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Study ‘The Book of Ruth’ with me

Posted by Oyster on May 24, 2007

Oyster Book of Ruth study

Khag Shavu’ot Same’akh! Oyster invites you to study Megillat Rut, or The Book of Ruth with him.

I’m not really sure where I got this idea, but I really wanted to study the Book of Ruth before tomorrow morning’s reading. And so I’ll go through it now, and I’ll jot down questions and reactions to the text as I go along. Bear with me, folks. I’m live-blogging some learning!

Megillat Rut - page one

The Artscroll commentary gives three good explanations about the reasons why we study Megillat Rut on Shavuot: the story of Ruth takes place during the season of Shavuot, the analogy of Ruth entering the Covenant with the Jewish people entering the Covenanat at Sinai (I personally like this one), and Shavuot being the yahrzeit of King David; one of Ruth’s descendents.

… Ephrathites of Beit-Lechem in Judah. 1:2. What is an Ephrathite? Coming from the Tribe of Ephraim.

… and the woman was left bereft of her two children and of her husband. 1:5. Reminds me of Yoav.

And it came to pass, when they arrived in Beit-Lechem, the entire city was tumultuous over them… 1:20. This could be interpreted in many ways. Were they excited to see Naomi return, with Ruth? Or was it a ‘shonda’, seeing the prodigal daughter return, with a goy? In a modern observant Jewish context, I imagine that it would be quite the scandal to have a Jewish matron come back to her home community, to find that her Jewish husband was dead, her Jewish children were dead, and her two dead Jewish sons had married non-Jews, and one of them had returned with her.

Boaz makes Ruth feel accepted and welcome (2:8-13). A beautiful exchange. May anyone considering the Jewish view of conversion study these verses.

Boaz states repeatedly, not to molest her (2:9), not to embarrass her (2:15), and not to rebuke her (2:16). His repetition of these warnings to Jews not to treat her badly is probably the basis of the Jewish attitude towards converts: they are to be treated as fully-fledged Jews, equals, and it is even a sin to remind them that they are converts and that they weren’t born Jewish (i.e., to try to imply that they “aren’t really Jewish”).

…”He is one of our redeeming kinsmen”. (2:20). Naomi describing Boaz to Ruth. What does ‘redeeming kinsman’ mean? Why don’t they just say ‘kin’, or ‘family’, or something like that? What is redeemed? Did Boaz somehow help redeem Elimelekh, Naomi’s husband (to whom Boaz is related)?

‘Winnowing barley’ (3:2)? What does that mean? I guess to winnow means to separate the chaff from the grain, usually by blowing air on it.

“All that you say to me I will do”. Ruth pledging to Naomi, 3:5. Here is a strong textual connection to Shavuot. Wow, I can’t believe that I haven’t heard this before, or noticed it before. Remember that famous line from the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai (Parashat Yitro)? “Everything that HaShem has spoken we shall do!” Exodus, 19:8. In this way, we might even surmise that the story of Ruth and Boaz is allegorical (in the same way as Shir HaShirim) about the Covenant between the Children of Israel and HaShem.

The night encounter between Ruth and Boaz (3:6-15). Some modern interpreters of these passages see this as a tale of seduction on the part of Ruth, and that the two of them consummate their feelings on “the threshing floor”. Some even go as far as to suggest that “uncovering his feet” (3:7) is a euphemism for “uncovering his genitals”. It’s hard to read the line “spread your robe over your handmaid” (3:9) and not, at least, interpret it as Ruth being cold, and wanting to cuddle with Boaz.

Redeemer madness (3:10-4:10). It becomes clear here that the term ‘redeemer’ in Megillat Rut is in reference to inheiritance and land-rights. This is very fitting, since we read the parasha on the laws of land redemption (Behar) not too long ago. It turns out that the p’shat understanding of what is going on here, is that Boaz is making a deft maneuver. He is setting things up so that when he approaches the Beit Din (judges) of Beit-Lechem at the gate, he will ensure that he will inherit the estate of Elimelekh, and not a closer relative than Boaz. And along with such an agreement, he puts in a clause that he will perpetuate the memory of Mahlon, son of Naomi and Elimelekh and husband of Ruth, by marrying Ruth. The redeemer, “Ploni Almoni”, is unwilling to do this last obligation, a form of the Levirate Marriage, because it might jeopardize the inheiritance of his current children (if he bears children by Ruth). I guess we may extrapolate that Boaz, at this point, doesn’t have any children?

“Come over, sit down here, Ploni Almoni”, 4:1. I forgot where I read this recently, but I heard that in modern Hebrew, the expression ‘Ploni Almoni’ is Israeli-slang for “average Joe”, or “John Doe”. I wonder if its usage here is in the same way, or if the slang derives from this verse.

More shoe craziness. Ploni Almoni and Boaz seal the deal with an ancient custom of taking off one’s shoe! This echoes Ruth taking off Boaz’s shoes. In both cases, a deal is being made. A covenant. Are there any mention of shoes being taken off at Har Sinai?

Naomi took the child, and held it in her bosom, and she became his nurse. 4:16. The use of the term ‘nurse’ here should not be misunderstood as a medical nurse, but rather as the wet nurse; a nanny that breast-feeds someone else’s infant. Naomi adopting this role reinforces the interpretation of Boaz marrying Ruth as a form of continuing the line of Elimelekh and Mahlon. In fact, the neighborhood women explicitly state, “a son is born to Naomi” (4:17).

Well, that’s about it! Lemme know what you thought about this ‘study session’ of sorts. 🙂


4 Responses to “Study ‘The Book of Ruth’ with me”

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  4. Oyster said

    Re-reading this for the first time in a while…

    To answer my own question: Yes, there is another scene where one takes off their shoes. Moishe Rabbeinu & the burning bush. HaShem says: ‘Take off your shoes, for you stand on consecrated ground.’, or something to that effect.

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