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.

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

Terror Returns to Israel

Nov. 28 2022

On Wednesday, a double bombing in Jerusalem left two dead, and many others injured—an attack the likes of which has not been seen since 2016. In a Jenin hospital, meanwhile, armed Palestinians removed an Israeli who had been injured in a car accident, reportedly murdering him in the process, and held his body hostage for two days. All this comes as a year that has seen numerous stabbings, shootings, and other terrorist attacks is drawing to a close. Yaakov Lappin comments:

Unlike the individual or small groups of terrorists who, acting on radical ideology and incitement to violence, picked up a gun, a knife, or embarked on a car-ramming attack, this time a better organized terrorist cell detonated two bombs—apparently by remote control—at bus stops in the capital. Police and the Shin Bet have exhausted their immediate physical searches, and the hunt for the perpetrators will now move to the intelligence front.

It is too soon to know who, or which organization, conducted the attack, but it is possible to note that in recent years, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has taken a lead in remote-control-bombing terrorism. Last week, a car bomb that likely contained explosives detonated by remote control was discovered by the Israel Defense Forces in Samaria, after it caught fire prematurely. In August 2019, a PFLP cell detonated a remote-control bomb in Dolev, seventeen miles northwest of Jerusalem, killing a seventeen-year-old Israeli girl and seriously wounding her father and brother. Members of that terror cell were later arrested.

With the Palestinian Authority (PA) losing its grip in parts of Samaria to armed terror gangs, and the image of the PA at an all-time low among Palestinians, in no small part due to corruption, nepotism, and its violation of human rights . . . the current situation does not look promising.

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More about: Israeli Security, Jerusalem, Palestinian terror