Bruriah (Hebrew: ברוריה) is one of several women quoted as a sage in the Talmud. She was the wife of the Tanna Rabbi Meir and the daughter of Rabbi Hananiah Ben Teradion, who is listed as one of the "Ten Martyrs." She is greatly admired for her breadth of knowledge in matters pertaining to both halachah and aggadah, and is said to have learned from the rabbis 300 halachot on a single cloudy day (Tractate Pesachim 62b). Her parents were put to death by the Romans for teaching Torah, but she carried on their legacy.
Bruriah was very involved in the halachic discussions of her time, and even challenges her father on a matter of ritual purity (Tosefta Keilim Bava Kamma 4:9). Her comments there are praised by Rabbi Judah Ben Bava. In another instance, Rabbi Joshua praises her intervention in a debate between Rabbi Tarfon and the sages, saying "Bruriah has spoken correctly" (Tosefta Keilim Bava Metzia 1:3).
She was also renowned for her sharp wit and often caustic jibes. The Talmud (Tractate Eruvin 53b) relates that she once chastised Rabbi Jose, when he asked her "באיזו דרך נלך ללוד" ("By which way do we go to Lod?") claiming that he could have said the same thing in two [Hebrew] words, "באיזה ללוד" ("By which to Lod?") instead of four, and thereby keep to the Talmudic injunction not to speak to women unnecessarily.
In the Midrash on Psalms 118 it states that Bruriah taught her husband, Rabbi Meir, to pray for the repentance of the wicked, rather than for their destruction. According to the story, she once found Rabbi Meir praying that an annoying neighbor would die. Appalled by this, she responded to him by explaining the verse "Let the sinners be consumed from the earth, and the wicked shall be no more" (Psalms 104:35), that the verse actually states: "Let sin be consumed from the earth," adding that "the wicked shall be no more" because they have repented. Another interpretation of the passage, one that fits with the Masoretic vocalization, suggests that Bruriah explained that the verse does not refer to "those who sin" (as a participle), but habitual "sinners" (as an agent noun).
She is also described as having enormous inner strength. The Midrash on the Book of Proverbs tells that her two sons died suddenly on the Sabbath, but she hid the fact from her husband until she could tell him in a way that would comfort him. In response, Rabbi Meir quoted the verse, "A woman of valour, who can find?" (Proverbs 31:10).
The Talmud, in Tractate Avodah Zarah (18b), mentions that in the middle of his life, Rabbi Meir fled to Babylonia, and mentions two possible motivations. The second of these is "the Bruriah incident" (מעשה דברוריא), a phrase which is not explained. It is left to the classical commentaries to fill in this lacuna; Rashi (ad loc.) relates the following story. Bruriah made light of the Talmudic assertion that women are "light-minded". To vindicate the Talmudic maxim, Rabbi Meir sent one of his students to seduce her. Though she initially resisted the student's advances, she eventually acceded to them. When she realized what she had done (כשנודע לה), she committed suicide out of shame. (Other sources have it that she fell ill emotionally due to shame, and a group of Rabbis prayed for her death and peace.) Rabbi Meir, in turn, exiled himself from Israel out of shame and fled to Babylonia.
But Rabenu Nissim Ben Yakov of Kairouan provides a different explanation that is closer to the text. According to him, Rabbi Meir and Bruriah had to flee to Babylonia after the Romans executed her father, sold her mother to slavery and her sister to a brothel (to be rescued by Rabbi Meir) and were looking for her. Other Rabbinic sources also take issue with Rashi's commentary, and indeed, there exists a tradition among Orthodox Rabbis to name their daughters Bruriah, as an assertion of her righteousness.
The commentators explain that she was really able to overcome that test but God punished her for speaking badly of the sages, saying that if she would have said the rabbis are correct, but she was an exception, there would have been no problems. The commentators also posit that there was no actual sin committed because the student was sterile; those that say there was an act of a sexual intercourse hold that Rabbi Meir pretended to be his own student. (It is interesting to note that it is Rashi who puts for this idea; he had only daughters and they were all scholarly. Some say they even wrote out his commentary.)
- Kiddushin 80b. Rashi there explains this phrase (נשים דעתן קלות עליהן, literally, "women's minds weigh lightly upon them") as indicating lack of sexual inhibition.
- Mentioned in a book of Midrashim attributed to Rabenu Nissim of Kairouan, "Chibur Yafe Min Hayeshua", http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=32282&st=%D7%91%D7%A8%D7%95%D7%A8%D7%99%D7%94&pgnum=31&hilite=61c9718f-a1d2-47cd-87e2-77212305c113