meir succed in freeing her, but he also made an investigation and managed to obtain witnesses, proving that his sister-in-law had remained pure, which was very important for her future. This investigation made it necessary for them all to flee from the Holy Land. Beruriah fled with her husband to Babylonia to share his exile with him there.
Another time, Rabbi Meir was very disturbed by the noisy, drunken parties of his neighbors. Their terrible behavior was such that they constantly interfered with his Torah study. In his anger, Rabbi Meir once prayed that G‑d rid him of these wicked pests. Hearing him, Beruriah gently said to him: "The Psalmist says: 'May the sins disappear from the earth.' You see, the word is sins, not sinners. One should pray that evil disappear, then there will be no evildoers."
The most touching and most famous story about the piety, wisdom and courage of Beruriah describes the death of her two beloved sons. One Sabbath while Rabbi Meir was in the Beth Hamidrosh, sudden sickness struck their children and they passed away before anything could be done for them.
Beruriah covered them up in the bedroom and did not say a word to anyone. After nightfall Rabbi Meir returned from the House of Learning and asked for his sons. Casually, Beruriah remarked that they had gone out. She calmly prepared the Havdalah, the cup of wine, the light and the spices. She also distracted him while she prepared and served the Melaveh Malkah, the evening meal with which a Jew accompanies the departing "Sabbath Queen." Then, after Rabbi Meir had finished eating, Beruriah asked him for an answer to the following problem:
"Tell me, my husband, what shall I do? Some time ago something was left with me for safe-keeping. Now the owner has returned to claim it. Must I return it?"
"That is a very strange question indeed. How can you doubt the right of the owner to claim what belongs to him?" Rabbi Meir exclaimed in astonishment.
"Well, I did not want to return it without letting you know of it," replied Beruriah. She then led her husband into the bedroom where their two sons lay in their eternal sleep. She removed the bedcovers from their still bodies. Rabbi Meir, seeing his beloved sons, and realizing that they had passed away, burst out into bitter weeping.
"My dear husband," Beruriah gently reminded him. "Didn't you yourself say a moment ago that the owner has the right to claim his property? G‑d gave and has taken away; blessed be the name of G‑d."