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    Book of Ruth – a feminist tract?

    Several great Biblical women changed the whole course of Jewish and even general history. One of the nicest and sweetest of them was indubitably Ruth the Moabitess. She certainly showed that loyalty, kindness and decency are indispensable virtues.

    Some would say that in some fashion these are feminine virtues and that by her example Ruth feminised Jewish ethics. It would be going too far, however, to argue that the whole Book of Ruth is a feminist tract designed to ameliorate the position of women in Israelite society.

    Ruth lived in a man’s world. Her life was no attempt at carving out a new path, altering the basic structures of society. Ruth had no wish to be other than a woman who was defined in relation to a man, as a wife (twice), a widow (a role she obviously did not choose for herself) and a mother, and in due course the ancestress of a dynasty of kings. When she refuses to leave Naomi, she decides to forgo, if need be, the chance of finding a new husband.

    When she goes to glean in Boaz’s field, there is an issue of how the male workers will treat her. When Boaz shows an interest in her, she recognises that her ambiguous social status will only improve if she marries again.

    Nonetheless, as we have pointed out, even without changing social structures she does succeed in softening and “feminising” social mores and it is in that respect that she makes a distinctive contribution to history.

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