In Pursuit of Wholeness: The Book of Ruth in Modern Literature

In anticipation of the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, the Jewish Review of Books printed an adapted and shortened version of my essay in the newly released anthology Gleanings: Reflections on Ruth (Maggid Press, 2019).

“While not the most dramatic of all the biblical stories, the quietly moving book of Ruth, which we read on Shavuot, continues to resonate in Western literature. Sometimes the references are explicit, as when John Keats famously wrote, “Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home / She stood in tears amid the alien corn.” Yet we also encounter Ruth-like scenarios that draw on, or even undermine, the book’s central theme of chesed, or loving-kindness.

American novelist Marilynne Robinson and Israeli writer Meir Shalev invoke the Ruth story to tell biblically infused stories that expressly do not end in redemption. In contrast, S. Y. Agnon found a way to draw upon it while keeping the transformative spirit of the biblical narrative.”

To read more, see The Jewish Review of Books or for the full version the anthology is available on Amazon.

 

Love and Kingship: The Book of Ruth and Jerusalem Day

As temperatures rise and flowers bloom, we can feel the holiday of Shavuot approaching – perhaps our sweetest holiday – when the Book of Ruth is read in the synagogue. For a unique and even paradigm-shifting reading of Ruth, I highly recommend Rising Moon, by Rabbi Moshe Miller of Jerusalem. It is one of the most fascinating books of modern biblical interpretation I have come across. Rising Moon is structured like a drama in four acts, reflecting Ruth’s four chapters. It weaves together Biblical, midrashic and Kabbalistic sources, along with a wide range of insights from outside Jewish tradition – Adam Smith, Charles Darwin and the novel Dune all make key appearances. This eclectic mix of sources is employed to make a provocative claim about about the Book of Ruth in particular and about the history and destiny of the Jewish nation more broadly.

Continue reading “Love and Kingship: The Book of Ruth and Jerusalem Day”

Sweet Tooth: Ruth, Shakespeare and Shavuot

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Ruth and Naomi (He Qi, 2001)

Amid the later books of the Bible’s prophecies of destruction and accounts of divine retribution, the book of Ruth stands out. The midrash in Ruth Rabbah (2:14)  states: “This megillah has no laws of purity or impurity, no transgressions and no mitzvot. So why was it written? It is just to teach how much reward comes to those who act with loving-kindness (chesed).”

In the context of the Bible, Ruth is unusually sweet. Sin, if present at all, remains in the background. Its characters must choose between the merely permissible and the exceptionally virtuous.

Continue reading “Sweet Tooth: Ruth, Shakespeare and Shavuot”