Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananyah is known throughout the Talmud as a foremost defender of Judaism, debating against heretics and government officials who tried to oppress the Jewish nation. Indeed, the famous Talmudic debate with the elders of Athens was led by Rabbi Yehoshua.1 With Rabbi Yehoshua’s passing, the rabbis proclaimed that there was no longer anyone capable of defending them.2

Yet Rabbi Yehoshua proclaimed, “In all my days no one ever bested me in a debate, except for a woman, a little boy and a little girl.”

What was the incident with the woman?

Rabbi Yehoshua related the following:

Once, when I stayed at a certain inn, the hostess served me a dish, and I didn’t leave anything over on my plate. The same thing transpired the second day. On the third day, she (intentionally) over-salted the dish, and I couldn’t eat it. I pushed it aside, stating that I had already eaten earlier.

The hostess then asked me, “If you ate earlier, why did you eat the bread? You should have refrained from eating altogether! Perhaps you are trying to amend for not leaving anything over on the first two days. For the sages stated, ‘A person should leave something over on their plate, and not finish their entire plate.’"3 (At the time, people customarily left food on their plates for the waiter, similar to today’s tips.)

Not only did the woman best Rabbi Yehoshua, but she taught us an important lesson about the proper way to criticize. Instead of directly accusing him that his actions were wrong, she let it pass the first time, and even overlooked it the second time. Finally, when she felt it was necessary to inform him about the custom of leaving over food on his plate, she only suggested it in an indirect manner.4