As Shavuot approaches, we will once again read the Book of Ruth and the story of a Moabite woman who would end up being the great-grandmother of King David.
This story has long held a special place for Jews-by-choice. While those who convert today will be familiar with having to go through a rigorous, but hopefully welcoming and friendly process on their path to becoming Jewish, Ruth’s conversion is conspicuous by its total absence in the story.
Naomi’s sons are described as marrying Moabite women, but at no point do we hear about any conversion taking place. Later on, though, Ruth is clearly regarded as Jewish when she returns to the Land of Israel with Naomi, because laws around her marriage are carried out as usual. So what happened?
When Naomi tells Ruth that she should go back to her own family rather than staying with the widow, she declares she will not leave – that where you go, I will go; where you stay, I will stay; your people will be my people; and your God my God. This heartfelt declaration of dedication is not just to Naomi personally, but to Naomi’s people and faith too.
While no official ceremony or certification was carried out, and Ruth is even still referred to as being from Moab in the rest of the story, her total commitment was the key requirement for her acceptance among the people.
While today there are more formal processes which help bring Jews-by-choice further into our community, the story of Ruth teaches us that most important of all is the commitment that a person who chooses to join the community is showing in their choice.
Today’s converts to Judaism are among the most dedicated within our communities, and so it is fitting that Ruth was accepted because of the sheer strength of her commitment.
- Rabbi Janner-Klausner is the Senior Rabbi of Reform Judaism