Friday, August 28, 2015

Book Review: Yael Ziegler's "Ruth: From Alienation to Monarchy"

Now, before I get started here, I must admit, make it very clear that I'm a fan of Yael Ziegler. I've been taking her courses in Matan for many years. I had been looking forward to getting her book Ruth: From Alienation to Monarchy, (Maggid Studies in Tanakh) ever since hearing that it was in the works. And now that I've read it, I must say that I'm not at all disappointed. It is the book I had been waiting for and more. I've already told my neighbor who organizes the local Shiloh Women's Shavuot Classes that I have material for years to come.

That may seem strange considering that the Book of Ruth is a very short four chapter book which can be read in minutes. Ziegler's book is almost five hundred, yes, 500, pages long. What could be in it? No doubt that Yael Ziegler would reply that there are hundreds of pages she edited out.

Megillat Ruth has three main characters, Naomi, Ruth and Boaz, introduced in that order. Each line in Megillat Ruth is rich with both facts, statements and questions for the reader. Ziegler goes into the various theories of why Elimelech, Naomi's husband and leader of the Tribe of Judah left Bethlehem and went to Moav. Ziegler also delves into the role Naomi played by accompanying him with their sons. After a period of time Naomi is found widowed and childless, alone with her two barren/childless widowed daughters-in-law. The detailed narrative begins there. And Ziegler brings richness and clarity to the story which culminates in the birth of Oved, the grandfather of King David. The is not a "quick read." It is a book to savor.

One of the things I love about Yael's Ruth: From Alienation to Monarchy and classes on the Bible is that not only does she give explanations on all sorts of aspects of the text from grammar, syntax, classic literature, history, theology, all of the usual Jewish commentators and midrash, but she makes it clear as to what is actual text versus all of the commentary. Too many teachers fudge the lines creating situations where even Bible/Tanach teachers mix up commentary with p'shat, original Bible text. I have many times found myself in the awkward position asking a teacher to show me where it's written because I can't find it. Of course, it ends up that it isn't in the Bible; it's just commentary. With Yael, I never have that problem. She always makes it crystal clear and also gives her opinion, which sometimes find her on the other side of the fence versus some of the most respected Jewish sages.

Don't think that Ruth: From Alienation to Monarchy is only for scholars. That isn't the case at all. Ziegler has the talent for putting the deepest and most interesting facts and commentary into very readable, accessible words. For those new to this sort of study, I'd recommend beginning by reading the entire text of the Book of Ruth and then go to Ziegler's "Afterward," which is near the end of the book. After that, read the book from the beginning to the end.

I certainly recommend Ruth: From Alienation to Monarchy by Yael Ziegler; it should be in the home of everyone who enjoys studying the Bible.


Anonymous said...

Commentary isn't 'just' like an aside. Commentary from our great Sages of yesteryear (whether, Tannaim, Amoraim, Geonim and all those who had ruach HaKodesh) are all part of the Oral Law which is part of the Torah that came from Sinai.

Anonymous said...

i've always wondered why oprah didn't accompany naomi immediately

there isn't any rivalry that's mutual

the geographic phenomena were the impetus for the unpredictable theatrical landscape, i assume

Batya said...

a1, sorry, but you are being much too simplistic. There are many contradicting opinions in commentaries and midrashim. They are not Torah.
a2, she did accompany Naomi in the beginning, but when Naomi made it clear that she couldn't promise even minimal conditions, Orpah decided to go back, but Ruth pledged her life.