And Ruth said [to Naomi]:
Don’t make me leave you and turn my back on you.
Because wherever you go I will go,
And wherever you stay I will stay.
Your people are my people and your God is my God.
Megillat Rut, chapter 1, verse 16
וַתֹּאמֶר רוּת [אל נעמי]:
אַל תִּפְגְּעִי בִי לְעָזְבֵךְ לָשׁוּב מֵאַחֲרָיִךְ.
כִּי אֶל אֲשֶׁר תֵּלְכִי אֵלֵךְ,
וּבַאֲשֶׁר תָּלִינִי אָלִין
עַמֵּךְ עַמִּי, וֵאלֹהַיִךְ אֱלֹהָי.
Our ancestors were Jews because their parents were Jews, and so were their parents, back across the centuries to ancient times. That is how Judaism and the Jewish people survived. In no small measure that is what it is to be a Jew-to inherit a faith from those who came before us, to live it and to hand it on to those who will come after us. To be a Jew is to be a link in the chain of the generations.
[…] Without any conscious decision I was reminded that merely by being born into the Jewish people I was enmeshed in a network of relationships that connected me to other people, other places, other times. I belonged to a people. And being part of a people, I belonged.
[…] To be a Jew is to know that this cannot be the full story of who I am. A melody is more than a sequence of disconnected notes. A painting is something other than a random set of brushstrokes. The part has meaning in terms of its place within the whole, so that if history has meaning, then the lives that make it up must in some way be joined to one another as characters in a narrative, figures in an unfolding drama.
[…] I am a Jew because, knowing the story of my people, I hear their call to write the next chapter. I did not come from nowhere; I have a past, and if any past commands anyone, this past commands me. I am a Jew because only if I remain a Jew will the story of a hundred generations live on in me. I continue their journey because, having come thus far, I may not let it and them fail. I cannot be the missing letter in the scroll.
(Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Radical Then, Radical Now, pp. 5-6, 28, 41, 45-46)
Foundations for Planning
- In what ways am I connected to the Jewish People?
- How is my Judaism expressed in my life?
- How am I an important part of my community?
- Why are holidays, rituals, customs, important to me, my family, and my community?
- What does it mean to choose to be part of the Jewish people?
- How can I find my place in my own Jewish community?
Megillat Rut is one of the five megillot (scrolls) found in the Book of Writings (Ktuvim) in the Tanach. It is read in synagogue on the holiday of Shavuot. The megillah tells the story of Ruth, a Moabite woman who chose to join the...
Megillat Rut is one of the five megillot (scrolls) found in the Book of Writings (Ktuvim) in the Tanach. It is read in synagogue on the holiday of Shavuot.
The megillah tells the story of Ruth, a Moabite woman who chose to join the Jewish people. Ruth married one of the two sons of Naomi and Elimelech, a family from the tribe of Judah who arrived in the fields of Moab after fleeing famine in the land of Judah.
The father and the two sons died and the mother, Naomi, was left with her two Moabite daughters-in-law. When Naomi decided to return to Judah, she said goodbye to her daughters-in-law, but Ruth was not ready to leave her. Instead, she decided to go with her and take the Jewish religion upon herself.
Ruth’s words to Naomi are understood to be a declaration of her faith and choice in the Jewish religion: “Your people are my people and your God is my God.” Ruth would later marry Boaz, a relative of Naomi, and from her descendants, King David would be born.
Ruth’s decision to join Naomi and the Jewish people is considered to be an act of bravery, since Naomi had nothing to offer Ruth – neither another son to marry nor money. The sages connect Ruth’s choice to the choice that the people of Israel made at Mt. Sinai, to take upon themselves the mitzvot and the covenant between themselves and God. The holiday of Shavuot is the holiday that commemorates the giving of the Torah, and it is therefore connected, among other things, to a sense of belonging to the Jewish nation.
Being part of the Jewish people is a complicated topic since it can be determined according to several different criteria. There is a difference between the way that Jewish law determines whether an individual is considered Jewish and the way that a specific community might define the personal experience of a person as belonging to the Jewish people. Various cultural, ethnic, halachic (Jewish law), national and spiritual criteria are part of this discussion. When studying this subject in class, it is important to allow for a variety of different perspectives regarding the ways individuals become part of the Jewish people.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (1948-2020) – A British Orthodox Rabbi, writer and Jewish thinker. One of the leaders of the Jewish community in England and an important figure in the Jewish world during his time.
Have the students list the various components of their identity (they can use the template provided). The students can relate to gender, eye color, national or ethnic belonging, family, community, faith and anything else that they consider part of their identity. Discuss together or in groups – which of these characteristics are determined by choice and which are not? What about Jewish belonging? Is it a given, or a product of choice?
Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.
After reading the passage from Megillat Rut:
- Why do you think Ruth joined Naomi? Was choosing to belong to the Jewish nation the primary or secondary reason behind her decision? Explain your opinion using examples from the text.
- In some ways, Ruth is considered to be a convert who chose to become part of the Jewish nation. What do you think motivates a person to join another nation? Do you think a person can change their national belonging via choice alone, or should they undergo a specific process or receive external confirmation?
After reading the passage from Rabbi Sacks:
- What elements are considered by Rabbi Sacks to be fundamental to belonging to the Jewish people?
- Do you think that, according to Rabbi Sacks’s perspective, Ruth is connected to Judaism in the same way that he is? Explain.
- Rabbi Sacks describes Judaism for him as someone who was born into the Jewish people. Ruth was not born a Jew but rather chose to belong to the people in her adulthood. How can she feel a sense of belonging to the Jewish people?
- Does being Jewish depend only on one’s feeling, or should it be accompanied by preconditions, or specific customs and beliefs? If so, which ones?
- Do you define yourself as a Jew? Why? What components make up your identity as a Jew?
- Is Judaism something one can choose to belong to or not belong to? Explain.
- How is being Jewish expressed in your life?
- Where would you place your Jewish identity versus the other identities you hold? Is it more or less central? Why?
- Write the beginning of a sentence on the board: “For me, being Jewish is…” Ask the students to continue the sentence on a piece of paper. You can offer them ideas for completing the sentence (for example: being born to Jewish parents / observing the Torah / feeling part of the Jewish people / wanting to belong to the Jewish people / having a Jewish family member (spouse, uncle, etc.) / observing Jewish traditions / knowing the Torah.)
After filling out the page, hold a general discussion in class. Ask the students to consider a number of questions, including: What does it mean to be a Jew? Is it related to doing certain acts? Something you are born into? A feeling of identification?
- Have the students interview people around them who have chosen their Jewish identity (for example: a convert, someone who joined a Jewish community, married a Jew, educates their children in Jewish traditions, etc.) and have them learn from these individuals about the reasons behind this choice.
- Learn about an additional aspect in Megillat Ruth – the aspect of kindness.
- It’s a good idea to learn the megillah in its entirety. You can use additional information found in Encyclopedia Britannica.
- To further expand on the subject “Who is a Jew”, you can translate and discuss the following poem (or several lines from it): A Jew is whoever wants to be a Jew, Abba Kovner.
יְהוּדִי הוּא מִי שֶׁרוֹצֶה לִהְיוֹת יְהוּדִי
וּמִי שֶׁהוּא יְהוּדִי בְּעַל כָּרְחוֹ
יְהוּדִי הוּא מִי שֶׁמַּאֲמִין בֶּאֱמוּנָה שְׁלֵמָה
וִיהוּדִי הוּא שֶׁמַּחֲזִיק בֶּאֱמוּנָה שְׁסוּעָה
יְהוּדִי הוּא מִי שֶׁמַּנִּיחַ טַלִּית וּתְפִלִּין
וִיהוּדִי הוּא מִי שֶׁזָּרַק טַלִּית וּתְפִלִּין
יְהוּדִי הוּא מִי שֶׁקָּשֶׁה לוֹ לִהְיוֹת יְהוּדִי
וּמִי שֶׁמִּתְקַשֶּׁה לִהְיוֹת דָּבָר אַחֵר
יְהוּדִי הוּא מִי שֶׁנּוֹלַד לְאֵם יְהוּדִיָּה […]
יְהוּדִי הוּא מִי שֶׁהוֹרִישׁ לָאֱנוֹשׁוּת אֶת הַגֶּעפִילְטֶע פִישׁ בִּמְקוֹרָם
וְאֶת סֵפֶר הַתַּנַ”ך בְּתַרְגּוּם
יְהוּדִי הוּא מִי שֶׁכּוֹתֵב מִיָּמִין לִשְׂמֹאל […]
יְהוּדִי הוּא מִי שֶׁאֵינוֹ נִבְדַּל מִשְּׁאָר בְּנֵי אֻמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם
מִלְּבַד מָה שֶׁהוּא בָּדוּל מֵהֶם […]
אבא קובנר, כל שירי אבא קובנר, כרך ו: מן העיזבון, מוסד ביאליק 2011
You can ask students to choose one statement they agree with, and one statement they disagree with. Hold a discussion accordingly.