Ruth – The Book

The Book of Ruth relates the story of Ruth and Orpah, two Moabite women, who married two sons of Elimelech and Naomi – Judeans who had settled in Moab to escape a famine in Judah. When the husbands of all three women die, Naomi plans to return to her native Bethlehem and urges her daughters-in-law to return to their families. Orpah does so, but Ruth “cleaves unto her” and declares “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried.”

Ruth is regarded as a symbol of abiding devotion and loyalty.

The sons of Naomi and Elimelech were Mahlon and Chillion/Kilyon. Ruth was married to Mahlon. Ruth, a Moabite, is revered for her devotion the Israelite GD and her mother-in-law Naomi, after their husbands die. As a convert to the Israelite religion, she is thought to be exemplary.

Realistically speaking, it’s highly likely there were other motivating factors involved besides a fervent devotion to Naomi and the Israelite GD.

Naomi spoke compassionately to her daughters-in-law, but she did not offer them the choice stay with her. She never said, “You can accompany me back to my hometown in Bet Lechem (Bethelem) my dear daughters, or you can go home to your families, the choice is yours.”

In Naomi’s words, she had nothing more to offer her daughters-in-law. She felt GD had dealt her a bad hand and implored them to ‘return to your mother’s homes, reunite with your people and find new husbands.’

I get it. Naomi was grieving and deeply depressed after the death of her husband and only sons, but what else was going on?

Orpah went home to her family, while Ruth adamantly REFUSED to leave. After Ruth pledged to ‘follow her, live with her and die with her,’ Naomi stopped talking and headed out, with Ruth stuck to her like glue all the way to Bet Lechem.

What is the missing piece of this puzzle? What is the story we’re not hearing?

Was Ruth’s family cruel or unkind? Did they disapprove of her marrying an Israelite? Did they disown her for doing so? I don’t need a Magic Eight Ball to tell me “all signs point to YES!”

Another very real possibility: Perhaps she escaped her family by marrying Mahlon.

Ruth was a Moabite princess, yet she didn’t return to her royal life. Her people were not exactly friends of the Israelites. (Understatement). Balak, the Moabite king, considered the Israelites to be a threat and tried to eliminate the competition by hexing and smiting them. (Bamidbar/Numbers 22).

Ruth was the daughter of Balak’s son, who succeeded him as king. That sheds a lot of light on her pledge to stick to Naomi like velcro and glue. I doubt she had the option to go back home, considering her granddaddy wanted to smite the entire Israelite tribe.

They were in Moab, where her family lived. Wouldn’t a newly widowed young woman at least want to visit her mother for consolation if she could? When I read Ruth’s vows to Naomi, I sensed her plight as a widow without a family or a home.

Where would she go? How would she eat? Where would she live? Ruth would have been in a very dangerous and vulnerable predicament as a woman alone without a husband to protect her.

The protection of Naomi, who was born into the tribe, was all she had.

Naomi had a hometown to return to, where everybody knew her name, (Cheers!) while I sense Ruth’s situation was much more complex than we are taught. We hear a simplistic version, but life is not that black and white.

The Talmud portrays Ruth as a religious heroine and shining model of Torah devotion. Realistically, she was probably a really scared and homeless young widow, clinging to her mother-in-law for dear life.

Does that make Ruth a less desirable figure in Judaism? No, I think it makes her far more relatable to countless women today who have to leave their bio families and carve out a new life, to save their lives. Ruth did what she needed to do to stay safe.

That Ruth, is the one that deserves all the credit, in my book.

©️ 2020 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED – Chochmat Halev (wisdom of the heart) is my ner tamid (eternal light). 

Another factor: The Moabite women were seen as “harlots” leading the Israelite men astray to pray to their gods. (Bamidbar/Numbers 25:1-5). Ruth probably felt she had to prove her unequivocal loyalty to the Israelite GD, if she wanted to seek refuge with them after her husband’s death.

7 thoughts on “Ruth – The Book

  1. Phil Sutherland

    Well stated! I think you are very correct in your assertion. But, I think it more complex than that. I think it a combination those factors, and one in which she greatly respected Naomi as her mother in law and the religion of the Israelites. You can read that in her statement when she says “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die-there will I be buried”. I think had she only been concerned about her welfare, and not being able to return to her people, there would have been some pleading to be accepted, or for help. Rather, she makes a statement of loyalty to Naomi. Such a bold and heartfelt statement would only come from someone who greatly loves and admires someone. Especially to take on that persons family, live with them, take on their God and pledge their loyalty even to death. I believe that her situation was such that she may well not have been able to return. But, there is also no doubt of her loyalty to Naomi and gratitude for the treatment she has received from her as her Mother In Law, and also no doubt recognizing her situation of loss too, her compassion for Naomi wanting to assure her that she would never be alone, even to death. It is an amazing story of love and devotion.

    Dare I add anything else? One additional comment. I think this also raises questions about Matriarchal linage in Judaism. Ruth was not Jewish by birth. She basically was a convert. So, does this bring up any questions about whether the idea of strict Matriarchal linage to be accepted as being Jewish is correct? Personally, I like the idea of the Jewish line being carried by either side. The Reformed side accepts this. They are working on this idea of change. Maybe someday this might be accepted.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The Wild Pomegranate

      Great thoughts! Many thanks for sharing them! This is exactly the kind of conversation I love to generate. I agree that she likely felt genuine love and affection for Naomi. I think marrying Mahlon was a way for her to escape from her family. She felt safe with Naomi and her tribe. Safe is HUGE. Safe is a love language. I forgot to add this — Moabite women were portrayed as “harlots” leading the Israelite men astray to pray to their gods. (Numbers 25:1-5). This would be another reason why it was crucial for Ruth to prove herself loyal to the Israelite religion.

      Both Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism accept patrilineal descent. Maybe Jewish Renewal too. Will have to check.

      I can see why they required matrilineal descent way back in day. Before DNA testing, you couldn’t prove who the baby daddy was, but there was no question who the baby momma was. When a woman converts to Judaism before having children, her children are Jewish by Jewish law. Interestingly, the priestly lineage is the opposite — it’s passed through patrilineal descent.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. The Wild Pomegranate

    Another compelling factor I forgot to add to my drasha: The Moabite women were seen as “harlots” leading the Israelite men astray to pray to their gods. (Bamidbar/Numbers 25:1-5). This would be another reason why it was crucial for Ruth to prove her utter devotion to the Israelite religion. I will try to find a place to squeeze that into my post.


  3. Shaina

    I believe that possibly “safe” was a luxury that a Moabite woman could not afford. Survival was first and foremost in Ruth’s mind. Survival was of the essence and deciding to go with Naomi would probably have been the best way to survive that situation, considering that going back to her family of origin was not an option. Since in those days there was a collective experience as opposed to individual, generally speaking, it was most advantageous to identify with Naomi, her God and her people for survivals sake. It was a pragmatic issue of survival and not a spiritual issue. Naomi was pleasant and all and I am sure that Ruth liked her. But, feeling safe and satisfied would have had to come later. Sometimes there is also a Stockholm syndrome where I will love and identify with a captor or anybody who is willing to help me survive, whether I had come to the conclusion of believing in their God or not. Ruth accepted Naomi’s God in a perfunctory manner with the goal of surviving.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The Wild Pomegranate

    Many thanks for your midrashic reflections! So grateful to be the catalyst for these enriching and consciousness-expanding discussions.. “Safe” is a luxury — Amein!! Love your insight on the “collective experience.” Yes, being part of a tribe was crucial to survival — individuality was a luxury as well. Nowadays people pride themselves on autonomy and individuality, but that’s a modern day luxury. Safety had to be the priority above all else — including grief, mourning and loss. Sending appreciative vibes for everything you have shared. Awesome commentary. As a sister survivor I’ve been there, done that with the Stockholm Syndrome.


  5. Walter Hernandez

    Beautiful words.
    Wherever you go? Who was very influence in her life? Ruth husband. “YOU” is an identity reflects her Jewiness soul. Wherever you lodged. “Lodge” for our Jewish diaspora, whatever we go we teach of Naomi and Ruth. It reminds us to be a very welcoming people to those who seek refugee under Hashem’s wings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Wild Pomegranate

      Thank you for reading and sharing your sweet thoughts. Naomi, her husband and her sons were also refugees, during their time in Moab.


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