June 10, 2022

Yevamot 76

Today’s daf (Yevamot 76b) informs us that while the mistreatment of Bnei Yisrael by the male Amonites and Moabites led to the policy of forbidding male converts to Judaism from Amon and Moab, female Amonites and Moabites are permitted to convert to Judaism.

Undoubtedly, the most famous female Moabite who did ‘enter the congregation’ was Ruth. However, there were those who seemingly felt that even once she converted, and notwithstanding her situation of being a stranger in a strange country while suffering debilitating poverty while also looking after her mother-in-law, that it was still necessary to make her life even more difficult.

In particular, when Ruth seeks to ‘glean among the stalks’, she encounters a young ‘overseer’ who served as what we may nowadays call something like a bouncer to Boaz’s field, and though Boaz was to soon welcome Ruth and encourage her to reap in his field, prior to Boaz’s arrival the overseer limits Ruth’s access to the field while simply referring to her as a nameless ‘Moabite young woman’. As Dr. Yael Zeigler explains in her phenomenal commentary on Megillat Rut: ‘the overseer’s disdain for Ruth is apparent from his description of her associations, her speech, and her actions. His scorn may have had practical manifestations; it is possible that the overseer actually prevented Ruth from reaping, resulting in her inactivity. The overseer’s antipathy may well reflect the prevailing attitude in Bethlehem towards foreigners, Moabites, or simply members of Naomi’s family. On this background, Boaz’s unusual consideration and compassion for Ruth is unanticipated and that much more remarkable.’ (Ruth: From Alienation to Monarch pp. 217-218).

What we have in this overseer is someone who, due to their ignorance – or perhaps their pretence of ignorance – of Jewish law (which distinguishes between male and female Moabites ‘entering the congregation’), coupled with their overconfidence as well as their lack of any empathy for someone in such dire poverty, led to them making Ruth’s life more difficult when she was at the brink of starvation.

Think about this: if the overseer would have had his way, it is possible that Ruth wouldn’t have survived. Today, we may not know who come from Amon or Moav. Still, there continue to be those, especially those in positions of power, who make the lives of converts more difficult than they need to be, as well as those who, ignorant of Jewish law, adopt discriminatory practices and policies that hurt and harm others.

The lesson we learn from Megillat Ruth, which we will be reading in two weeks’ time, is not to be like the overseer, but rather, to be like Ruth and Boaz; not to call by labels, but instead, to call someone by their name; and not to show discrimination and scorn, but instead to show kindness and grace. Megillat Ruth a book about kindness and redemption, with the former leading to the latter. So if we hope and pray for redemption, we must act and live with kindness – not just towards those just like us, but also towards those who we may regard as being different to us.

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