Tikkun Leyl Shavuot The Messiah’s Lineage: Megillat Ruth, Jewish Identity, and Chosenness
Given by Marc Ashley in Memory of Sharon R. Seiler, z”l
Wednesday, May 27, 7:30 pm
It is customary to study Torah all night long on the eve of Shavuot. Dating back at least to the medieval period, and perhaps with roots deeper in Jewish history, this longstanding tradition celebrates the study of the Torah that was the embodiment of the revelation at Mount Sinai, which in the classical view occurred on Shavuot. Our Tikkun Leyl Shavuot each year helps us recreate, on a recurring basis, the singular Sinaitic experience of divine revelation that is the epitome of Jewish history.
This year, in our extraordinary circumstances, we will be holding our Tikkun Leyl Shavuot on the weekday evening before Shavuot eve, so that we can join together through a Zoom session. In this year’s Tikkun lecture – given by Marc Ashley in blessed memory of Sharon Seiler, z”l, and sponsored by Charlie and Talia Spielholz in loving memory of Sharon – we will explore crucial themes that are reflected, but often overlooked, in Megillat Ruth, traditionally read on the morning of the second day of the holiday.
Megillat Ruth is the wonderful story of powerful bonds developed in ancient Israel among Naomi, Ruth and Boaz. There are various explanations of the thematic connection between Megillat Ruth and Shavuot, but Ruth’s powerful story is compelling beyond any seasonal association. Ruth is a Moabite woman who, after her husband dies, follows her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi, into the Jewish people with the famous words “wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God will be my God.” Ruth asserts the right of the poor to glean harvest leftovers, ambitiously confronts her kinsman Boaz and secures their marriage, and entrenches her children among the people of Israel.
But, perhaps most astonishingly, Ruth’s actions ultimately fix the lineage of the Messiah, the world’s eventual redeemer. The end of Megillat Ruth definitively establishes that Ruth, a convert to Judaism, is the great-grandmother of King David, who is viewed in classical Judaism as the ancestor of the Messiah. For some prominent Jewish thinkers, the fact that the Messiah’s lineage (or yichus) directly implicates a convert was problematic, raising thorny issues relating to the essence of Jewishness and our self-understanding as a chosen people.
Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, the great medieval Jewish philosopher and poet, believed that Jews had a distinctive innate propensity for closeness with God and that Jewish chosenness therefore hinged at least in part on genetic differentiation from all other people. HaLevi’s controversial claim must confront the surprising fact that our Messiah will derive from Ruth, a woman of nonJewish origin. How does HaLevi’s genetic theory of Jewish identity account for the Messiah’s unconventional lineage? That is precisely the incisive question that Sharon Seiler, z”l, asked at Marc’s adult education class several years ago.
At this year’s Tikkun, we will seek to address Sharon’s perceptive inquiry, giving honor to her devoted love of Torah study and logical mind. Please join Marc as he discusses Megillat Ruth as a prism through which to evaluate and appreciate pivotal conceptions of Jewish identity, chosenness and messianism. Through our annual study session in advance of Shavuot, we will continue even in this unprecedented period of isolation to create the sense of genuine communal learning that is the essence of the Or Zarua experience.