The Jew has been persecuted for being “other.” But “otherness” is the condition of individuation, the condition of being set apart from the rest of creation in the glorious — and murderous — species of humankind and, in addition, set apart from our fellow humans as individuals, always “other.”
Judaism: a paradoxically collective experience of individuation. Exemplary of the human condition.
Edmond Jabes (April 16, 1912 – Paris, January 2, 1991) was a French writer and poet of an Egyptian origin, and one of the best known literary figures to write in French after World War II.
The (Possible) Role of Shame and Social Status:
Why did Naomi want to return them? So that she would not be embarrassed by them. We find that there were ten markets in Jerusalem, and they [i.e., the classes of people who shopped at each] never intermingled . . . . The people were recognized by their clothing – what one class wore, another would not . . . . (Ruth Zuta 1:8).
1. What is the plan here and who plans?
2. Does Ruth follow the plan?
3. Why do you think the question of identity is repeated twice?
4. How do the twin themes of identity and strangeness play out in this story?
5. Why do you think we read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot?
The Book of Naomi and Ruth
By Marge Piercy
When you pick up the Tanakh and read
the Book of Ruth, it is a shock
how little it resembles memory.
It’s concerned with inheritance,
lands, men’s names, how women
must wiggle and wobble to live.
Yet women have kept it dear
for the beloved elder who
cherished Ruth, more friend than
daughter. Daughters leave. Ruth
brought even the baby she made
with Boaz home as a gift.
Where you go, I will go too,
your people shall be my people,
I will be a Jew for you,
for what is yours I will love
as I love you, oh Naomi
my mother, my sister, my heart.
Show me a woman who does not dream
a double, heart’s twin, a sister
of the mind in whose ear she can whisper,
whose hair she can braid as her life
twists its pleasure and pain and shame.
Show me a woman who does not hide
in the locket of bone that deep
eye beam of fiercely gentle love
she had once from mother, daughter,
sister; once like a warm moon
that radiance aligned the tides
of her blood into potent order.
At the season of first fruits, we recall
two travelers, co-conspirators, scavengers
making do with leftovers and mill ends,
whose friendship was stronger than fear,
stronger than hunger, who walked together,
the road of shards, hands joined.
Marge Piercy is a contemporary writer and activist.
Dr. Leila L. Bronner on Hesed
Hesed is indeed one of the key words controlling the text....
Every character acting in this brief story–from Naomi to Ruth to Boaz to the minor characters–behaves in a manner that demonstrates this heroic concept of some form of hesed. The main actors of the story all act in the spirit of hesed; some perform ordinary hesed, and some–especially Ruth–extraordinary hesed.Their exemplary behavior is somewhat reminiscent of that of the patriarchs and matriarchs.
The Ruth narrative resembles the older narratives in language, content, and style (Ruth 3.3-9; cf. Genesis 24.12-14). Ruth, like Abraham–the founder of the nation, the first of the proselytes–leaves the house of her father and mother and goes to join a people who, as far as she knows, will not accept her because of her foreign origins (Midrash GenesisRabbah 59.9; Talmud, Sukkah 49b). Yet she will not be dissuaded and joins the Israelite nation, with no thought of reward for this act of affiliation, and in this lies her great hesed.
The rabbinic sources emphasize the superabundancy of hesed,its "more- than-enoughness." As Maimonides puts it, the concept of hesed:
"Includes two notions, one of them consisting in the exercise of beneficence toward one who deserves it, but in a greater measure than he deserves it. In most cases, the prophetic books use the word hesed in the sense of practicing beneficence toward one who has no right at all to claim this from you" [Guide for the Perplexed].
Ruth’s mode is the second, to practice benevolence toward people who have no claim on her for it.
Excerpted from “A Thematic Approach to Ruth in Rabbinic Literature,” which appears in A Feminist Companion to Ruth, edited by Athalya Brenner and published by Sheffield Academic Press. Reprinted with permission of The Continuum International Publishing Group
Rebbetzin Leila Leah Bronner (née Amsel; April 22, 1930 – July 2, 2019) was an American historian and biblical scholar. She was born in Czechoslovakia and immigrated to the United States in 1937, growing up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Until the End of Strangeness
...because we were strangers in Egypt, [strangers] deserve.. special goodness for life or at least until the end of strangeness."
From Grace Paley, Midrash on Happiness