Book of Ruth, which is read on theFestival of Shavuot, is one of the best-developednarratives in the Bible, complete with dramatictension, an intricate plot, strong femalecharacters, death and tears, stark poverty alongside comfortable wealth; it even has ahappy ending. e kernel of the story is theselﬂess choice made by Ruth the Moabite,a young widow, to stay with her mother-in-law, Naomi, who had no status or property whatsoever, and return with her to the Landof Judah. “For wherever you go, I will go,” saysRuth, “wherever you lodge, I will lodge; yourpeople shall be my people, and your God my God.”Why was the Book of Ruth included in thebiblical canon? Perhaps it was due to Ruth’slineage, as King David’s great-grandmother – orperhaps due to its underlying values. MidrashRuth Rabbah attributes a good explanation tothe amora Rabbi Ze’ira (who made aliya fromBabylonia to Eretz Israel): “is scroll containsneither the impure nor the pure, neitherprohibition nor permission; why therefore wasit written? To teach you the great reward forcompassionate deeds” (Ruth Rabbah 2, 14).
(compassionate deeds) is the keyword forunderstanding the Book of Ruth. One wishesthat the following story, it too dealing withconverts to Judaism, had reﬂected the conceptof
.It happened during the Second Lebanon War, orperhaps during Operation Cast Lead, or maybeon some mission between the two. In fact, Iremember exactly when it happened, but I can’treveal the details; they must remain obscure.Neither will I divulge the name of the story’shero, though he is no longer with us. We’ll callhim Uriel. He was a soldier. His parents, whomade the ultimate sacriﬁce, can be Mosheand Sara. True, their son is buried deep in theground, but you never know. I can think of morethan one person who, if the true details wereknown, might decide to reinter him.Uriel’s family is a member of one of the 60congregations in Israel that are aﬃliated withthe Masorti movement. We’ve known them foryears, a wonderful family. ey made aliya in the1990s and become well-integrated into Israelisociety. Uriel celebrated his bar mitzvah at ourcongregation. He was an outstanding studentin high school, a hiker, a bright, happy boy.When he was drafted, no one was surprised tohear that he chose to serve in an elite unite. enews of his death reached us late at night andplunged us all into deep pain. en - we tensed.Uriel’s mother had undergone a Conservativeconversion: according to the fundamentalistswho are in charge of most cemeteries in Israel,Uriel was not considered Jewish. Where arethey going to bury him? Do they know abouthis mother? Will they allow him to attaineternal rest in the military cemetery, or will they perhaps try to create some secluded plot forhim, on one pretext or another? What must wedo now – should we tell the parents about thesefears? Add to their frenzied sorrow with theshock that their son’s funeral might become a
No example could be moresalient than IDF military service for understanding Ruth’s simpleexplanation of the essenceof conversion. “Your peopleshall be my people,” Ruth toldNaomi: belonging to the people takes precedence over belief in its God, the national takesprecedence over the religious.According to Ruth’s priorities, the people of Israel come before the Torah. A lesson for our times, perhaps.
Untitled (Ruth and Naomi),
Adi Nes, 2006. Color PhotographContinued on page 4 >>