Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Thoughts re Megillat Rut/Book of Ruth, Shavuot 5774/2014 edition

Here are links to some of my oldies:

Tikkun Lel Shavuot prep: I’m writing something resembling a d’var Torah on the connection between Tamar, Ruth (& her fearless leader, Naomi),& agunot (Sunday, June 12, 2005)

The Book of Ruth: Disposable heroes?? (Tuesday, May 18, 2010)

Gathering thoughts for our shul's Tikkun Leil Shavuot (Tuesday, May 14, 2013)

In light of the recent kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria by the extremist-Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram, I decided to read a book I'd heard about, Of Virgins and Martyrs:  Women and Sexuality in Global Conflict, by David Jacobson.  I'm about two-thirds of the way through this book, and I've found it quite an eye-opener.  (You can read some reviews here.)  Davidson posits a clear connection between the freedom to choose to join the workforce and to choose one's own job and/leading to women's rights, not to mention men's--in tribal societies, roles are fixed, with women being, for all practical purposes, family possessions, and men being warriors, neither having any more right to choose their roles than a medieval serf could choose to become a landowner.

I see this clearly played out in Megillat Ruth.  Naomi returned to Bet-Lechem/Bethlehem "empty" because women didn't have any inheritance rights.  Ruth had to glean in the fields for both of them for the same reason.

Alternatively, women had inheritance rights, but couldn't use them without a man representing them.  Not only that, but the women were sold with the land.  No, I kid you not:

Megillat Ruth/Book of Ruth, chapter 4

ג  וַיֹּאמֶר, לַגֹּאֵל, חֶלְקַת הַשָּׂדֶה, אֲשֶׁר לְאָחִינוּ לֶאֱלִימֶלֶךְ:  מָכְרָה נָעֳמִי, הַשָּׁבָה מִשְּׂדֵה מוֹאָב. 3 And he said unto the near kinsman: 'Naomi, that is come back out of the field of Moab, selleth the parcel of land, which was our brother Elimelech's;
ד  וַאֲנִי אָמַרְתִּי אֶגְלֶה אָזְנְךָ לֵאמֹר, קְנֵה נֶגֶד הַיֹּשְׁבִים וְנֶגֶד זִקְנֵי עַמִּי--אִם-תִּגְאַל גְּאָל, וְאִם-לֹא יִגְאַל הַגִּידָה לִּי ואדע (וְאֵדְעָה) כִּי אֵין זוּלָתְךָ לִגְאוֹל וְאָנֹכִי אַחֲרֶיךָ; וַיֹּאמֶר, אָנֹכִי אֶגְאָל. 4 and I thought to disclose it unto thee, saying: Buy it before them that sit here, and before the elders of my people. If thou wilt redeem it, redeem it; but if it will not be redeemed, then tell me, that I may know; for there is none to redeem it beside thee; and I am after thee.' And he said: 'I will redeem it.'
ה  וַיֹּאמֶר בֹּעַז, בְּיוֹם-קְנוֹתְךָ הַשָּׂדֶה מִיַּד נָעֳמִי; וּמֵאֵת רוּת הַמּוֹאֲבִיָּה אֵשֶׁת-הַמֵּת, קניתי (קָנִיתָ)--לְהָקִים שֵׁם-הַמֵּת, עַל-נַחֲלָתוֹ. 5 Then said Boaz: 'What day thou buyest the field of the hand of Naomi--hast thou also bought of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance?'

. . .

ט  וַיֹּאמֶר בֹּעַז לַזְּקֵנִים וְכָל-הָעָם, עֵדִים אַתֶּם הַיּוֹם, כִּי קָנִיתִי אֶת-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר לֶאֱלִימֶלֶךְ, וְאֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר לְכִלְיוֹן וּמַחְלוֹן--מִיַּד, נָעֳמִי. 9 And Boaz said unto the elders, and unto all the people: 'Ye are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimelech's, and all that was Chilion's and Mahlon's, of the hand of Naomi.
י  וְגַם אֶת-רוּת הַמֹּאֲבִיָּה אֵשֶׁת מַחְלוֹן קָנִיתִי לִי לְאִשָּׁה, לְהָקִים שֵׁם-הַמֵּת עַל-נַחֲלָתוֹ, וְלֹא-יִכָּרֵת שֵׁם-הַמֵּת מֵעִם אֶחָיו, וּמִשַּׁעַר מְקוֹמוֹ:  עֵדִים אַתֶּם, הַיּוֹם. 10 Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I acquired to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place; ye are witnesses this day.'

Notice that exactly the same Hebrew word, "kaniti," is used for both the land and Ruth--the cowards translate it as "bought" with reference to the land, but as "acquired" with reference to Ruth.  Methinks not--Ruth was purchased along with the land.  Which she couldn't sell until Boaz was shamed into "representing" her at the "court" in the city gates!  It's no wonder that the Torah insists that widows be aided--clearly, they had no other recourse.  Even if they had "inherited" land, they couldn't sell it without a man's intervention.  And since the women were sold with the land, I suspect that it wasn't uncommon for them to be left beggars for the rest of their lives because no one wanted to be responsible for supporting them, and there was no incentive, either, as the land would automatically revert to the family upon their deaths.

Bottom line, Boaz was watching the bottom line.  If he'd been a true hero, he would never have left Ruth and Naomi to their own devices, forcing Ruth to glean as a beggar in the fields instead of helping her sell her land and settle down with a husband.  Instead, he tried to help her on the cheap, by instructing his workers to leave extra sheaves for her.  Ruth rescued Naomi from starvation, then Naomi rescued Ruth from starvation.  The men didn't give a hoot.

And if you think tribal(-style) patriarchy is a thing of the past in the Jewish world, think again.  Said ex-Satmar writer Frimet Goldberger, "Tznius (modesty) is what we were taught is at stake when a woman drives a car. But I believe there’s something else. Driving gives you the keys to freedom and independence; it opens the road to opportunities beyond grocery and hosiery shopping. For Satmar women to be banned from the wheel means being tied to their husbands and to their communities, bags and kids at their feet, waiting for a cab — just the way misogynistic and paranoid men like it."

Not only could it happen to contemporary Jewish women, but, in some of the most right-wing Orthodox communities, it already has.


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