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Ruth: the Torah of Transgressive Transformation

Shavuot: When Torah Comes from Earth More than from Heaven

As we take up the Book of Ruth for its traditional reading on Shavuot (this year, from Saturday evening, May 19, through Sunday evening, May 21) we may note that it bears special significance for the role of women in our own generation, and for changes in the meaning of Torah when change happens in society at large.

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The story of Ruth brings together with almost invisible threads three seemingly transgressive women of the Bible. The Hebrew Bible conventionally assigns women to the role of motherhood, and it likes to tell the stories of how women who are denied the opportunity of motherhood seek it with great urgency.  But in three stories of such women, the urge to be conventional empowers deeply unconventional change.

When the stories are first told, they seem to have no connection with each other. But then the Book of Ruth links the three stories by threads that are almost invisible — but not quite. The gossamer threads of connection strengthen each separate story into an epic of ironic transformation.