Ruth through the Eyes of Poets, Painters, and Photographers

The harvest festival of Shavuot begins tomorrow night, and ends Friday night in the Land of Israel and Saturday night in the Diaspora. In many communities, the book of Ruth is traditionally read on this holiday. Stuart Halpern reviews Ilana Pardes’s recent monograph on this unusual biblical book, and discusses how its story has been interpreted by medieval kabbalists, modern painters, and 20th-century filmmakers and novelists:

Nicolas Poussin’s Summer: Ruth and Boaz was commissioned by the great-nephew of Cardinal Richelieu and today hangs in the Louvre. It is part of a series in which Adam and Eve in Eden represent spring, autumn depicts the Israelite spies returning from their mission with a cluster of grapes, and winter is Noah’s flood, but Poussin was the first to depict Ruth as representative of the joy of summer. Amid the sun’s bright rays, the soft, warm colors of the sheaves shine, matching the hues of the harvesters’ attire. This, Pardes writes, is the painter’s attempt to capture “nature and humanity at their best,” a romantic idyll.

Two hundred years later, Jean-François Millet’s Harvesters Resting (Ruth and Boaz) portrayed an altogether bleaker scene. After all, those who glean, as Ruth did before her marriage to Boaz, are the poor and malnourished, exhausted from laboring under the hot sun. Pardes notes that the Bible’s lack of physical description of Ruth gave artists the freedom to imagine her in line with their cultural and even political purposes. “Perhaps,” she writes, “the lack of specific information gave them the freedom to imagine her in whatever way they deemed appropriate.” For some, Ruth represents optimism, an outsider whose kindness redeemed her new nation. For others, her struggle amid the alien corn is that of all who toil in a post-Edenic world by the sweat of their brow.

To the early sweat-drenched kibbutzniks, Ruth was the paradigmatic olah [pioneer immigrant]. The 1918 photo Woman in Biblical Scene, by the Bezalel school’s Ya’acov Ben-Dov, shows a student dressed like Ruth gleaning in a field, with the blurred school building visible in the background. By contrast, in his 1923 novella, In the Prime of Her Life, S.Y. Agnon offered a retelling of Ruth’s story that questioned whether the modern Zionists’ biblically focused return was really possible. Agnon invited his reader to consider why, in a homecoming, a deep sense of estrangement often still remains.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Art, Book of Ruth, Hebrew Bible, S. Y. Agnon


In the Aftermath of a Deadly Attack, President Sisi Should Visit Israel

On June 3, an Egyptian policeman crossed the border into Israel and killed three soldiers. Jonathan Schanzer and Natalie Ecanow urge President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to respond by visiting the Jewish state as a show of goodwill:

Such a dramatic gesture is not without precedent: in 1997, a Jordanian soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli schoolgirls visiting the “Isle of Peace,” a parcel of farmland previously under Israeli jurisdiction that Jordan leased back to Israel as part of the Oslo peace process. In a remarkable display of humanity, King Hussein of Jordan, who had only three years earlier signed a peace agreement with Israel, traveled to the Jewish state to mourn with the families of the seven girls who died in the massacre.

That massacre unfolded as a diplomatic cold front descended on Jerusalem and Amman. . . . Yet a week later, Hussein flipped the script. “I feel as if I have lost a child of my own,” Hussein lamented. He told the parents of one of the victims that the tragedy “affects us all as members of one family.”

While security cooperation [between Cairo and Jerusalem] remains strong, the bilateral relationship is still rather frosty outside the military domain. True normalization between the two nations is elusive. A survey in 2021 found that only 8 percent of Egyptians support “business or sports contacts” with Israel. With a visit to Israel, Sisi can move beyond the cold pragmatism that largely defines Egyptian-Israeli relations and recast himself as a world figure ready to embrace his diplomatic partners as human beings. At a personal level, the Egyptian leader can win international acclaim for such a move rather than criticism for his country’s poor human-rights record.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: General Sisi, Israeli Security, Jordan