Refuting Shavuot: Holiday of Intermarriage?
NOTE: Jewish Values Online received an extensive refutation of a recent post and we are publishing it on its own, much as we did on the pros and cons of yoga for Jews.
The writer of the post Shavuot: Holiday of Intermarriage? made statements about rabbinic tradition as if they were axiomatic. Let's see how accurate his statements (interspersed in italics) are.
The Book of Ruth was composed during the Persian Period:
The Book of Ruth was written by Samuel the Prophet about 600 years before the Persian Period. It was canonized during the Persian Period, as were all the other books of the Tanach written by the prophets. The Men of the Great Assembly, founded by Ezra, who were the ruling religious body of that period, decided which books should be included in the 24 books of Tanach. As we will soon show, Ezra had nothing against sincere conversions.
A few months after Ezra arrived in Israel, he was informed that Jewish men had married women from the nations of Cna'an and Egypt, whom the Torah specifically forbids. Occasionally, a Jewish woman had also married a man from a forbidden nation.
Ezra was terribly upset, as described in the book of Ezra 9:3-15, not because he had any sort of xenophobia, but because these marriages were against the Torah, and the supposed converts were not sincere. Furthermore, this connection to local nations was ruining the moral caliber of the people.
"… the officials approached me (Ezra) saying, 'The nation Israel and the Kohanim and the Levites did not separate from the nations of the lands; LIKE THEIR ABOMINATIONS for the Cnaanites, the Chitites, the Prizites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites and the Moabites, the Egyptian and the Emorites. For they have married from their daughters…" (Ezra 9:1)
In the case of the Ammonites and Moabites, it was permitted for Jewish men to marry their women, but only if their conversion was sincere. As the verse points out, they were not. In other words, because Jewish men married the women of these nations, they started behaving like them, doing the abominations of those nations.
Ezra then prays a long prayer: "…Shall we again defy Your mitzvot and intermarry with the nations of these abominations? Will You not become full of wrath, putting an end [to the Jewish People] without leaving any remnant and refugee?" (Ezra 9:14)
As one can clearly see from reading Ezra's prayer, he wasn't afraid of foreigners; he was afraid of defying G-d.
“With this decree, Ezra was in essence arguing that there is something intrinsically holy within the ‘Jewish seed’ and as a result, there is no path to conversion or joining in the Jewish community if one was not born into it. This became the mainstream view within late 6th century BCE Judaism.”
This is both inaccurate and slanderous. Yes, there is something holy about Jewish seed, because G-d promised the Jewish People that if they accept the Torah they will become a holy nation (Shmos 19:6), but anyone else who sincerely accepts the Torah and joins this holy nation, also becomes holy.
No one was against sincere, loyal converts. Ezra, as an extremely righteous upholder of the Torah, kept all its precepts. And one of the precepts of the Torah is, “You shall love the convert”. In fact, Ezra himself called a great gathering and read the entire Torah to the Jewish People on Rosh HaShana. That Torah, read to the people by Ezra, has 36 precepts relating to how kindly and lovingly one must treat converts. It also tells how Moses himself married a convert (Tsipporah).
But these foreign wives were NOT sincere, loyal converts. They converted only for marriage, and, like the foreign wives of Solomon, all of whom Solomon converted, they remained idol worshippers at heart. That, and not any form of xenophobia, was the problem.
The prophet Malachi, a contemporary of Ezra’s, rebuked these men for having betrayed G-d by marrying women who were idol worshippers, and for betraying their own good Jewish wives by taking another woman into their homes. This isn't xenophobia. This is basic decency.
“A Moabite woman pledges her full allegiance to the Jewish community and, after proving herself, is accepted into the fold. She marries Boaz, a great man and judge, and even merits to be the ancestor of King David.
The fact that Ruth was a Moabite cannot be overstated. The Torah is explicit in the fact that Moabites cannot enter the Jewish community, and this was certainly the mainstream view before Ruth. Later rabbinic sources tried to rationalize away this discrepancy by saying that the Biblical verse only referred to a male Moabite, but these apologetics are simply historically inaccurate.”
I certainly don't accept the writers "axiom" that the rabbinical tradition has no basis. There are many ways of showing that it does, and that the Jewish People knew their own history. But from the point of view of simple common sense, why would the rabbis tell a story about a Moabitess convert marrying a prominent Jew and becoming the mother of Jewish royalty if the Torah forbids such a marriage? It would be totally counterproductive, promoting defiance of the Torah, which is the exact opposite of what the rabbis were trying to do. So why did they stress that she was a Moabitess if this was against the law?
And if it was against the law, and it was done anyway, then why did the Prophet Samuel anoint her descendant David as king as per G-d's command?
The answer is simple; the rabbis were not making apologetics. That was truly the law. Although most people until that time did not know the law, and even afterwards there was much disagreement about it, Samuel the Prophet, and Boaz, who was a great sage, did know the law; the Torah forbade only a male Moabite and not a female one. This understanding of the law was accepted by the nation as evidenced by the fact that they accepted a Davidic dynasty.
The idea that Ruth, a Moabite woman, is not only accepted into Judaism but then becomes a part of the Davidic bloodline represents an opinion that not only goes against Ezra, but also the Torah. The Book of Ruth is nothing less than a strong polemic against Ezra and his xenophobic view towards non-Jews.
First the writer presents Ezra as following his emotions rather than being concerned with the Torah, and then he presents Ezra's followers, the Men of the Great Assembly who canonized the Book of Ruth, as wanting to deliberately and publicly defy the Torah. In both cases, this interpretation of their motivations is illogical because G-d fearing people don't behave that way.
In actuality, Ezra opposed only insincere and forbidden conversions and Ruth represents the exact opposite. She was the ultimate since convert.
Ruth left her own home and people not to marry anyone, but only to cling to her righteous mother-in-law. In fact, Naomi tried to convince Ruth and Orpah to return to Moav, warning them that if they come with her they will not get married. This was too much for Orpah who kissed Naomi and left her, but Ruth clung to her saying, "Your nation is my nation, YOUR G-D IS MY G-D.” And so Ruth follows her poverty stricken mother in law to Israel, prepared to lead a life of poverty and celibacy.
At the end of the day, Ruth wins out over Ezra and conversion became an accepted part of Judaism.
Conversion was always an accepted part of Judaism, as evidenced by the Torah’s repeated instructions on how to treat converts. Tsipporah, Jethro, and many others, including the prophet Ovadiah, were converts.
Of course, with Ruth there was no formal conversion process, no Beit Din, and it certainly didn’t take her years. Over time, however, the conversion process became increasingly standardized, but it is important to remember that all Ruth had to do to convert was say “I’m in”.
The Book of Ruth does not present all the details, but it is understood that, upon arriving in Israel, Ruth underwent a kosher conversion with a Bet Din. True, Ruth’s conversion didn't take years. The reason conversion processes today may take years is because they want to weed out the insincere converts, which was clearly not a problem with Ruth.
My family won't let me marry the daughter of an Orthodox convert because they don't accept conversions. How can I convince them? See answers from Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis here.
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