The Unconventional Relationship: Ruth and Naomi

The Bible is a treasure trove of stories, but finding feminist or queer narratives can be a challenge. However, the Book of Ruth stands out as a clear exception to the patriarchal rule. This captivating tale revolves around Naomi, a Jewish woman from Bethlehem, and her daughter-in-law Ruth. Let’s explore the extraordinary bond between these two women and the queer themes that underpin their relationship.

A Profound Connection

Naomi’s story begins with tragedy. Her husband, Elimelech, and their two sons pass away, leaving her alone with her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. In a bid to start anew, Naomi urges the widowed women to return to their homeland of Moab. Orpah eventually heeds Naomi’s advice, but Ruth refuses, declaring her unwavering loyalty: “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”

These words, spoken by Ruth, have become iconic, serving as a potent entry point for interpreting the biblical tale through a queer lens. While mapping queerness onto the story may initially seem far-fetched, there are elements that enhance the queer ties and themes present. Ruth and Naomi find themselves in a unique position, free from the constraints of husband or master. With the loss of their husbands, they are no longer bound by the conventional roles of “mother/daughter-in-law.” Yet, despite not being legally obligated, they choose to remain together. Ruth’s proclamation suggests that this decision stems from a profound emotional need rather than a legal requirement.

Proclaiming Devotion

The companionship between Ruth and Naomi is remarkable and defies societal norms. Queerness goes beyond sexual or romantic inclinations; it encompasses one’s status within a group and unorthodox tendencies reflected in behaviors and the company one keeps. Although the Book of Ruth doesn’t explicitly detail their relationship, queer scholars acknowledge the powerful example of same-sex intimacy it presents. This deep bond between two women, evident in a text thousands of years old, is both significant and radical.

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An Unexpected Chapter

The story of Ruth and Naomi takes an unexpected turn when they arrive in Bethlehem, where they learn they are on land belonging to Boaz, a kinsman of Elimelech. Their arrival coincides with the beginning of the barley harvest, making it likely that the events occur around the time of Shavuot. Ruth is drawn to work in the fields, and Boaz takes notice. After hearing of her story and hard work from a servant, Boaz instructs Ruth to stay in his field, ensuring her safety while she reaps the harvest.

Ruth, surprised by Boaz’s kindness, questions his motivation: “Why are you so kind as to single me out, when I am a foreigner?” Here, Ruth’s status as both an outsider and a non-Jew enhances her queerness. Boaz’s response reveals that he admires her devotion to Naomi, even though they no longer have any familial obligations to each other. This support from Boaz signifies his endorsement of Ruth and Naomi’s relationship.

A Unique Family

Naomi, determined to secure a future for Ruth, instructs her daughter-in-law to seduce Boaz. Eventually, Ruth and Boaz marry and have a child, who would later become King David’s grandfather. Despite this momentous event, Naomi remains an important figure in the child’s life, acting as the child’s foster parent and Ruth’s lover.

As we celebrate Shavuot, it is crucial to recognize the queer reading of the Book of Ruth. Stories like Naomi and Ruth’s are exceedingly rare and hold great feminist power. This narrative revolves around decisions made independently of men and demonstrates the kindness a man can extend due to the love shared between two women. While the argument for queerness isn’t explicitly literal, the text provides ample support for a queer interpretation. Inclusive feminism demands that we highlight feminist themes in biblical stories, especially when women are few and far between, and queerness plays a central role. To those who question these interpretations, one must ask: How could you not embrace the profound love and connection between Ruth and Naomi?

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