The Book of Naomi?

Haim Watzman

Mrs. Bond, my twelfth-grade English teacher, launched our class discussion of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar by asking whether we thought that the play had been misnamed. I’m sure that Mrs. Bond was one of many teachers who have used that same question to get student readers to think about the structure of that play. It’s a question that highlights the difference between a story’s pivotal figure—the one around whom the action revolves—and the protagonist—the whom the story is about.

The Book of Ruth, read in Ashkenazi Jewish synagogues on Shavu’ot morning, is often characterized as a biblical novel. Unlike the more convoluted and ostensibly historical narratives of the books of Joshua through Kings, Ruth is carefully structured and gives the impression of being an integral work written with authorial intent, rather than a patchwork of early sources reworked and reworked again by series of editors, each with his own agenda. But what sort of novel is it, and is it properly named?

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Jane Austen Explains Conversion to Judaism

Gershom Gorenberg

The Book of Ruth could have been written by Jane Austen, a friend said in her warm voice at our table on Shavuot night. She was right. The books of Esther and Ruth are the two biblical stories that feel closest to modern novels – books with clear plot lines, crafted to be read on their own, but packed with allusions to other literature. Esther is a wild, bawdy farce. If it was written by someone named Mordechai, I suspect that it was actually Mordechai Richler. In Ruth, the wars and dynastic struggles, the wrestling brothers and earthshaking revelations are somewhere over the horizon. Women are talking to women about their relationships, with each other and with men. But Jane Austen never managed to write anything this concise, this essential .

Ruth is also the Bible’s description of how someone comes to Judaism individually, and it has to do with those relationships between people.

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