Ruth: An Apt Name


It was not unusual for female converts to Judaism to take the name of Ruth, the protagonist in the book with the same name. Ruth demonstrates a remarkable courage and intense loyalty by following her moth-in-law Naomi from Moab to Israel and wholeheartedly adopting Naomi’s faith and destiny: character traits that represent the ideal convert to Judaism. Dr. Yael Ziegler’s 2015 book Ruth: From Alienation to Monarchy, further justifies the suitability of the name Ruth for righteous female converts.


It is Dr. Ziegler’s contention that the Book of Ruth is not just contemporaneous with the Book of Judges – a view held by the vast consensus of Biblical scholars – but that the book represents the antidote to the exclusion of the Moabites by the Torah. The Moabites are the descendants of the incestuous relationship of Lot and one of his daughters (Genesis 13) who are refused any accommodation on account of their refusal to supply the Israelites with bread and water when entering into the Land of Canaan under the leadership of Moses (Deuteronomy 23:4-5). The Moabites represented all that was wrong with the old order. People then were inhospitable, xenophobic, cruel, promiscuous, and violent. Noteworthy too is that Lot, the progenitor of the Moabites, separates from Abraham and takes up residence in the city of Sodom, ground zero for immorality.


Enter Ruth. Ruth is the antithesis of the people from which she originated. As Ziegler puts it: “Ruth’s journey to Bethlehem is indeed a “return”; it represents the closing of the circle begun with Lot’s abandonment of Abraham in Genesis 13. That event leads to the creation of the nations of Ammon and Moab, the spiritual heirs of Sodom, who are steeped in cruelty and immorality. Lot’s descendant, Ruth the Moabite, returns to the path of Abraham and becomes a paradigm of hesed [kindness] and modesty . . . She accomplishes much more than that. Ruth produces the Davidic dynasty, which is the vehicle for the nation’s return to the path of Abraham.”


Ziegler stresses that Ruth signifies a return to the Abrahamic values that were abandoned by Lot and his descendants. Accordingly, the name Ruth is not at all an alien name from an alien nation. The rabbis understand the name Ruth to derive from the Hebrew word “to see.” Ruth saw the beauty of Judaism and was determined to be part of the enterprise. Alternatively, readers of the Bible ought to see her dedication and behold how glorious it is. Ruth is thus an apt name for those who join the ranks of the Jewish people, for those who opt to return to the people Israel and to the values of the people Israel that have been forsaken.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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