This weekend was my daughter’s high school graduation so my plan of reminding everyone of the role of the Book of Ruth in Shavuot was set aside. There does remain one more day of observance so for my observant Jewish friends, yom tov and hag sameach!
Shavuot is the Feast of Weeks, the seven weeks of the counting of the Omer, from Passover to the celebration of the wheat harvest. Ex. 34:22 “You shall observe the festival of weeks, the first fruits of wheat harvest.” In later Judaism it became associated with the giving of the Torah. Passover was the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, so seven weeks brought Israel to the Lord giving them the Torah in the wilderness.
The harvest (and lack thereof) play a significant part in the Book of Ruth and so it is a Festival Scroll, to be studied and read with the harvest festival. Some will study Ruth through the night on the eve of Shavuot. In the Targum and other rabbinic traditions, Ruth becomes the ideal proselyte, leaving her Moabite family, life, and god behind she accepts the “blessed burden of Torah” and becomes a convert, accepted into the House of the Lord. ((See my article, “The Conversion of Ruth in Targum Ruth” in Review of Rabbinic Judaism, Volume 16, Issue 2, 2013, pp. 133–146 (14). You may download it here: RRJ_016_02_133-146)) The famous passage in Ruth 1:16-18 becomes a catechism in TgRuth, with Ruth opening the exchange by stating, “Do not urge me to leave you, to go back from after you, for I desire to be a proselyte.” My understanding is that in Reform Judaism where there is a confirmation ceremony for teenagers to affirm their faith, it occurs on Shavuot.
Ruth is a wonderful book, small and concise with a driving plot line, that makes it perfect for studying or even simply hearing read in a short period of time. The themes of hunger and loss, the feeling of abandonment by God, finding fulfillment in unexpected ways, and the importance of loving kindness all reflect fundamental human experiences and speak powerfully to those who contemplate them.
You can find my work on TgRuth following the links above or just start here. My book, The Proselyte and the Prophet : Character Development in Targum Ruth is in preparation now and I hope will be available by SBL this fall.
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