Did Ruth Really Convert ?

Merle

Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By: William Jackson

Did Ruth really convert, and what must we do to be considered God’s?  Firstly, most Jewish sources admit that “assimilation” is the earliest form of “conversion.” 12
Assimilation is declaring that the God of Israel is the one and only God (monotheism), and thus following His laws (Torah).  Still, others argue that in order to be God’s, one must be converted through a “Talmudic” centric process governed by Judaism. Some use the book of Ruth, ironically enough, to argue “both” points.  But; what we really need to do, is we need to study the history of God through the Tanakh (Old Testament), to find our answers.  This will aid us in gaining the required perspective in order to answer the question, “Did Ruth Really Convert?.”

Initially, through Abraham, the Hebrew people claimed the one and only God as their own through the assimilation process (see Ruth 1:16).  Although God appeared to be exclusive to Abraham’s clan, other people beyond the Hebrews acknowledged Him as well, and they assimilated (Genesis 20:1-7, Exodus 8:15, 10:16).  As we see later on, God made Himself available to non-Hebrew people who were willing to assimilate and have a relationship with Him (Exodus 12:38, Deuteronomy 29:9-11). And, as we fast forward seven centuries from the Exodus, we have the Prophets Amos and Isaiah who are starting to teach that the God of Israel was the God of the world 3. About 200 years after these great Prophets, we have the Babylonian captivity, and now we start to see the formation of the Jewish religion 3. Something to ponder, the Jewish “religion,” through the Talmud, has conversion requirements 4, but the question at hand should be, does the Tanakh have these same requirements?  Let’s turn to the book of Ruth to determine the answer.

In exploring Ruth, we are drawn to Ruth 1:16.  In this famous verse, Ruth (a Moabite) speaks to her Israelite mother-in-law and she says, “for wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God my God.” From this, we have our formula for “assimilation.” Only, some seem to believe there were Jewish/Talmudic “conversion” requirements hidden behind this verse.  This could not have been possible because Ruth is a story that depicts a time around 1140 BCE.  The Babylonian captivity would not take place for over another four centuries.  That means that during the time of Ruth there was no religion of Judaism nor Talmud, just Israelites that followed God 5.

Ruth having to go through a conversion as depicted in Talmud would be the equivalence of the Pilgrim going through immigrations/customs as they entered the United States, it just didn’t happen because the time frame doesn’t allow it. Jewish/Talmud conversion came long after Ruth… just like, immigration/customs came long after the Pilgrims landed.

What is interesting about Ruth is, although it was written to portray a time 300 years after the Exodus, and 400 years before the Babylonian captivity, the book itself was probably written after the Babylonian captivity 6. Ruth was felt to be a contradiction against Jewish sects who felt that mixed marriages are a sin.  As we know in the story, Ruth (the Moabite), marries Boaz.  Conversely, if we look at Ezra 9:1-2 and Nehemiah 13:1 it was a transgression to marry a Moabite. Many feel Ruth was written about the same time as Ezra and Nehemiah (the 5th Century BCE), to support mixed marriages in spite of the later Prophets. Those that argue that Ruth’s assimilation was only brought about because of her marriage to an Israelite, miss the hidden agenda of the book. Remember, she assimilated before she even met Boaz.

Regardless, Ruth supports assimilation, but let’s not stop at just Ruth.  Jeremiah 35 talks about the Rechabites, who are not Israelites, but are honored by God.  This was at the time of the Babylonian captivity, just before the Talmud.  Remember that the Rechabites were not considered Israelites, and Ruth was constantly referred to as a Moabite, even after Ruth 1:16 (Ruth 1:22, 2:2, 4:5,10).  Yet; both groups were blessed (Jeremiah 35:19, Ruth 3:10).  The Tanakh, again and again, gives us examples of how to become God’s people, and these examples are not congruent with Jewish conversion (read Who Are God’s People?).

The bottom line is quite clear.  If you believe getting closer to God means to subjugate yourself to the Talmud, Jewish conversion makes perfect sense.  However, if you are just following the authority of the Torah, then assimilating by believing God as the one and only God and following the Torah like Ruth and the Rechabites did, then this will make you God’s.

This article is dedicated to my wife, Danielle, who asks the hard questions and who doesn’t settle for the easy answers.

References:

  1. Staff, MJL. “History of Conversion.” My Jewish Learning. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.
  2. Staff, MJL. “History of Conversion.” My Jewish Learning. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.
  3. Epstein, Lawrence J. “Conversion History: Ancient Period.” My Jewish Learning. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.
  4. “Jewish Conversion: A Historical Background.” Jewish Conversion – Historical Background of Converts to Judaism. Adat Achim Synagogue, n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.
  5. Hirsh, Richard, Rabbi. “Ruth, The First Convert.” Ruth, The First Convert | Reconstructionist Judaism. N.p., 31 Jan. 2017. Web. 08 May 2017.
  6. Barton, George A. “JewishEncyclopedia.com.” RUTH, BOOK OF – JewishEncyclopedia.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 May 2017.                                     
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