Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Muse: Megillat Rut

Megillat Rut is interesting in that it portrays the lives of our ancestors in a totally different light that how we see ourselves today. When reading the story there are several themes that jump out and suggest a need to reassess our Jewish outlook on life.

The first thing that strikes me is the role women play in the story and that nevertheless our sages incorporated the Megilla into the Cannon. True, in the Biblical text there is an inordinate amount of attention and importance given to the matriarchs, however they are counterbalanced by their husbands who dominate the Biblical narratives. In Megillat Rut, Boaz is a foil, and the narrative is dominated by women.

The conversion process in Megillat Rut also appears to be a genuine and seamless entry point into Jewish life. Rut’s declaration of faith and her willingness and eagerness to place her lot with the rest of the Hebrews is what it is really all about. Unlike the artificial, cumbersome and politically controlled system in Israel today, that of which we read in the Megilla seems warm and inviting.

It would also appear that society then as opposed to now was more open and inviting. The manner in which the Moabites are described and handled in the text doesn’t carry any negative connotations. It would appear that there was a greater interchange and social intercourse between people of different faiths.

Intermarriage although loathed and discouraged in our texts was something that did happen. I t would appear from the narrative in Megillat Rut that intermarriage which occurred within the family of Naomi wasn’t all that unusual. After all the text doesn’t refer to it in a pejorative manner, nor does it seem all that surprising from the text. It seems to be a given. (We also know that Samson who lived during the period of the Shoftim also consorted with the Philistines in Gaza. Although his family didn’t approve, it was tolerated, nor was he ostracized). This is not to say that we should welcome intermarriage, but in view of its prevalence within the Jewish community we need to find the correct responses to it, as was obviously found by our ancestors.