In Israel, the holiday of Shavuot is over. However, Diaspora Jews were having their traditional second day of Shavuot today.
Many people say that the Moabite Ruth was THE perfect convert to Judaism ever. Maybe not EVER, as many famous people used to be converts. The father of Rabbi Akivah, for instance. The commentator Onkelos and, according to some opinions, the Prophet Ovadiah.
According to the Midrash, Ruth was forty years old when she and her mother – in – law Naomi traveled to Bethlehem (Beit Lechem). She was a daughter of the Moabite king Eglon and married to Naomi’s son Machlon. When the two women arrived at Bethlehem, Naomi was very ashamed because she felt like she had made a big mistake when she and her husband Elimelech moved to Moav. Ruth, on the other hand, was facing even bigger problems. As a Moabite, she was an outcast. Who would even talk to her? Only Boaz was different and allowed her to collect Leket (gleaning) on his fields. However, don’t make the mistake by thinking that Ruth and Boaz used to be just like Romeo and Julia. Maybe, in a way they were but take into consideration that Ruth was forty and that Boaz was eighty years old. 🙂
There are different opinions on “when exactly Ruth converted to Judaism”. Some sources state that she already converted when she married Machlon. Others say that she converted when she accompanied Naomi on her way to Bethlehem.
Ruth didn’t know what to expect in Bethlehem. She was a stranger and even more so, she was a Moabite. Not really what you would call a “respectable background”. Today, a lot of converts to Judaism justify their way by referring to Ruth. I haven’t come across this opinion too many times but sometimes I hear complaints such as “Israelis wouldn’t accept converts to Judaism. Not even secular Israelis let alone the Chief Rabbinate or other authorities.”
I think that it is up to every convert himself whether Israeli society accepts him or not. And don’t forget the fact that, nowadays, a lot of people convert in order to receive financial benefits. We all know about foreign workers from the Philippines, Eastern European countries or South America who convert to Judaism for visa reasons. They want to stay in Israel but are not interested in Judaism. To those people, a conversion certificate is nothing else but a ticket out of their Third World country.
Ruth didn’t think about living in poverty or not. She just did something what she felt like was right. With all consequences and very determined. Ruth didn’t come to Bethlehem with any demands and it was due to her gaining all the acceptance afterwards. Of course, she inherited a lot of money and property when Boaz passed away. On the other hand, one cannot just buy acceptance.