Think the wives of Talmudic rabbis were submissive yes-women? Think again!

I happen to find some stories in the Talmud highly entertaining – especially the ones about the wives of the great Talmudic sages living some 1,500 years ago in Babylon (Iraq).  If you imagined them as these quiet little demure and docile yes-women who were submissive to the men in their lives, you are in for a few surprises:

Surprise #1:

Rabbi Yosi the Galilean was travelling on the road. He met Bruria (the wife of Rabbi Meir) and asked her: “Which way must we take to the city of Lud?”

She answered: “You Galilean fool! Did not our sages say, “Do not converse much with a woman? You should have just asked, “Which way to Lud!”

The same Bruria once found a young scholar learning quietly to himself. She kicked him and said: “It is written [II Samuel 13:5]: ‘Firm in all and sure,’ which signifies that if the Law is firmly imbedded in all the two hundred and forty-eight parts of the body [i.e. if one puts all his energy into his studies] it can remain with the man, otherwise it cannot!”

(Babylonian Talmud: Eruvin 53b)

Surprise #2:

Here’s a lovely passage about reciting the blessings after meals over a cup of wine:

Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Whoever says the blessing over a full cup is given an inheritance without bounds….  Rabbi Yosi son of Rabbi Ḥanina says: He is privileged to inherit two worlds, this world and the next….  It was taught, ‘He sends [the cup] around to the members of his household,’ so that his wife may be blessed.

‘Ula was once at the house of Rabbi Naḥman. They had a meal and he [Ula] said grace, and he handed the cup of benediction to Rabbi Naḥman. Rabbi Naḥman said to him, “Please send the cup of benediction to Yalta [Rabbi Naḥman’s wife].” 

He [Ula] said to him [Rabbi Naḥman], “Thus said Rabbi Yoḥanan, ‘The fruit of a woman’s body is blessed only from the fruit of a man’s body….’ [So you don’t need to give the cup to Yalta.]

Meanwhile Yalta heard, and she got up in a passion and went to the wine cellar and broke four hundred jars of wine. Rabbi Naḥman said to him, “Let the Master send her another cup!!”

He sent it to her with a message: “All that wine can be counted as a blessing.”

She returned an answer: “Gossip comes from peddlers and vermin from rags.”

(Babylonian Talmud: Brachos 51b)

“Gossip comes from peddlers and vermin from rags!”  Ouch!!

Surprise #3:

Apparently the assets of the great Talmudic sage Abaye were left to the rabbinic court in Maḥuza in Babylon to administer.  Abaye’s wife Homa, whose previous two husbands also had passed away, went to the court one day to try to obtain some of Abaye’s money so she could buy some food – and some wine.  It didn’t go so well.  Ḥoma, meet Rava’s wife, a.k.a. “Rav Ḥisda’s daughter:”

Ḥoma, Abaye’s wife, came to Rava [in court] and asked him, ‘Grant me an allowance of food,’ and he granted her the allowance.

‘Grant me [she again demanded] an allowance of wine.’

‘I know,’ he said to her, ‘that [Abaye] did not drink wine.’

‘[I swear] by the life of the Master,’ she replied, ‘that he gave me to drink from horns like these!’

As she was showing [the horns] to him, her arm was uncovered and a light shone upon the court. Rava rose, went home and solicited R. Ḥisda’s daughter [i.e. Rava’s wife]

‘Who has been today at the court?’ enquired Rav Ḥisda’s daughter.

‘Ḥoma, the wife of Abaye,’ he replied.

Thereupon she went after her, striking her with leather straps until she chased her out of all Maḥuza.  ‘You have,’ she said to her, ‘already killed three [men], and now you come to kill another [man]!’

(Babylonian Talmud: Kesubos 65a)

Damn.

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