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Reading the Book of Ruth on Shavuot

Rabbi Julian Sinclair on the paths to practice

    Alongside the episode of giving the Torah, on Shavuot we also read the seemingly less spectacular story of Ruth.

    However, even without a smoking mountain or the Ten Commandments, Ruth is still a powerful tale of embracing Judaism.

    The custom of reading Megillat Ruth on Shavuot dates from Gaonic times (sixth to eighth century).Both Shavuot and Ruth are linked to the harvest. Shavuot is the festival of the harvest (Exodus 23:16). Ruth’s denouement happens during the barley harvest.

    Ruth is also about the repair of a society on the verge of disintegration. It begins with a famine, a family fleeing the country and the deaths of Naomi’s husband and sons.

    However, the megillah ends with Naomi’s return to her family and Ruth’s acceptance to the Jewish people (she is the great-grandmother of King David).

    Ruth is a reminder on Shavuot that every national redemption (like at Sinai) needs stories of individual healing (like Ruth) in order for us to grasp its full significance.

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