Ifra Hormiz of Sistan (c.275 - d.)

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Death: (Date and location unknown)
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About Ifra Hormiz of Sistan

Bavli Taanit 24b, Steinsaltz, Volume 14, pp. 137-138: [There was] a certain man who had been sentenced to lashes in the court of Rava because he had sexual intercourse with a non-Jewish women. Rava ordered that he be flogged and he died [as a result of his flogging].

The matter was heard in the House of King Shavor (Shapur II), [and] he wished to cause Rava distress. Ifra Hurmiz, the mother of King Shavor, said to her son: “Do not have a confrontation with the Jews, for whatever they ask of their Master, He gives them.” He said to her: “What is that?” “They petition for mercy and rain comes.” He said to her: “That is because it is the time for rain. Rather, let them petition for mercy now, in the summer, and let rain come.”

She sent to Rava: “Direct your attention, and petition for mercy that rain should come.” He petitioned for rain, but rain did not come.

He said before God: “Master of the Universe! ‘We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work You did in their days, the days of old,’ but we with our eyes have not seen [anything].” Rain came until the gutters of Mehoza poured into the Tigris.

His father came [and] appeared to him in a dream, [and] said to him: “Is there anyone who puts Heaven to so much trouble?” He said to him: “Change your place,” He changed his place. The next day he found that his bed had been slashed by knives.

Background King Shapur and Ifra Hormuz According to Rabbi Steinsaltz, in his side notes on page 138, “Ifra Hurmiz was a Persian queen, the mother of Shapur II (309-378 C.E.). Since Shapur was crowned when he was born, his mother had great influence on him for many years. Ifra Hurmiz is mentioned several times in the Talmud as an admirer of Judaism of the Sages, even giving money to some of the Sages to distribute as charity and in the performance of good deeds.”

We learn on B. Baba Batra 8a-b that she donated a chest of gold to be used for the highest mitsvah. This mitsvah turns out to be the redemption of captives.

Rava’s lashes Having sexual intercourse with an idolater was considered to be akin to adopting an idol to be one’s god and entering into a marital relationship with that god. In other words, making a covenant with another god can be expressed by, and is reflective of, who a man intimately encounters (B. Sanhedrin 82a).

This is one of those passages which must be fully understood in its context. The mishnah on which this gemara commented was one which speaks of misdeeds which could not rightly be punished by a human court (B. Sanhedrin 81b) and so were left to death by the Heavenly Court. In that sense, then, the flogging was not lethal punishment but provided the opportunity for the edict of the Heavenly Court to make itself manifest.

Apparently, God was none too happy with Rava’s course of action as, once God’s judgment is unleashed it carries away all the guilty in its train. In other words, Rava’s harshness and request for rain brought God’s focus, as it were, to this one small place. Rabbi Steinsaltz notes, on page 138 that, “the destructive forces unleashed by God are restricted in activity to a particular place. Thus a person against whom a divine decree has been issued is safe from harm if he moves to a different place.”

Discussion Questions 1. Ifra Hurmiz was clearly an influential, wealthy, non-Jewish woman who helped the Jewish community. She is set against the unnamed non-Jewish woman who slept with the unnamed man. How are these figures similar? Different? How do they reflect the range of ways non-Jews can relate to the Jewish community?

2. How does the principle “measure for measure” work in this story? Is it a complete symmetry literarily? Why or why not? If Ifra Hurmiz is balanced by the non-Jewish woman who slept with the man who was lashed how do the other characters pair up, so to speak? What does this reveal about the story’s intent?