Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al (livredor) wrote,
Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al

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Torah study: Ruth

Well, I got to study Ruth with Prof S this morning. Which is always good fun, and made up for the fact that I so blatantly didn't manage to stay up all night Thursday night (or study at all, to be honest). Ruth is cool; it's one of the books of the Bible that would be a good novel if taken out of its religious context.

I presented the argument that Ruth is pretty much pro-convert polemic: don't be prejudiced against converts, because after all the Davidic / Messianic / royal line is descended from a convert. And that the Ruth narrative redeems the Tamar narrative from back in Genesis. Otherwise why does it keep going on about the house of Perez, who was born in extremely dubious circumstances (his mother Tamar dressed up as a prostitute and seduced her own father-in-law)? Not the sort of thing you'd think that someone would want to boast about in his ancestry.

See, the reason that Tamar was driven to behaving like this was that Judah's kids were failing in their duty to perform Levirate marriage for her; conversely, in Ruth, we see the Levirate system working properly. So (I argued) the line of Judah, from which the Messianic line derives due to Judah behaving slightly more decently than some of his brothers, is more or less cleansed of the taint of semi-incest and other bad things.

Prof S made a very interesting point though: if Ruth's marriage to Boaz is supposed to be Levirate, then their first son, Obed, should be considered the heir of Ruth's first husband Mahlon. But in fact, Obed is adopted by Naomi. Now, obviously Mahlon is not a character the story cares about; all he does is get sick (even his name means weakling) and die. But in a largely patrilineal system, it's very surprising that there is such emphasis on female ancestry. The messianic line is founded by two women, with men acting more or less as incidental sperm donors.

We were also thinking a bit about the practice of peah (leaving the corners of a field) and leket (leaving the gleanings). Prof S wondered whether that sort of thing goes on in modern day Israel, to which I don't know the answer. I shall investigate this and possibly post if I find anything exciting. And also, how would one draw an analogy to modern, non-agricultural professions? Is it possible for people like us (who are both academics, so our 'productivity' isn't measurable in very concrete terms) to leave some equivalent of the gleanings for the vulnerable of society? Does paying a proportion of our income in tax count? Probably not, because one is obliged to pay taxes and support the welfare system independently of the peah structure. Very interesting concept though.

Then I ran a service, which was fun (and I had some sort of congregation this week). Though I observed that the Singer siddur is a nightmare to navigate when the service deviates from its norm. And I had a slight dilemma about the fact that people wanted to do Shavuot-type stuff, but I don't in principle celebrate two days of the festivals.

We had cheesecake. Much cheesecake. I like Shavuot. Then when I was absolutely stuffed with cheesecake, I taught Ruth to the kids. And then came home and messed around on livejournal all afternoon. All good fun.
Tags: jewish

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