Ruth: From Alien­ation to Monarchy

Yael Ziegler
  • Review
By – September 11, 2015

Like oth­er vol­umes in Koren’s Mag­gid Stud­ies in Tanach, Dr. Yael Ziegler’s Ruth: From Alien­ation To Monar­chy rep­re­sents the cul­mi­na­tion of many years in the class­room. A vet­er­an teacher at Yeshi­v­at Har Etzion’s affil­i­at­ed Col­lege and Jerusalem’s Matan lsquo; Wom­en’s Insti­tute for Torah Stud­ies, Zieger first adapt­ed the course­work she devel­oped over twen­ty years into an email course seri­al­ized by Yeshi­v­at Har Etzion’s Vir­tu­al Beit Midrash and then into this fin­ished product.

At 487 pages, Ruth: From Alien­ation to Monar­chy is impres­sive­ly com­pre­hen­sive. It is most use­ful as a study com­pan­ion to its sub­ject mat­ter, as its length makes it hard to track over­ar­ch­ing mes­sages from chap­ter to chap­ter, most of which retain their char­ac­ter as inde­pen­dent lec­tures. Many of Ziegler’s argu­ments also tend to be tech­ni­cal and detailed, requir­ing care­ful read­ing — and a Bible or com­put­er handy to look up references.

Broad­ly speak­ing, Ziegler sees the Book of Ruth as a Bib­li­cal response to the Book of Judges, in which the Israelite peo­ple lacked strong, inspi­ra­tional lead­er­ship and broke down social­ly and moral­ly. The sto­ry of Nao­mi — whom Ziegler iden­ti­fies as the true main char­ac­ter of the book — who aban­dons her com­mu­ni­ty, los­es every­thing, and yet finds redemp­tion, par­al­lels the sto­ry of the Israelites, who lose their way yet recov­er and come togeth­er with the rise of the Davidic dynasty. The over­ar­ch­ing theme of hesed (self­less kind­ness) in the Book of Ruth teach­es the val­ues that give rise to a legit­i­mate king of Israel, and by which that king forges a holy, moral society.

Ziegler is a prod­uct of the mod­ern yet tra­di­tion­al­ly ground­ed approach to Bible study devel­oped at Yeshi­v­at Har Etzion and the Her­zog Col­lege, where she now serves on the fac­ul­ty. A well-doc­u­ment­ed intro­duc­tion describes the devel­op­ment, meth­ods, and aims of this approach, which, as she notes, is aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly rig­or­ous yet also looks to devel­op reli­gious and spir­i­tu­al mean­ing from the text. This comes through in the book very clear­ly, as do many ref­er­ences that, while dis­cussed only in the con­text of Ruth, can eas­i­ly apply to con­tem­po­rary Israeli and Jew­ish issues. 

Ziegler’s analy­sis incor­po­rates both tra­di­tion­al and rab­binic inter­pre­ta­tions, yet focus­es on the text itself. She demon­strates through­out how Rab­binic inter­pre­ta­tion aris­es organ­i­cal­ly from a close read­ing of the source mate­r­i­al, often fill­ing in gaps or pick­ing up on lit­er­ary cues and flour­ish­es, sym­bol­ic names, and ref­er­ences to oth­er Bib­li­cal sto­ries and char­ac­ters. Ziegler is also con­ver­sant with mod­ern schol­ar­ly lit­er­a­ture on Ruth, espe­cial­ly that which focus­es on nar­ra­tive and lit­er­ary analy­sis. Aca­d­e­m­ic sources are dis­cussed in the exten­sive foot­notes, keep­ing the text read­able and acces­si­ble to a lay, Ortho­dox-ori­ent­ed audience.

Relat­ed Content:

Avra­ham Bron­stein writes fre­quent­ly on top­ics of Jew­ish thought, con­tem­po­rary issues, and their inter­sec­tion. A past Assis­tant Rab­bi of The Hamp­ton Syn­a­gogue and Pro­gram Direc­tor of Great Neck Syn­a­gogue, he lives with his fam­i­ly in Scran­ton, PA.

Discussion Questions