‘Rashi on Ruth in the supercommentary of Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson’

Thursday, 13 May, 2021 - 8:30 am

Ruth image.jpegThe supercommentary of the Rebbe on Rashi is primarily a commentary on the Torah, taking place on every Shabbat afternoon, when a public gathering (farbrengen) would take place between 1965 and 1989. The weekly Torah portion - the Pentateuch - served as the basis for the selection of a comment of Rashi to study and expound on, following the methodology that the Rebbe had developed in his commentary. However, the subject material extended also to certain other books of the Torah, as the occasion presented itself, in connection with certain Jewish holidays. This included a commentary on the Book of Esther, a single comment on the book of Joshua found in the Passover Haggadah and, as we will present in this essay, also a comment of Rashi on the Book of Ruth that took place on Shavuot. This was in addition to a study that was presented on Rashi out of the sequence of the weekly Torah portion in connection with the reading of the Ten Commandments in the Book of Exodus that is read on the holiday of Shavuot.


In this essay, we will first present the origin and the connection of the Book of Ruth to Shavuot, the confusion surrounding how the book is viewed in Chabad tradition on Shavuot, how the Book of Ruth in particular was incorporated in the Rebbe’s thought in general and his commentary on Rashi in particular, after the commentary was launched in 1966.


The earliest text that relates to the reading of the Book of Ruth, as a stand-alone text, is the work of the Mishnah, Tractate Soferim:[1] ‘In the case of Ruth, the Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes,Lamentations and Esther, it is necessary to say the benediction, ‘Concerning the reading of the Megillah’ although it is included in the Hagiographa.’ One who reads in the Hagiographa must say, ‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord our G-d, King of the universe, Who hast sanctified us by Thy commandments and hast given us command to read in the Holy Writings.’ This is also quoted by 13th century Rabbi Meir Hakohen in Hagahot Maimoniyut that his teacher German Rabbi Maharam of Rothenberg (1215-1293) would say a blessing when reading Lamentation, Ruth and Song of Songs, as mentioned in tractate Soferim.[2] Rabbi Moses Isserles[3] and the Chatam Sofer point out,[4] however, that the Mishnah does not explicitly connect the reading of Ruth to Shavuot. It’s possible that the reference to reading Ruth and other works of the Writings (Ketuvim) is referring to another custom that is no longer extant, like the reading of Haftorah during Mincha on Shabbat afternoon, as recorded in the Talmud.[5] The custom of reading Ruth on Shavuot specifically does not appear in Jewish law as recorded in the Mishnah, Talmud, Maimonides or even the Shulchan Aruch of Rabbi Joseph Karo in the 16th century.  


A text that appears to explicitly connect the reading of Ruth to Shavuot is a collection of Midrashic writings, Yalkut Shimoni,[6] compiled between the 11th and 14th centuries, that states: what is the connection between Ruth and Shavuot that one reads it on Atzeret, the time of the giving of the Torah?’ This is sourced from Midrash Ruth Zuta,[7] compiled about the tenth century. Rabbi David Abudarham (fl. 1340), also writes about this custom, in his work on the prayers and the blessings,[8] stating: ‘it is customary to read Ruth on Shavuot.’ The Machzor Vitry also states: On the second day of Shavuot, one completes the Hallel, recites complete Kaddish, and sits and reads Megillat Ruth. Despite its origin in the Midrash, and its mention by Abudarham in the 14th century, Rabbi Joseph Karo omits to mention this custom in his code of Jewish law. Rabbi Moses Isserles, however, does include it in his gloss on Rabbi Joseph Karo’s code of Jewish law, reflecting the Ashkenazic custom. He writes:[9] ‘it is customary to read Ruth on Shavuot.’




While there is no dispute about the origin to read Ruth on Shavuot, there are three opinions regarding whether a blessing should be recited over the reading of Ruth. Rabbi Moses Isserles (1530-1572) writes that it is not the customto recite a blessing over the scroll of Ruth.[10]  In his responsa, however, he suggests that one can make a distinction between Ruth as part of a scroll, like a Torah scroll, in which case a blessing may be recited and as part of chumash, when a blessing should not be recited. Rabbi David ha-Levi Segal (c. 1586 – 1667), known as the Taz, goes further to say that if someone recites a blessing over Ruth in a chumash, one is reciting a blessing in vain. Rabbi Mordechai Jaffe (1530-1612), Rabbi Joel Sirkis (1561-1640), and Rabbi Abraham Gombiner (1633-1683),[11] however, argue that a blessing should always be recited and such is the custom, following the statement of the Mishnah intractate Soferim. This dispute continued into the 19th century, whereby Rabbi Elijah of Vilna (1720-1797) argued that a blessing should be recited even when read from Chumash, while Rabbi Joseph Rosen (1858-1936), known as the Rogatchover Gaon (Genius of Rogachev) and Tzofnath Paneach (Decipherer of Secrets—the title of his main work), forcefully argued that a blessing should not be recited, if not read from a scroll.[12] In summary, there seems to be unanimous opinion in Ashkenazic custom that the book of Ruth should be read on Shavuot; the dispute is only surrounding the requirement to recite a blessing.




A number of reasons is given for the reading of Ruth specifically on Shavuot. The reason given in Yalkut Shimoni is because the Torah is given only through privation and poverty, as it states in Psalms:[13] ‘Your congregation dwelt therein; You prepare with Your goodness for the poor, O G-d.’ A second reason is given by Rabbi David Abudarham: since in chapter one of Ruth it states:[14] ‘Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, with her, who returned from the fields of Moab-and they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest’ – and Shavuot is also the time of the harvest, as it states:[15] ‘And you shall make for yourself a Festival of Weeks, the first of the wheat harvest (bikurei k’tzir chitim), it is therefore customary to read Ruth on Shavuot. A third reason, also by Rabbi David Abudarham, is since the Jewish people converted at Mount Sinai through circumcision, immersion in a Mikvah and sprinkling of the blood, as elaborated in the Talmud, similarly, Ruth underwent conversion, as she proclaims:[16] ‘for wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your G-d my G-d. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.’ The Chida explains the reason is because just as the name Ruth has the numerical value of 616, reflected the fact that she accepted all 606 laws to convert, in addition to the seven Noahide laws, so did Israel at Mount Sinai, when they converted.[17] In the Machzor Vitry (Seder Shavuot), the reasons of Rabbi David Abudarham – harvest time and conversion – are offered. In the London manuscript of Machzor Vitry, the reason of the Midrash – privation – is added.[18] This reason is also given by Rabbi Judah ben Barzillai (end of the 11th and the beginning of the 12th century). A fourth reason for the reading of Ruth on Shavuot is found in the work Bechor Shor, from Rabbi Alexander Sender Shor (1673-1737), author of Simlah Chadasha, and quoted by R. Chaim Mordecai Margolioth (d. 1818), in his work Sha’arei Teshuva.[19] It is based on the statement in Jerusalem Talmud[20] and Midrash[21] that: `David died on Atzeret (Shavuot).’ Furthermore, he was born also on Shavuot.[22] Since, the purpose of the book of Ruth is to recount the lineage of David, it is read on Shavuot. A fifth reason is due to the Torah being full of kindness and the book of Ruth as a work that reflects a story of kindness towards Ruth. A sixth reason is since the name Ruth has the numerical value of 616, which is the same one of the ways one can spell G-d’s name.[23] A seventh reason is since the name Ruth together with a letter ‘hey’ is the same letters as the word Torah.[24]


Chabad custom


In the establishment of law and custom in the Chabad tradition, there are two main texts that are used as its sources: the Shulchan Aruch of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the Alter Rebbe, a redaction of the Shulchan Aruch of Rabbi Joseph Karo with the glosses of Rabbi Moses Isserles (Rema), together with the glosses of R. Abraham Gombiner (Magen Avraham) and R. David Segal (Taz), and his Siddur (prayer book) that he composed with many laws inserted alongside the liturgy. In most cases, there is no inconsistency between these two texts but on occasion there is. Most discrepancy reflect a stringency in the Siddur, like the earlier time of sunset recorded in Shulchan Aruch,[25] or to refrain from eating nuts with their shells on Shabbat unless shelled before Shabbat. An example of a leniency is the ruling in the Siddur, permitting an interruption to recite Barchu (and similar matters) between putting on the head tefillin (phylacteries) and the arm tefillin, while in his Shulchan Aruch it is prohibited.[26] The rule is, as explained in a responsa of the Tzemach Tzedek, the third leader of Chabad and grandson of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch,[27] and also recorded by R. Nechemia Halevi Ginzburg of Dubrovna, that in such cases, the halachah follows the Siddur, as it was written later. All of the points of variance between the two texts – a hundred and ninety-two in total - have been collected in the work Piskei HaSiddur by R. Chayim Naeh (1890-1954) (Jerusalem, 1937).[28] Three reasons are offered for the discrepancies: the rulings in the Sidur are a retraction from the Shulchan Aruch. This takes into consideration that the Shulchan Aruch was written at the age of twenty, when he relied on the opinion of R. Abraham Gombiner, while the Siddur was written later in life, after much more consideration. It was published during his lifetime when he was 58. Minchat Elazar writes: the Siddur was written for his Chassidim and the Shulchan Aruch was written for the wider community.[29] A further rationale is that the Siddur follows Rabbi Isaac Luria and the Kabbalists, whereas the Shulchan Aruch follows the poskim. The same ispertaining to the discrepancy in liturgy.[30]


One such discrepancy is about the reading of Ruth on Shavuot. In the Shulchan Aruch, it codifies that it is customary to read the Megilat Ruth on Shavuot. It states:[31] ‘It is customary to read the scroll of Ruth on Shavuot, the Time of the Giving of the Torah, in order to learn that the Torah was only given through suffering and poverty, as it was with Ruth when she converted. One does not recite a blessing on the reading of this Megillah, as explained in chapter 490.’


In the Siddur it writes, however, that one should not read Ruth on Shavuot. It concludes that that is also the Sephardic custom.[32] Following the rule that when the Shulchan Aruch and the Siddur contradict each other the law follows the latter, the Chabad custom is indeed not to read the Book of Ruth during Shavuot, with the community or in private. The same is also the case with Shir Hashirim on Passover.


The ambiguity about reading Ruth on Shavuot is apparent in the work of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, who wrote a discourse on the book of Ruth. One of the opening questions is: ‘to understand the connection between the book of Ruth and Shavuot, whereby it is read specifically on Shavuot.’[33] The explanation given is that the mystical aspect of Ruth reflects the supernal attribute of ‘kingship’ (malchut), but without the letter ‘hey’ of the Divine name – suggesting absence of revelation. This refers to the Exodus, before Mount Sinai. Reflecting this, the name ‘Ruth’ is the same letters as the Hebrew word for a turtledove - ‘Tor,’ as in the metaphor for the Exodus in Song of Songs (2:12): ‘And the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.’ Shavuot is then when kingship – Tor’ receives the letter ‘hey’ – Divine intellect (binah) – thus making up the word ‘Torah’ reflecting the giving of the Torah when the Divine kingship (malchut) becomes revealed in the world. The discourse then concludes with the statement: ‘therefore we read the Scroll of Ruth on Shavuot.’[34]


Despite this discourse appearing to suggest the custom also in Chabad is to read Ruth on Shavuot, the custom in Chabad nowadays is certainly not to recite Ruth on Shavuot, leading one to conclude that the statement by Rabbi Menachem Mendel about the reading of Ruth on Shavuot is only in relation to the widespread Ashkenazic custom, as recorded by the Rema in his gloss to the Shulchan Aruch in the 16th century and the Alter Rebbe in his Shulchan Aruch in the 18th century, but not that this is the custom in Chabad in practise. This discourse, nevertheless, serves as a text that solidifies the idea that the there is an intrinsic connection between the book of Ruth and Shavuot, also in the Chabad mystical tradition, consistent with the Ashkenazic custom to read the Book of Ruth in practise.


Not read


This contradictory relationship between the book of Ruth and Shavuot in Chabad tradition, whereby they are intrinsically connected and expounded on but the custom is not to read it in practice, is found also in the teachings of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson. On numerous occasions, the Rebbe clarified that the custom is not to read the book of Ruth on Shavuot. This occurred in a discussion on Shavuot in 1967, when he clarified that in his hometown Yeketrinislav it was not read.[35] This was further clarified on Seventh Day of Passover in 1970.[36] In 1971, the Rebbe listed two categories: those who read Ruth in the literal sense (k’pshuto), and those who know the law – including as stated in the Shulchan Aruch of the Alter Rebbe - that one should read Ruth and know the connection between Ruth and Shavuot.[37] Once again, in 1988, in a footnote, it clarifies that the custom in Chabad is not to read Ruth.[38]


Nevertheless, on numerous occasions, the connection between Shavuot and the book of Ruth would be emphasised. This occurred in 1952, when the reason given for reading Ruth on Shavuot was based on the reason found in Sha’arei Teshuva, and indicated in the discourse of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, that the main purpose of Ruth is to record the lineage of David, who was born on Shavuot. This was used as a pretext to strengthen the custom of the Rayatz that one should recite the daily portion of Psalms and the whole book of Psalms on the Shabbat morning before the morning prayers, when the new month is blessed (Shabbat mevorchim).[39] The same was elaborated on the second day of Shavuot in 1957.[40] In 1958, it was emphasised that although Ruth is not read, its ideas have a connection to Shavuot, as the Yalkut Shimoni explains that one should study it in a position of privation. The Rebbe explained this does not refer to material poverty but spiritual, inspiring guiding a person how to approach the study of Torah: to be studied with humility, knowing that the wisdom of the Torah is beyond limit.[41]


Accepts custom plus


Finally, in 1988, the Rebbe went a step further by arguing that the custom in Chabad not to read the book of Ruth on Shavuot not only does not undermine its connection to Shavuot but reflects an even greater connection, that is not fulfilled just by reading it, but is essential to Shavuot itself.[42] A reason for this connection is twofold: firstly, as mentioned above in the discourse of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, that the revelation at Sinai is the mystical concept of Ruth – kingship – in a revealed state. Secondly, the central aspect of Ruth - the birth of David - reflects a further completion of the revelation at Mount Sinai, when the Divine presence began to descend into this world. This developing process comes into fruition and occurrs in the time of David, whose lineage is from Ruth.[43] In summary, in the view of the Rebbe, the discrepancy between the view of the Alter Rebbe in his Shulchan Aruch and his Siddur about the reading of Ruth is not really a discrepancy. The basis of the custom to read Ruth is, as the Yalkut Shimoni indicates, its connection to Shavuot, for any of the seven reasons above. The view of the Siddur that negates its reading is not to its lack of connection but its deeper connection.[44]


Commentary on Rashi on Ruth


Based on the above that the connection of the book of Ruth with Shavuot in the Chabad custom is the same and more so than the widespread Ashkenazic custom, allows for it to be viewed also in the context of a text that is in fact read on the holiday of Shavuot – even if not in practice. This is indeed reflected in the conclusion of the discourse by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch that answers why the book of Ruth is read on Shavuot. In this context, then, for all practical purposes, the book of Ruth is a text that is as if read on Shavuot also in the Chabad custom.


This understanding of the Chabad custom regarding the. book of Ruth becomes relevant in 1966 when the Rebbe began his commentary on Rashi,[45] based on the weekly Torah reading. The Rebbe would use as his material for the commentary the weekly Torah reading and other biblical texts that are read at different times of the year, including the Book of Esther on Purim, verse from the prophets in the Passover Haggadah and also biblical texts that are reading the Torah reading on Shavuot. Indeed, a comment of Rashi was studied in Exodus, regarding the Ten Commandments, that is read on the holiday of Shavuot. The verse that was addressed is in Exodus 20:15: ‘And all the people saw the voices and the torches, the sound of the shofar, and the smoking mountain, and the people saw and trembled; so they stood from afar.’ Rashi comments from Mechilta d’Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai: ‘the voices: They saw what was audible, which is impossible to see elsewhere. A study on Rashi’s version of the Mechilta took place on Shavuot and the subsequent Shabbat Parshat Naso, in 1966 and was subsequently edited and published in Likkutei Sichot,[46] alongside the other edited studies in Rashi on the weekly Torah portion.


In addition to the above additions to the Rebbe’s commentary on Rashi, the Book of Ruth was also incorporated into this series, the subject of this essay. Although this seems to have only occurred once, it illustrates the above view that while the custom is not to actually read it in the synagogue, in effect, the custom to read it is upheld, due to its relation with Mount Sinai, albeit in practice observed in a different form: its study and extrapolation. This consolidation of the custom to as if read it in Chabad custom occurred in 1971, when a classic and complete study on Rashi took place on the Book of Ruth, in the same manner and methodology as used for the studies on the weekly Torah portion, whereby a comment of Rashi is presented and problematized based on the principle that Rashi is aimed primarily to explain the biblical text according to the plain meaning of scripture (p’shat).[47] For the purpose of this essay, we will present the details of this commentary.[48]


Rashi on Ruth


In the Book of Ruth, it presents a dialogue with Naomi attempting to persuade Ruth not to return with her to Israel to convert, but rather stay in the land of Moav. In the biblical text, we only have in detail, however, the response of Ruth to Naomi but not what Naomi initially said to Ruth to dissuade her from following her. It states:[49] ‘And Ruth said, “Do not entreat me to leave you, to return from following you, for wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your G-d my G-d.’ Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. So may the Lord do to me and so may He continue, if anything but death separate me and you." In the interpretation of what Ruth responded, the Talmud reveals what Naomi initially said to Ruth. The Talmud interprets six parts to this dialogue:[50]


1.     Naomi said to her: On Shabbat, it is prohibited for us to go beyond the Shabbat limit. Ruth responded: “Where you go, I shall go” (Ruth 1:16), and no further.


2.     Naomi said to her: It is forbidden to be secluded with a married woman. Ruth responded: “Where you lodge, I shall lodge” (Ruth 1:16).


3.     Naomi said to her: We are commanded to observe six hundred and thirteen mitzvot. Ruth responded: “Your people are my people” (Ruth 1:16).


4.     Naomi said to her: Idolatrous worship is forbidden to us. Ruth responded: “Your God is my God” (Ruth 1:16).


5.     Naomi said to her: Four types of capital punishment were handed over to a court with which to punish those who transgress the mitzvot. Ruth responded: “Where you die, I shall die” (Ruth 1:17).


6.     Naomi said to her: Two burial grounds were handed over to the court, one for those executed for more severe crimes and another for those executed for less severe crimes. Ruth responded: “And there I shall be buried” (Ruth 1:17).


The commentary of Rashi follows the Talmudic interpretation and comments with the same interpretation of the dialogue:


for wherever you go, I will go: From here our Sages derived that a [prospective] proselyte who comes to convert is told some of the punishments [for violating the commandments], so that if he decides to renege, he can renege, for out of Ruth’s words, you learn what Naomi said to her:


1.     “We may not go out of the boundary [of 2,000 cubits on all sides] on the Sabbath.” She replied to her, “Wherever you go, I will go.”


2.     “We are prohibited to allow a female to be secluded with a male who is not her husband.” She replied, “Wherever you lodge, I will lodge.”


3.     “Our people is separated from the other peoples with 613 commandments.” [She replied,] “Your people is my people.”


4.     “Idolatry is forbidden to us.” “Your G-d is my G-d.”


5.     “Four types of death penalties were delegated to the beth din (court) [to punish transgressors].” “Wherever you die I will die.”


6.     “Two burial plots were delegated to the beth din [to bury those executed], one for those stoned and those burned, and one for those decapitated and those strangled.” She replied, “And there I will be buried.”


Rabbi Shabbethai Bass (1641-1718), in Siftei Chachamim[51], presents the dialogue in the context of Naomi telling Ruth that if she follows her to Israel, she won’t be able to return to her family. This conversation takes place in six parts: 1. Naomi says to Ruth: If you come with me and want to on occasion to return to your father’s house and land of your birth, we are forbidden to travel beyond the city limits on Shabbat, to which Ruth responded: “Wherever you go, I will go.” This means: I will not. Go on Shabbat. 2. Naomi said to her: even if you go during the week, on occasion you might be delayed on the journey and before you arrive Shabbat will fall and you will have to stay in a field alone, and we are forbidden to be in a seclusion, to which Ruth responded: “Wherever you lodge, I will lodge.” This means: I will protect myself so that I will be in seclusion. 3. Nevertheless, if you visit to your father’s home frequently, you might not be unable to observe the 613 commandments, which separates the Jewish people from other people, to which Ruth responded: “Your people is my people,” and I will not visit frequently. 4. Nevertheless, if you visit even once a year, it might be on the day of their celebration, constituting as if one is serving idols, to which Ruth responded: “Your G-d is my G-d.” She means to say that even if I travel, it will not be for the purpose of idol worship. 5. Nevertheless, even if the intension of visiting is for good purposes, it will appear as if one your intention is idol worship, and the court judges a person with capital punishment according what they observe, to which Ruth responded: “Wherever you die I will die,” meaning to say that I will die with a complete and righteous heart. If they judge me based on their judgement, they shall do as is good in they eyes. 6. Finally, Naomi says to Ruth that she will then be buried separately in a burial that is reserved for those who die through capital punishment, to which Ruth responded: “And there I will be buried.”


Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser (1809 – 1879), in his biblical commentary Malbim,[52] explains that the dialogue is in the context of Naomi suspecting that Ruth has ulterior motives, seeking material benefit, in her desire to return to Israel and convert. Ruth responds that she shares the same motives and aims as Naomi, to be able to observe the Torah and Mitzvot that are connected with the land of Israel, to die a righteous death and be buried with the righteous in the land of Israel.


The question on the commentary of Rashi is: the verse is perfectly understood without resorting to the Talmudic interpretation, and certainly not the further interpretation of the Sifsei Chachamim (concerning her returning to visit her relatives in Moav) and the Malbim, (concerning ulterior motives) as Ruth is merely responding to Naomi’s comment to her regarding Orpah’s departure:[53] ‘And she (Naomi) said, "Lo, your sister-in-law has returned to her people and to her god; return after your sister- in-law."’ In this context Ruth is merely responding that she will not only not return to the Land of Moav like her sister-in-law did and stay with Naomi, but that her stay with Naomi will be permanent. There is no need from the level of p’shat for further interpretation of what Ruth is saying. A further question is that Rashi seems to diverge from the Talmud regarding the second part of the dialogue: in the Talmud it states that Naomi said to Ruth: It is forbidden to be secluded with a married[54] woman.[55]




The Rebbe answers that the Talmudic interpretation is indeed following p’shat since it explains a difficulty with a. a repetition and b. an aspect of the wording in the biblical text. The first problem is that Ruth had already communicated that she wishes to convert and accepts Jewish faith, when she said, together with Orpah: “We will return with you to your people.” After Orpah was persuaded to return to Moav, Naomi said to Ruth: ‘Go follow your sister-in-law.’ Ruth had then responded: ‘Do not urge me to return, to turn back and not follow you.’ This further communicated and reclarified Ruth’s intention to convert and accept Jewish faith, even after Orpah had already returned. The subsequent further statement: ‘For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your G-d my G-d. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried’ is all superfluous and does not seem to add anything. An additional textual problem, which forces us to understand the text not literally, is that the rationale - ‘For (ki) wherever you go, I will go’ - does not seem to serve as an explanation for the beginning of the statement: ‘Do not urge me to return, to turn back and not follow you.’ It would have made more sense to have written ‘ki im’ – ‘rather.’


To answer this textual question, Rashi argues that the biblical text in this case is not meant to be understood literally that Ruth is just repeating with greater force that she wants to return with Naomi to Israel, but rather she is explaining why Naomi should ‘not urge me to return, to turn back and not follow you’ since she consents and accepts all the aspects and all the details of the conversion to Judaism. In this context, then, there are two parts to Ruth’s acceptance of the Jewish faith: the first statement: “We will return with you to your people” is a general acceptance of the Jewish faith, and the second, with many details – ‘For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your G-d my G-d. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried’ - is the acceptance of also its details.


The selection and order of the details that Naomi communicates to Ruth, and which Ruth accepts, is consistent with the particular circumstances Naomi and Ruth were facing. This may be understood from the verse that indicates when this discussion took place: ‘at the beginning of the barley harvest,’ as it states:[56] ‘Thus Naomi returned from the country of Moab; she returned with her daughter-in-law Ruth the Moabite. They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.’ This suggests that their arrival in Bethlehem took place on the night of the sixteenth of Nisan - the eve of the second day of Passover - which, according to Jewish law, is when the cutting of the Omer (barley harvest) offering takes place, sanctioning private (non-sacrificial) consumption of the new harvest.[57] This means their departure from the land of Moav occurred the day before or on the first day of Passover - subjecting them to the Shabbat boundary law that limits travel beyond the city limit (techum Shabbat). In the context of their impending journey to Bethlehem Naomi warned Ruth that they would be subject to the limitation of travel. This explains the opening statement by Ruth: ‘For wherever you go, I will go,’ whereby she accepts this law. Since they will be unable to travel to Bethlehem in a single journey, they would have to lodge somewhere overnight. This explains the second statement concerning the law of seclusion: indicated by the statement: ‘wherever you lodge, I will lodge.’[58] Having accepted these two details in Jewish law that were most pressing to enable their journey at that time, follows the acceptance of all the 613 commandments. This is what makes the Jewish people distinct, since non-Jews are only required to adhere to the seven Noahide laws. This acceptance is referred to in the third statement: ‘your people shall be my people.’[59]


As a result of accepting all the 613 commandments, she had to renounce also worship of the idols that she was used to. Since non-Jews may worship idols, according to the plain reading of the biblical text, as nowhere do we find that Jews forced non-Jews to refrain from idol worship, since this is permitted for non-Jews, if they also believe in G-d (shituf). Since in Jewish law, however, there are two mitzvot relating to belief in G-d: faith in the existence of G-d and believing in the unity of G-d, this became relevant to Ruth, which she accepted in the fourth statement: ‘your G-d is my G-d.’


The reason the final two statements - ‘Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried’ - cannot be understood literally is, since a person does not in usual circumstance have control over one’s passing and certainly not the actual burial. For this reason, Rashi suggests that Ruth is not referring to her actual passing, but rather the way she may pass away; if she commits a capital sin by her own free choice, she will be subject to capital punishment, that uniquely to Jewish law, consists of four types of capital punishment. This is indicated in the fifth statement: ‘Where you die, I will die.’ As a result of the fifth statement, comes the sixth statement, which is not actually a separate statement:[60] depending on the type of capital punishment, that is also where she will be buried, as burial location, in Jewish law, differs according the severity of the capital punishment administered[61] - thus the sixth statement: ‘and there I will be buried.’[62]


In summary, following the above understanding, following the p’shat, the dialogue between Naomi and Ruth has three parts: a. a general acceptance to convert, b. a detailed acceptance of Jewish law, relating to matters that were immediately relevant, followed by c. acceptance of all the details of Jewish law in matters of faith and practise, including the fact that for certain laws, albeit extremely rare,[63] capital punishment may be administered. As explained, the above is all following the p’shat, since, despite drawing a non-literal reading of the verse, it resolves other basic problems with the text that cannot be resolved by its literal reading.




In this essay, we presented an outline of the history of the reading the Book of Ruth on Shavuot, reasons for its incorporation in the Shavuot liturgy, and the conflicting development of this custom within Chabad, whereby it follows the Sephardic, as suggested by its omission by Rabbi Joseph Karo, not to read it in practise, while recognising its intrinsic connection with Shavuot. Furthermore, we presented the view, that the connection is even stronger, reflecting a deeper connection – beyond liturgy – that exists between Ruth and Shavuot. This embrace of the Book of Ruth on Shavuot as a work that for all theoretical purposes is read in Chabad, even though not in practise, is what gave a pretext for the expansion of the Rebbe’s commentary of Rashi that began in 1966, to incorporate also a commentary on Rashi on an additional book of Scripture - the Book of Ruth – in 1971, five years after the commentary was initiated, as part of the Rebbe’s extensive commentary on Rashi on the weekly Torah portion.












[1] Tractate Soferim 14:3-4. Sichot Kodesh, 2nd day Shavuot, 5731, vol. 2, p. 226-7. It is a later addition than the weekly Shabbat Torah reading.

[2] Hagahot Maimoniyut on Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Ta-anit 5:3:2.

[3] Teshuvot Rema 35.

[4] Chatam Sofer on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 490.

[5] Talmud Shabbat, Bameh Madlikin. Teshuvot Rema 35.

[6] Yalkut Shimoni, Ruth 596.

[7] Ruth Zuta 1:1:

[8] Abudarham, Seder tefilat musaf u’pirusha, p. 128.

[9] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 494.

[10] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 490:9.

[11] Magen Avraham on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 490:9.

[12] Tzofnath Paneach, vol. 2, 8:3.

[13] Psalms 68:11.

[14] Ruth 1:22.

[15] Exodus 34:22.

[16] Ruth 1:16-17.

[17] Birkei Yosef on Orach Chaim 494:11.

[18] Machzor Vitry 573.

[19] Sha’arei Teshuva on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 494:6.Quoted also by the Chida in Birkei Yosef on Orach Chaim 494:11.

[20] Jerusalem Talmud, Betzah 2:4.

[21] Ruth Rabbah 3:2.

[22] Talmud Rosh Hashana 11a. Likkutei Sichot 2:568. Bechor Shor, quoted in Sha’arei Teshuva on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 494:6.

[23] Birkei Yosef on Orach Chaim 494:11.

[24] Ohr Hatorah, Nevi’im u’ketuvim p. 1028.

[25] Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 261.

[26] Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim, sec. 25:21.

[27] Sha’a lot u’Teshuvot Tzemach Tzedek 18:4; Sha’a lot u’Teshuvot Divrey Nechemiah, Orach Chaim 21. Sha’ar Hakolel by R. Abraham David Lavot (1815-1890).


[29] Minchat Elazar 1:23.

[30] R. Abraham David Lavot in Sha’ar Hakolel (1:1) rejects the notion that the Siddur reflects a retraction of what is written in the Shulchan Aruch. Rabbi Chayim Naeh in Piskei Hasidur (introduction) rejects the idea that they were written for two audiences. R. Chayim Naeh disagrees with R. Abraham David Lavot that the discrepancies cannot be retractions, since it is known to be the case that in many instances the Alter Rebbe retracts from what he had written in different instances (Piskei Hasidur, introduction).

[31] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 494:13.

[32] Piskei Hasidur p. 42. The same discrepancy is regarding Shir Hashirim on Passover. A further discrepancy relating to Shavuot is the omission of saying Tachanun from Rosh Chodesh Sivan. In the Shulchan Aruch the Alter Rebbe writes that one does not say Tachanun from Rosh Chodesh until the 8th day of Sivan, while in the Siddur he writes until the 12th, which is the Chabad custom.

[33] Ohr Hatorah, Nevi’im u’ketuvim p. 1028.

[34] Ohr Hatorah, Nevi’im u’ketuvim p. 1033.

[35] Hamelkech B’msibo 1:171.

[36] Hamelkech B’msibo 2:131.

[37] Sichot Kodesh, second day Shaviuot, 5731, vol. 2, p. 226. The Rebbe argues that both categories may derive lessons from Ruth to current events.

[38] Torat Menachem, 5788, 3:419 f.20.

[39] Torat Menachem 5:252.

[40] Torat Menachem 20:65.

[41] Torat Menachem 23:65-67.

[42] Torat Menachem, 5788, 3:419 f.20. He writes that on the contrary (adaraba), the connection is stronger in the Chabad custom.

[43] Torat Menachem, 5788, 3:419.

[44] This would suggest that the custom not to read Ruth on Shavuot should not be seen as a leniency in relation to the discrepancies between the Shulchan Aruch and the Siddur of the Alter Rebbe, consistent with the view of R. Avraham Dovid Lavot that the views in the Siddur are aimed to present stringencies.

[45] Torat Menachem 5726, vol. 47, p. 48.

[46] Likkutei Sichot 6:119.

In addition to the above talks on Shavuot, on two other years, a connection was made between the study on Rashi that took place during the Shabbat after Shavuot, Parshat Naso, with Shavuot. This took place in 1967 (Torat Menachem 5727, vol. 50, p. 93, f. 101) and 1969 (Torat Menachem 5729, vol. 56, p. 306).

[47] Rashi on Genesis 3:8.

[48] Sichot Kodesh 5731, vol. 2, p. 226.

[49] Ruth 1:16-17.

[50] Talmud Yevamot 47b.

[51] Siftei Chachamim on Ruth 1:16-17.

[52] Malbim on Ruth 1:16-17.

[53] Ruth 1:15.

[54] Rashi on Talmud Yevamot 47b add ‘with a married woman.’

[55] Sichot Kodesh, second day Shavuot, 5731, vol. 2, p. 226-228. Introduction to the study on Rashi on Ruth begins on p. 224.

[56] Ruth 1:22.

[57] Mishneh Torah, Temidin u’musafim 7:2 and 6: ‘2. On the second day of Passover, the sixteenth of Nisan, besides the additional offering brought each day [of the holiday], a lamb is offered as a burnt-offering together with the omer of barley that is waved. This is a communal meal-offering, as we explained. 6. It is a mitzvah that it be reaped at night, on the night of the sixteenth [Nisan]. [This applies] whether [that day falls] during the week or on the Sabbath.’

[58] A lesson from the order of the list of the details that Naomi asked of Ruth teaches that in the conversion process also nowadays, first one should address matters that are of immediacy, when talking to the prospective convert: if it’s Friday, discuss matters of Shabbat. This is the case even if the most revenant matter is techum Shabbat, that is only a rabbinic law (see Rashi on Exodus 16:29). This takes precedence even before matter of worship, as that becomes relevant only on Sunday. If the discussion is taking place during a time of eating, then one should discuss first and foremost the laws of blessings over and after food (Sichot Kodesh 5731, vol. 2, p. 262-3).

[59] Sichot Kodesh, Parshat Naso, 5731, vol. 2, p. 259-262.

[60] Since the last two statements are interconnected it just states briefly: ‘and there I will be buried,’ as opposed to the other statements that suggest stand-alone statements: ‘1. For wherever you go, I will go; 2. wherever you lodge, I will lodge; 3. your people shall be my people, and 4. your G-d my G-d. 5. Where you die, I will die’ (Sichot Kodesh, Parshat Naso, 5731, vol. 2, p. 275-6).

[61] Strangulation and beheading is considered in Jewish law as more lenient than stoning and burning. Burial for the former may not be in the same place as the latter (Sichot Kodesh, Parshat Naso, 5731, vol. 2, p. 275-276).

[62] Sichot Kodesh, Parshat Naso, 5731, vol. 2, p. 272-276. A lesson that the Rebbe derives from this final statement is the importance of burial in Jewish custom, that a Jewish person should be buried in a Jewish cemetery and even within a Jewish cemetery, someone who is righteous should not be buried alongside someone who is less righteous (ibid, p. 276-7).  

[63] Talmud Makot 7a: a court that administers capital punishment more than once in seven years or, according to another version, seventy years, is called a killing court (ibid, p. 276).


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