READING RUTH by Judith A. Kates


Contemporary Women Reclaim a Sacred Story
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 A generally superb collection of both traditional and unorthodox readings of the Book of Ruth. The biblical story of Ruth--the young Moabite widow who followed her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi, to the Land of Israel, married her husband's kinsman, and became mother of the messianic line through her descendant, King David--is an intriguing one, especially for women, who find few active female role models in the Bible. Kates, and Reimer, both teachers of Jewish texts with doctorates in literature, have assembled 30 essays, poems, stories, and dramatic narratives by contemporary female scholars, authors, psychiatrists, rabbis, and poets. All the contributors bring their professional and personal experiences to their interpretations of the Ruth story: Some are subjective accounts, such as the joint effort (``Feminine Plurals'') of psychiatrists Roberta Apfel and Lise Grondahl--an older Jewish supervisor and her young Christian supervisee--who use the relationship between Naomi and Ruth to understand and enrich their own; others, like Tamar Frankiel's kabbalistic approach to the messianic lineage in Ruth (``Ruth and the Messiah''), are more strictly scholarly. Often the two aspects are combined: Cynthia Ozick's ``Ruth'' is one part personal reminiscence, three parts textual analysis. These autobiographical and scholarly pieces are nearly always more interesting than the vanilla literary retellings of the story that add little to the conventional understanding of the text, although Gloria Goldreich's inclusion of Ruth's sister-in-law, Orpah, in her ``Ruth, Naomi, and Orpah: A Parable of Friendship'' adds a beautiful dimension to the relationship of Ruth and Naomi. Aviva Zornberg's shiur, or oral lesson, ``The Concealed Alternative,'' stands out as the most unusual; she draws on ancient commentaries as well as on Kafka, Nietzsche, and Buber to present a compelling understanding of the concept of redemption in Ruth. Despite occasional redundancies--only natural given the 400 pages of commentary on a brief text--this book is absorbing and provocative.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-345-38033-9
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1994