Progressively Speaking: Shavuot tells us to celebrate Jews in all our diversity

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Progressively Speaking: Shavuot tells us to celebrate Jews in all our diversity

Student rabbi Lev Taylor takes a topical issue and looks at a Reform response

Jewish woman says the blessing upon lighting the sabbath candles before shabbat eve dinner.
Jewish woman says the blessing upon lighting the sabbath candles before shabbat eve dinner.

At the upcoming festival of Shavuot, we read the story of Ruth. According to rabbinic tradition, Ruth was a convert to Judaism. 

When her husband died, Ruth told her mother-in-law, Naomi: “Your people will be my people and your God will be my God.” Naomi welcomed her into the Jewish fold and taught her the ways of our people.

When Ruth turned up as a foreign widow in Boaz’s fields, Boaz married her. He made a home for her and showed her kindness. Together they raised a family, and the whole community rejoiced.

But what if these people hadn’t welcomed Ruth? What if Naomi had said: “We don’t take converts”? What if Boaz had said: “You’re not a real Jew”? What if the community had said: “That baby doesn’t look Jewish”?

Scripture tells us the answer. Naomi was the great-grandmother of Jesse, the father of David. There would have been no Davidic kingdom; no King Solomon; no Temple. The Jewish people, as we know it, would not exist. 

The last verses of Ruth are a polemic in favour of accepting converts. We owe the existence of our communities to converts and outsiders. 

Yet, too often, we hear people question others’ Jewish status, try to nullify conversions, or dismiss people for not being Jewish ‘the right way’.

The story of Ruth lets us know that, by excluding people who want to be Jewish, you weaken the whole community. Welcoming converts and ba’alei teshuvah makes us all stronger.

Shavuot is a reminder that nobody has pure lineage, even the great King David. Torah teaches that we left Egypt as a “mixed multitude” and Talmud Kiddushin says that everyone comes from mixed backgrounds.

It’s time to celebrate Jews in all our diversity. 

  •  Lev Taylor is a student rabbi at Leo Baeck College

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