Much Modern Fiction Explores the Dissolution of Families. The Book of Ruth Explores a Family’s Restoration

Both the American novelist Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping and the Israeli novelist Meir Shalev’s Two She-Bears feature main characters named Ruth, and employ parallels—in the former case, explicit—to the biblical book of that name, read in many synagogues on the holiday of Shavuot. Examining both novels’ use of biblical motifs, Sarah Rindner contrasts them to a short story by the great Hebrew writer S.Y. Agnon, “In the Prime of Her Life,” which is replete with echoes of the book of Ruth. Rindner writes:

The book of Ruth, a midrash states, was written only “to teach how much reward comes to those who perform deeds of lovingkindness.” In the hardscrabble world in which Marilynne Robinson’s Ruth resides, Christian neighbors can at best offer a bland and conventional kind of assistance. . . . In Two She-Bears, the patriarch of the [protagonist’s] family, Zev Tavori, does not possess the humility of the biblical Boaz. Whereas Boaz essentially effaces himself by enabling a variation of the biblical idea of yibum [Levirate marriage]—the continuation of the family line by the deceased husband’s brother [or, in Boaz’s case, relative]—Tavori turns to murder.

Modern novels often explore the dissolution of families and relationships. The book of Ruth, too, presents an account of familial dissolution, but it is followed by restoration. Agnon’s invocation of the book, notwithstanding his [frequent use of] irony, is a rare example of a modern work that mines the biblical story in its full depth. Ruth’s travails alongside Naomi, their exile, and their exclusion from civilized society are a natural fit for modern novelists like Robinson and Shalev. . . . The inexplicable acts of goodness that drive men and women like Boaz, Naomi, and Ruth are harder to find, in literature and in life.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Book of Ruth, Hebrew literature, Literature, S. Y. Agnon, Shavuot

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood