Image: One of my bookshelves, with Bibles, a crown, and a yahrzeit candle. (Ruth Adar)
This week’s Torah portion has a little surprise in it.
Readers familiar with the Book of Ruth may be puzzled to read the commandment against marrying Moabites in Deuteronomy 23:4:
“An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord.” Ruth, the great grandmother of King David, was born a Moabite: that is the whole point of the Book of Ruth.
How could King David be descended from a forbidden marriage?
The sages struggled with this text and its apparent conflict with the Book of Ruth, especially since the prohibition is reinforced by a line from Nehemiah 13:1-2: “At that time they read to the people from the Book of Moses, and it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite might ever enter the congregation of God, since they did not meet Israel with bread and water, and hired Balaam against them to curse them; but our God turned the curse into a blessing.”
The sages resolve the issue in M.Yevamot 8:3, ruling that the prohibition is only against Moabite men converting or marrying a Jewish woman; Moabite women are permitted to convert. The Gemara elaborates with a story about an Edomite who suggested to Saul that David may not be fit even to be part of the kahal, since he descends from Ruth the Moabite. Saul’s general, Abner, replies that the prohibition applies only to males, because women stay in the house when men go out to meet strangers. (Yevamot 76b)
Another possibility from modern scholarship: Megillat Ruth (The Scroll of Ruth) was composed from a legend that had circulated for centuries. It was written down in the early Second Temple period when Ezra was making his proclamations against “foreign wives.” It was composed as a reply to Ezra’s attitude about intermarriage, by arguing that even King David had an ancestor who was not born a Jew.
At every point in Jewish history, there is someone warning against converts in general or against a particular convert. As a giyoret (female convert) myself, I take comfort in knowing that there have also been, in every age, someone speaking up for us.
One thought on “Shabbat Shalom: Ki Teitze”
Detailing the male side of paternity, Exodus 20:5-6 (“… visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; / And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”) is a proving point that those that do decide to follow Him will be shown mercy, no matter their gender.
Deuteronomy 23:3 claims, “An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever:” This is most likely so that the people are more homogeneous in customs and laws to the Israelites, knowing what is permissible.
When concerning the men of Israel, and those of other nations, the men of Israel are sharing the blood of their patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), and hence, their blessings passed down from one generation to another. Genesis 49:26 states, “The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.” Unto this one point, it is always well to remember that the duty of a man is to choose a worthy wife, one that will bear his children, one who will follow her husband.
Unto King David was born Solomon, and Solomon went in the way of the idolaters through the influencing of his heart (1 Kings 11:4 – “For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.” In this case, Ezra was right about foreign women. As much as the faith of the Patriarchs should’ve been embedded in Solomon’s heart, it would’ve done well for him to not choose ‘strange women’ for wives and concubines. Even Delilah was hard pressed by her people and that destroyed Samson in the end.