The Book of Ruth

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All of the story is brought to a successful conclusion. First, there is the matter of redeeming Elimelech's property, Naomi's only possibility of reestablishing herself in the land. The anonymous kinsman is anxious to purchase the land. Since Naomi has no male descendants, the property would then become part of his permanent family holding. Then Boaz reminds him that marriage to Ruth would be part of the obligation. The son of that marriage would be assigned to Naomi, and the final outcome of the contract would see the land revert to Naomi and her family. The kinsman demurs, and Boaz happily accepts the privilege and obligation of marrying Ruth and raising a family for Naomi.

Professor Herbert Brichto points out that the welfare of the dead depended upon descendants retaining ancestral property, and that the unknown kinsman had no desire to raise a son who would continue Mahlon's name. The irony is clear: it is the kinsman whose name is forgotten!

The Unfolding of a Divine Pattern

The Scroll of Ruth is not a legal document giving instruction on levirate marriage and land redemption. As Jack Sassoon has pointed out, it is a folk tale, with the structure and logic of the storyteller's art. It takes the legalities of the time for granted, as incidental to the unfolding of a Divine pattern within human lives, in the creation of a family tree for King David, with possible intimations of a messianic kingdom. It began with the suffering of Naomi, and ends with her joy. The declaration of Ruth is fulfilled: the destinies of Naomi and Ruth are interlocked, they are now one family and one faith. Boaz has fulfilled both of their hopes; he has been the redeemer to Naomi, the true husband to Ruth. And the community rejoices.

Hesed (Steadfast Kindness) Trumps Status

Some scholars have argued that the book was written to defend intermarriage. It was, they contend, a kind of tract put out against the demand made by Ezra on the return from exile that Jews who had remained in the land must divorce their non‑Jewish wives. Certainly, it gives full rights to a Moabite woman who then becomes the ancestress of the royal house of the Jewish people, of King David who comes to represent the messianic ideal, the unity and peace which will embrace all humanity

Loyalty to the faith of Israel is fused with the love of humanity for whom the Torah was revealed. As this text becomes part of Shavuot, the festival of that revelation, the convert who joins Ruth freely, with all her love and loyalty given freely, stands before Sinai and receives the Torah…

Rabbi Zeira said: "This scroll is not concerned with either

purity or defilement, either prohibition or permission. Why,

then, was it written?  To teach you of a magnificent reward to

those who practice and dispense hesed (steadfast kindness)."

(Ruth Rabba, 2:15)

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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.