The Book of Ruth

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Even then, rabbinic imagination makes Orpah the ancestor of Goliath who will meet Ruth's descendant, David, in a final confrontation of these branches of the family. Elimelech and the sons die. The rabbis see the death as caused by their leaving of Canaan. In this they touch on a clear theme within the book: the love for this land, a rich and sensuous feeling rising out of the story and out of the loving descriptions of the land at harvest time. Naomi returns to Bethlehem, the "sweet one" made "bitter" by adversity.

Ruth's Declaration of Loyalty

Ruth remains with Naomi, while the realistic Orpah accepts Naomi's reasoning that the daughters‑in‑law need not become refugees in turn. The text needs no embellishments:

"Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after

you. For wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you lodge, I will

lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.

Where you die, I will die; and there will I be buried..."

It is a statement of loyalty and faith which endures through all generations. And the loyalty is soon put to the test, as Ruth goes out to glean in strange fields. There, in the field of Boaz, several patterns converge. Naomi has a plan which will obligate the kinsman to support her. Ruth has her own ideas which will, if realized, change her own position as well. And Boaz moves from an initial position of utter correctness and minimum courtesy to a granting of extra privileges which reflect a change within himself of which he is not fully aware at this point.

Boaz' Kindness

He acknowledges her right to glean behind his handmaidens and to remain unmolested in his fields, but he does not yet accede to her request to glean among the sheaves. By meal time, he is a changed person: she is to eat with him, she may glean among the sheaves, and his men are to drop part of their harvest for Ruth to acquire. Ruth returns home with "an efah of barley" (between 30 and 50 pounds according to modern authorities), and Naomi realizes that their future might be brighter than she had dared to hope.

The harvest comes to an end, and Naomi instructs Ruth in a new plan: she is to join Boaz at the threshing floor during his night of vigil. The vigil had cultic and ceremonial significance; and Ruth's preparations for the night are preparations of marriage. Whether or not the marriage was consummated on that night is debated, although the story is clear enough here: the consummation took place after the marriage (4:13) and was blessed by God with a son, Obed.

The Redeemer

The whole thrust of the narrative, of Boaz as  “the redeemer,” of Obed declared to be the son of Naomi, would lose its point had the relationship between Ruth and Boaz been other than a proper marriage between equals. The court scene, between Boaz and the other unnamed claimant, establishes this as it resolves the underlying patterns with a happy ending. And time and history place another dimension into this pattern: the covenant of love between Boaz and Ruth reminded the people Israel, in times of exile and need, that a similar covenant exists and continues between Israel and God.

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Albert H. Friedlander

Albert H. Friedlander won the Borne Prize 2003.

Herbert N Bronstein

Rabbi Herbert Bronstein was Senior Rabbi of North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, Illinois. He serves on the board of the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions. With the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, he created the first official Catholic/Jewish Dialogue and has also been active in working with the African-American and Muslim communities. He's also a well-known authority on William Shakespeare.