This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
The Book of Ruth, which is read on the
Festival of Shavuot, is one of the best-developed narratives in the Bible, complete with dramatic tension, an intricate plot, strong female characters, death and tears, stark poverty alongside comfortable wealth; it even has a happy ending. e kernel of the story is the selﬂess choice made by Ruth the Moabite, a young widow, to stay with her mother-inlaw, Naomi, who had no status or property whatsoever, and return with her to the Land of Judah. “For wherever you go, I will go,” says Ruth, “wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” Why was the Book of Ruth included in the biblical canon? Perhaps it was due to Ruth’s lineage, as King David’s great-grandmother – or perhaps due to its underlying values. Midrash Ruth Rabbah attributes a good explanation to the amora Rabbi Ze’ira (who made aliya from Babylonia to Eretz Israel): “ is scroll contains neither the impure nor the pure, neither prohibition nor permission; why therefore was it written? To teach you the great reward for compassionate deeds” (Ruth Rabbah 2, 14). Hesed (compassionate deeds) is the keyword for understanding the Book of Ruth. One wishes that the following story, it too dealing with
converts to Judaism, had reﬂected the concept of hesed. It happened during the Second Lebanon War, or perhaps during Operation Cast Lead, or maybe on some mission between the two. In fact, I remember exactly when it happened, but I can’t reveal the details; they must remain obscure. Neither will I divulge the name of the story’s hero, though he is no longer with us. We’ll call him Uriel. He was a soldier. His parents, who made the ultimate sacriﬁce, can be Moshe and Sara. True, their son is buried deep in the ground, but you never know. I can think of more than one person who, if the true details were known, might decide to reinter him. Uriel’s family is a member of one of the 60 congregations in Israel that are aﬃliated with the Masorti movement. We’ve known them for years, a wonderful family. ey made aliya in the 1990s and become well-integrated into Israeli society. Uriel celebrated his bar mitzvah at our congregation. He was an outstanding student in high school, a hiker, a bright, happy boy. When he was drafted, no one was surprised to hear that he chose to serve in an elite unite. e news of his death reached us late at night and plunged us all into deep pain. en - we tensed. Uriel’s mother had undergone a Conservative conversion: according to the fundamentalists
who are in charge of most cemeteries in Israel, Uriel was not considered Jewish. Where are they going to bury him? Do they know about his mother? Will they allow him to attain eternal rest in the military cemetery, or will they perhaps try to create some secluded plot for him, on one pretext or another? What must we do now – should we tell the parents about these fears? Add to their frenzied sorrow with the shock that their son’s funeral might become a
No example could be more salient than IDF military service for understanding Ruth’s simple explanation of the essence of conversion. “Your people shall be my people,” Ruth told Naomi: belonging to the people takes precedence over belief in its God, the national takes precedence over the religious. According to Ruth’s priorities, the people of Israel come before the Torah. A lesson for our times, perhaps.
Continued on page 4 >>
Untitled (Ruth and Naomi), Adi Nes, 2006. Color Photograph
>> Continued from page 3
travesty? It wouldn’t be the ﬁrst time. We decided not to involve the parents; we readied a battery of lawyers and counted the minutes until the funeral and then during its course. Afterwards, we breathed a sigh of relief, as callous as that may sound. e IDF rabbinate and Hevra Kadisha Burial Society didn’t know anything about Uriel’s mother, as far as we could tell. He was buried like any other Jewish soldier killed in action. No example could be more salient than IDF military service for understanding Ruth’s simple explanation of the essence of conversion. “Your people shall be my people,” Ruth told Naomi: belonging to the people takes precedence over belief in its God, the national takes precedence over the religious. According to Ruth’s priorities, the people of Israel come before the Torah. A lesson for our times, perhaps. What she is telling us is that taking an active part in the history of the Jewish people is no less important
–perhaps even more so – than paying rigorous, at times obstinate, attention to every jot and tittle of purported commandments. Today, when over 350 thousand people who made aliya under the Law of Return yet are not Jewish, according to e Orthodox Jewish law, are living amongst us, it seems that no great eﬀort is needed to prove how extremely pertinent Ruth’s wisdom is to our lives today.. However, that would require courage on the part of the rabbis, and worthy spiritual leadership. e Orthodox monopoly on religious services, awarded by law in the State of Israel, lacks these two qualities. Uriel was permitted to serve in the IDF, but – had he not been killed – if, after his military service, he had wished to marry, the State of Israel would have turned him down pointblank. Any proof Uriel could have furnished of his Jewishness, at the Chief Rabbinate oﬃces where he lived, would have met with an arrogant sneer,
or even cruel contempt. Uriel could have had a Conservative rabbi perform the ceremony, but such a marriage is not recognized by the Ministry of Interior Aﬀairs; for that he would have had to go to Cyprus, because Israel does recognize the authority of the Larnaca municipal oﬃcials in performing marriages. Upon his death, Uriel was spared the humiliation of the dead that we were afraid of. But in all honesty and with great sadness, we have to say that every day the State of Israel humiliates the living. May we celebrate Shavuot this year with love and joy, and hope that thanks to the compassionate deeds of Ruth the Moabite, we will learn her lessons and celebrate Shavuot next year in an Israel that is more moral and just.
Adv. Yizhar Hess is CEO of the Masorti Movement in Israel.
>> Continued from front page
Many texts urge us to partner with God: to stop complaining and create a more just, equitable world. Upon receiving the Law at Sinai, when any normal nation would prostrate itself and show some respect for the live broadcast of its religion, we get into a ﬂurry about the Golden Calf; Moses is livid and shatters the tablets of the Law. And God? According to Rashi, God tells him: “You broke them: Well done!”. e broken tablets became a sacred part of the Ark of the Law: we lugged them around with us in the desert, because shattering the tablets is a great Jewish act that set an example for many generations to come. A piece of that act, the shattering of the tablets, is within every one of our consciences: that part of our soul which orients us toward the right and good and serves as our moral compass. e tikkun on Shavuot eve is an opportunity to start ﬁnding that place with the compass we are given, without fear, without letting indiﬀerence sit us back down in the chair. An example of a courageous act would be joining a political party. Phone your local branch, pay a few shekels, and get involved. at’s how you make an impact on Israel’s political leadership – not on a chair or a couch. We must internalize the fact that being a citizen in a democracy does not boil down to going to the polls once every four years; the job requires commitment, determination and a strong stomach, all year long. We must not be put oﬀ by heavy doses of the media: better to balance our diet with a variety of sources so as to know how to wisely pick our battles and when to get angry. Get angry in an informed way. ere’s no shortage of infuriating things, we just have to choose the ones that really get under our skin -
A piece of that act, the shattering of the tablets, is within every one of our consciences: that part of our soul which orients us toward the right and good and serves as our moral compass. The tikkun on Shavuot eve is an opportunity to start ﬁnding that place with the compass we are given, without fear, without letting indifference sit us back down in the chair.
the ones that make us mad enough to spur us to action. And we need partners: natural partners are people with values and courage, just like all of you sitting here tonight. We are most fortunate to be citizens of Israel, the only Jewish state in the world. We are called upon to take part in a gripping, unique, historic moment: Jews deciding what their common values are and how these values should govern a sovereign state in the modern world. Israel’s Declaration of Independence is replete with excellent intentions and teeming with sublime ideals, but in order to implement them we need people who are willing – every day – to do something that will enable us to be “a free people in our land”: the state “ will foster the development of the country for the beneﬁt of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all
its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture it will foster the development of the country for the beneﬁt of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture” (from Israel’s Declaration of Independence).
Anat Ho man heads the Center for Jewish Pluralism of the Reform movement. e Center spearheads the struggle for recognition of non-Orthodox conversion in Israel and is a determined partner in promoting freedom of choice in marriage and divorce