Ruth the Righteous Convert and Grandmother of King David

    May, 1998          
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The Inner Being of Ruth

By Samuel Glickstein

  The book of Ruth is one of the holy books of the Bible. The book describes events that happened almost three thousand years ago. From the events that are recorded in this book, which is attributed to Samuel the prophet, we learn many interesting ideas concerning conversion to Judaism and the house of David and the Messiah. Yet in this book, there are many problematic ideas. One of them concerns the conversion of Ruth, the great-grandmother of David and the Messiah to come. In the book, she is presented as a person who marries a Jew, yet her conversion credentials are sorely lacking. To understand this monument difficulty let us first present a brief overview.

  The book concerns itself with Naomi, the wife of Avimelech, a very wealthy man from the tribe of Yehuda, who leaves his home together with his family during a famine. They come to settle in Moab, which is across the Jordan river. There their two sons marry foreign girls; one is Orpah, and the other is Ruth. The father and the two sons subsequently die, leaving Naomi and her two daughters-in-law widowed.

  Naomi decides to return to her native home in Israel, since the famine has finished. Her two widowed daughters-in-law take upon themselves to accompany the aged mother-in-law and to live with her in Israel. Naomi entreats them not to return with her since they have no future there and no prospects to remarry. Orpah heeds her mother-in-laws request and turns back to her father's home and idol worship; Ruth is obstinate and stays with Naomi.

  They return to Israel during the harvesting season, impoverished and lacking. Naomi sends Ruth to glean the leftovers from the field of Boaz, a near-distant relative, as is permitted for the poor to do. Boaz is captured by Ruth's modesty and piety. A leverite marriage ensues; a child is born, to establish the Davidic dynasty.

  Now the problem with this scenario is the status of the two girls, Ruth and Orpah. Are they Jewish? When did they become Jewish?

  If they became Jewish at the time of the marriage of the two sons, then Naomi could not properly sent Orpah back to her father's home and idol worship. A Jew is prohibited from causing another Jew from engaging in idol worship and Naomi should have prevented her from returning. Unless of course, Orpah and Ruth did not have a proper conversion.

  On the other hand, if they didn't have a proper conversion, why did Naomi and her husband accept them as wives? How could her sons have married them? If they were Jews why did Naomi send Orpah away?

  The problem appears immense.

  The answer however, generates a deeper understanding of the conversion process.

  In the time of Ruth and the pre-Temple period, there was not a Rabbinical organization that gave it's stamp of approval to a converts sincerity. If a person wanted to become Jewish, he could simply accept upon himself to be Jewish by observing the traditional Jewish laws and customs. However, this did not prove his sincerity. It could mean that he was sincere, or it could mean that he was acting in this manner for ulterior motives. There really was no way of knowing.

  When Ruth and Orpah married the two sons of Naomi, they underwent a conversion; a conversion not like our conversion. There were no Jews living in Moab. They converted by themselves. How are we to know if they were sincere? This came when they had a difficult trial. To come to a strange land with no prospect of marriage, this was the test.

  Orpah failed the test. No, she was not interested in the difficult life that loomed ahead. She preferred the security of her father's home, even with the idol worship. Ruth, on the other hand, passed the test. She refused steadfastly to return to her father's house and it's idol worship. She pledged to Naomi that, "your G-d is my G-d." She will not part from the Jewish manner, even if it means a life of poverty and hardship.

  Because of her sincerity and piousness, Boaz took her to be his wife. From this union comes the house of David and subsequently, Messiah.

  We can now therefore understand the great importance in our days of those who are authorized to conduct conversions. It is not simply putting the stamp of conversion on a convert, but rather the ascertaining of the convert's sincerity, quite a formidable task. There is just of part of that which we may learn from this ancient book that is re-read each Festival of the Tabernacle, "Shavuot".


from theMay, 1998 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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