Tuesday, June 07, 2011

How modest was Ruth?

From the very begining its been the habit of Jewish commenters to project ideas onto scripture. One famous example is found in a Midrash about the Book of Ruth. The verse (2:3) tells us that Ruth gleaned with the male reapers [וַתְּלַקֵּט בַּשָּׂדֶה, אַחֲרֵי הַקֹּצְרִים] and further (2:5) tells us that this breach of modesty scandalized Boaz, leading him to demand her identity [לְמִי הַנַּעֲרָה הַזֹּאת]. After the male reapers pin Ruth's blunder (2:6) on her foreign birth [וַיֹּאמַר: נַעֲרָה מוֹאֲבִיָּה הִיא] Boaz diplomatically (2:8) tries to encourage her to glean with the women instead [וְכֹה תִדְבָּקִין, עִם-נַעֲרֹתָי] She doesn't get the hint (2:21) [ גַּם כִּי-אָמַר אֵלַי, עִם-הַנְּעָרִים אֲשֶׁר-לִי תִּדְבָּקִין] and it needs to be reinforced by her mother-in-law (2:22) [טוֹב בִּתִּי, כִּי תֵצְאִי עִם-נַעֲרוֹתָיו]

However, despite this clear suggestion that Ruth was unaware of ancient Judean ideas about modesty, the lesson the Midrash shoehorns into the text is that Ruth demonstrated exemplary modesty as follows:
  • All the women were talking and gleaning [bending over to gather the grain], while she sat and gleaned. All the women raised the hems of their garments, while she [made sure that hers] remained down. All the women sported with the reapers, while this one concealed herself (Ruth Rabbah).
  • As Ruth sat to glean with the reapers, she turned her face away, and not even a single one of her fingers could be seen, for when she saw a standing stalk, she would stand and take it, and when she saw a fallen stalk, she would sit and gather it (Ruth Zuta 2:3).
  • ‘She [Potiphar’s wife] said: “Lie with me!”’ [Gen. 39:12]—R. Samuel bar Nahman said: Cursed are the wicked, for below: ‘Spread your robe over your handmaid’ [Ruth 3:9], but this one [Potiphar’s wife] was like a beast: ‘Lie with me!’” (Gen. Rabbah 87:7).
Guesses as to why?

Midrash cites from: Meir, Tamar. "Ruth: Midrash and Aggadah." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 20 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. June 7, 2011 .

No comments: