"Beruriah said well": The many lives (and deaths) of a Talmudic social critic

Tova Hartman, Charlie Buckholtz

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6 Scopus citations


This article revisits the iconic Talmudic figure Beruriah. We examine both her representation in the Talmud and several significant appropriations in the medieval and modern periods, focusing on her depiction in Rashi's disturbing gloss on the "Beruriah Incident." One of the only women represented in rabbinic literature as a Torah scholar on par with the rabbis themselves, dominant modern readings of Beruriah have tended to present her as a kind of proto-liberal feminist, a woman who can function competently and successfully in the male-dominated spheres of intellectual achievement and cultural power. The modern Orthodox Jewish community has appropriated her as a traditional precedent for the legitimacy of women's Torah study. We argue that approaches limiting Beruriah's significance to her status as a "woman who is like a man" has overlooked the words attributed to her, and missed what we claim is a more radical social-critical voice. Our reading acknowledges Beruriah's vaunted equality with her culture-hero contemporaries, while highlighting the ways in which she is also represented as an outsider identified with those at the margins of cultural power, who knows the many ways in which that power is abused and when confronted with such abuses speaks out to critique them. Repeatedly affronted and disappointed by what she sees as a gap between the core values of the tradition and the thoughtless and/or irresponsible ways in which she experiences the rabbis (her relatives and peers) treating her and others, from her words emerge a social-critical voice that is also a voice of rabbinic self-critique. © 2011 by Prooftexts Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-209
Number of pages29
JournalProoftexts - Journal of Jewish Literature History
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2011


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