An Immodest Proposal
By Dr. Yael Ziegler
Shiur #22: An Immodest Proposal
Modest Woman, Immodest Plan
And Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, My daughter, shall I not seek for you a resting place that shall benefit you? And now, is not Boaz, whose girls you were with, our close acquaintance? Behold, he is winnowing barley at the threshing floor tonight. You should wash, and anoint yourself, and place a dress upon yourself, and go down to the threshing floor. Do not make yourself known to the man until he finishes eating and drinking. And it shall be, when he lies down, you should make known to yourself the place where he is lying there, and you should come and expose his feet and lie down. And he will tell you what you shall do. (Ruth 3:1-4)
Naomis plan to send Ruth surreptitiously to the fields washed, perfumed, and attired in fine apparel is carefully orchestrated. Ruth is to adorn herself and prepare to encounter Boaz in the fields at night. She is to wait, hidden, until Boaz has eaten and become inebriated. Only after he has retired should Ruth, who has carefully observed where Boaz rests, approach Boaz, expose his feet, and lie alongside him. At this point, Naomi instructs Ruth to wait for Boaz to inform Ruth what she is to do. The scenario leaves little room to misconstrue Naomis intentions. Ruth is being sent to seduce Boaz, the potential goel.
Indeed, an abundance of sexual innuendos accompanies the delineation of Naomis plan. The word yada, which often hints to sexual intimacy, is used twice in short succession (Ruth 3:3-4). The word shakhav, to lie, which frequently connotes the sexual act, appears three times in verse 4 and three more times in verses 7-8. The word bo, which appears with a sexual meaning often in the Tanakh (see Ruth 4:13), occurs three times in theses verses (Ruth 3:4, 7, 14). The word gala, to expose [his legs], creates an association with the phrase le-galot erva, to expose ones nakedness, in Vayikra chapters 18 and 20.
The description of the events as they occur is also interwoven with innuendos. After describing Boazs inebriation, the verse tells us that he lies down at the edge of the areima, a heap of grain (Ruth 3:7). The word areima recalls the word arom, which means nakedness. The description of the dramatic moment in which Boaz awakens in the middle of the night is likewise suggestive. This verse contains no personal names, recording the matter of a man who awakens to find a woman lying at his feet. The absence of names depletes the individuals of their identity. Instead, we witness a highly charged moment in which two sexual beings of opposite genders meet in an isolated field in the middle of the night.
Sensitive to the multiple allusions and sexual atmosphere, a midrash offers an incisive reading of the temptation that Boaz experienced:
All that night his ardor persecuted him saying, You are single and are seeking a woman, and she is single and is seeking a man! Arise and have relations with her and she will be for you a wife and your desire will be sated! (Ruth Rabba 6:4)
Surprisingly, however, the seduction is not achieved. Boaz and Ruth do not have a sexual relationship in the field that night.
Who Thwarts Naomis Plan?
suggestive plan puts Ruth in a very difficult situation. One can well imagine
that Ruth has spent the harvest season in a bid to shed her Moavite image.
Naomis plan obliges Ruth to jeopardize her hard-earned reputation. It is not
difficult to surmise the conclusions that the people of
It may be that Naomi assumes that Ruth will comply with her instructions because of Ruths Moavite background. One midrash appears to associate Naomis instructions for Ruth with Ruths prior identity in Moav:
What was [Ruths] name in the beginning? ... Gillit was her name, and when she married Machlon, he called her name Ruth. (Zohar Chaddash Ruth 32b)
It does not seem coincidental that this midrash suggests that Ruths former Moavite name was Gillit. This is exactly the form of the word gala (to expose) used in Ruth 3:5: and you shall expose his feet (ve-gillit margelotav). In this reading, Naomis instructions recall Ruths earlier self, the Moavite woman whose original name connotes uncovering and immodesty. Naomis plan appears to draw on her preconceived perceptions of Ruth the Moavite, and it obligates Ruth to return to her former Moavite ways.
And she said to her, Everything that you tell me, I will do. (Ruth 3:5)
It would be understandable if Ruth would thwart Naomis plan by categorically refusing to participate. Ruths response is, nevertheless, typically selfless. While she is certainly not enthusiastic about the prospect of jeopardizing her reputation, Ruth accepts Naomis proposal, staunchly averring, Everything that you tell me (eilai), I will do (Ruth 3:5). This verse contains a keri ve-lo ketiv, in which the word eilai, to me, is missing from the written text. Ruth recognizes that Naomis plan is not in her interest. It may be that the word eilai is taken out of the sentence to indicate Ruths awareness that what she is about to do is not for her at all. Once again, the narrative portrays Ruths abiding selflessness, her willingness to undermine her own interests in order to comply with Naomis needs.
Nevertheless, the text alludes to the possibility that Ruth deviates, ever so slightly, from Naomis plan:
And she went down to the threshing floor. And she did all that her mother-in-law commanded her. (Ruth 3:6)
The verse does not have a record of Ruth implementing Naomis instructions before she leaves for the threshing floor. A midrash concludes, therefore, that Ruth altered the sequence of Naomis instructions in order to maintain her modest reputation:
Naomi had said to her, You should wash, and anoint yourself (Ruth 3:3) and afterwards you should go down to the threshing floor She did not do as her mother-in-law said. What did Ruth do? After she went down to the threshing floor, she did [what Naomi had told her], as it says, And she went down to the threshing floor. And she did all that her mother-in-law commanded her (Ruth 3:6). Why? Because she said, This generation is rife with licentiousness. If they see me adorned, they will say that I am a prostitute. (Tanchuma, Behar 8)
This midrash maintains that Ruth did not walk down to the fields laved, perfumed and attired in fine apparel. Instead, Ruth makes her way to the threshing floor unadorned. Only once she has arrived does she beautify herself as per Naomis instructions. In this way, she attempts to protect her reputation, while still basically complying with Naomis directions.
Another midrash suggests that it is not just her reputation that Ruth seeks to protect. Perhaps she actually fears that someone will see her adorned and sexually attack her:
And she said to her, Everything that you say to me (eilai), I will do (Ruth 3:5). [The word] eilai (to me) is read and not written. [This is because Ruth] said to [Naomi]: This generation is awash with promiscuity. Perhaps a dog with come and have relations with me. I must reconcile the situation. And she went down to the threshing floor. And [then] she did all that her mother-in-law commanded her (Ruth 3:6). (Ruth Rabba 5:13)
Despite Ruths slight deviation from Naomis instructions, Ruth complies with Naomis general plan:
And Boaz ate, drank, and his heart became merry. He came to lie at the edge of the heap of grain. And she silently approached and exposed his feet and she lay down. (Ruth 3:7)
Ruth acts in accordance with Naomis strategy. There seems
little doubt as to the eventual outcome of this episode. Boaz will awaken to
Ruths seduction and will inevitably succumb, as did his predecessors,
Boazs Desire for Knowledge
And it was at the midpoint of the night. And the man trembled and he grasped. Behold there is a woman lying at his feet! (Ruth 3:8)
Why does Boaz tremble? The word chared in Tanakh generally indicates a frightened response, often due to a sudden realization of threatening or awesome circumstances. Why is Boaz so frightened? Several possibilities are raised by biblical commentators. Perhaps Boaz feels physically endangered by the unexpected presence of a strange person in the field at night. Possibly, Boaz is afraid of the prospect that he will not be able to overcome temptation and will sin with this woman. Yet Boaz allays the sexually charged atmosphere:
And he said, Who are you? And she said, I am Ruth your maidservant. Spread your cloak over your maidservant, for you are a redeemer. (Ruth 3:9)
The significance of this moment cannot be overstated. Instead of allowing the situation to advance toward a sexually satisfying conclusion, Boaz inquires as to the identity of the woman who lies seductively at his feet. How does Boaz accomplish this? From where does he find the restraint and reserves of energy that enable him to resist this all too human temptation? We will address these questions in the following shiur. For the present, I intend to examine a separate question: What is the significance of Boazs query, Who are you?
As we have
seen, questions of identity constitute a leitmotif in the book of Ruth. When Naomi
Boazs query has the opposite effect with respect to Ruth. His query allows Ruth to restore her identify and elevates her above a mere sexual object. In asking this question, Boaz mends the perverse and chaotic period of the end of the book of Judges. By inquiring after Ruths individual identity, Boaz demonstrates that in this period, rife with lack of recognition of the other, someone has found the capacity to recognize the other, even a woman. In fact, the sexual purity that Boaz exhibits in this scenario may be regarded as a correction of the sexual immorality found in the period of the Judges. Boazs behavior is in direct opposition to the widespread sexual impropriety of this generation.
The significance of Boazs sincere question may be understood within a different
context as well. In the previous shiur, we noted that three other women
behave in a similarly forward manner in the Bible.
In the case of
When she lay down he did not know, but when she got up, he knew. (Bamidbar Rabba 3:13)
From where does the midrash derive this bold reading? Is there
any textual indication that
It seems to me that the midrash does not intend to accuse
Tamar deceives Yehuda by covering her face and thereby disguising her identity. This is why he
does not know that she is his daughter-in-law (Bereishit 38:15-16).
Yehudas ignorance would also appear to be a product of his lack of desire to
know, manifesting a similarly apathetic attitude toward his destiny. Yehudas
decision to seek a prostitute, his willingness to give her his identifying
symbols, and his failure to
recognize that she is his daughter-in-law are all born from the same general
failure. Their conscious decision to abandon their destiny makes both
Naomis plan appears to draw upon similar modes of deception. Advising Ruth to
dress up and go to Boaz is reminiscent of Tamars deception, while guiding Ruth
to wait until Boaz has eaten and drunk recalls the ruse of
The course of events allows us to anticipate that, as in the previous scenarios, Boaz will be taken in by Ruths subterfuge. Under cover of darkness, neither recognizes the other, and a sexual act can take place under conditions of total anonymity. But Boaz refuses to be deceived. Instead, he demands full disclosure: And he said, Who are you? (Ruth 3:9).
One source associates the verse that describes
Boaz joined with [Ruth] in order to uphold the name of the
dead person upon his inheritance, and what was established from her were all of
these kings and all of the superior [men] of
By juxtaposing the terms shakhav and kum as used in the narratives
of both Lot and his daughters and Boaz and Ruth, this passage effectively
contrasts the behavior of
Boaz wishes to know. He cares about his own destiny and his continuity. Boaz does not wish to be deceived and he is not. In this way, Boaz alters and corrects the legendary modus operandi for obtaining continuity. We will continue to examine Boazs extraordinary behavior in the following shiur.
This series of shiurim is dedicated to the memory of my mother Naomi Ruth zl bat Aharon Simcha, a woman defined by Naomis unwavering commitment to family and continuity, and Ruths selflessness and kindness.
I welcome all comments and questions: [email protected]
 Similarities to Yechezkel 16:9-10 suggest a brides preparation for marriage. It is unlikely, of course, that Ruth arrives at the field dressed in bridal attire. Rather, this seems to imply preparation for conjugal relations.
Some scholars have observed a similarity to Davids behavior when he learns of the death of the child born of his illicit union with Bat-Sheva (II Shemuel 12:20). There, David washes, anoints himself, and changes his clothes, thereby signifying the completion of his mourning (see also II Shemuel 14:2). On the basis of this comparison, it has been suggested that this signifies the end of Ruths mourning for Machlon. See, for example, Frederic W. Bush, Ruth, Esther (1996), p. 152. I find this theory unlikely for the simple reason that nowhere in the narrative do we find Ruth mourning Machlon or expressing longing for him.
 While the word li-shtot, to drink (Ruth 3:3), does not necessarily mean to become inebriated, when Boaz does eat and drink (Ruth 3:7), his drinking is followed by the words, va-yitav libo, and his heart became happy, a phrase that often indicates inebriation (see e.g. II Shemuel 13:28; Yeshayahu 65:13-14; Esther 1:10). It seems likely that this is part of Naomis original scheme.
 The word modatanu (Ruth 3:2) also contains the root yada, making a total of three uses of this word in as many verses.
 The sexual connotation of this phrase is supported by the possibility that the uncovering of the regel, or leg, is a euphemism for exposing Boazs sexual organs (see e.g. I Shemuel 24:3 and Radak ad loc.; Ibn Ezra, Peirush Ha-Arokh, Shemot 1:5; Kohelet 4:17 and Berakhot 23a; II Melakhim 18:27; Yeshayahu 7:20 and Radak ad loc.; Yechezkel 16:25). Another possibility is that this act is a deliberate allusion to the commandment of yibbum or its alternative, chalitza, which involves the removal of the shoe (that is, exposing the foot). However, there is no mention of the goel or Boazs foot later in the story; only the shoe is mentioned. It is likely that Naomis instructions here are left deliberately ambiguous, maintaining in any case the sexual intimations of this uncovering.
 E.g. Bereishit 2:25; 3:7; Devarim 28:48; Yechezkel 16:7, 22, 39; Iyov 22:6.
 Other midrashic statements also note the sexual nature of this scenario. See Sanhedrin 19b-20a, which describes Boazs sexual arousal when he awakens next to Ruth and then compares the sexual trials of Yosef, Boaz, and Palti ben Layish.
 The midrash in Tanhuma Bo 16 recognizes this, noting that Ruth understood that if anyone should see her dressed up and on her way to the field, they would naturally say, This prostitute, what has she done?!
 One midrash (Ruth Zuta 3:2) suggests that this act actually endangers Ruths life, surmising that once Ruth exposes Boazs feet, he could conceivably awaken and kill her!
 There is a halakhic prohibition of reminding a convert or baal teshuva of his previous lifestyle for fear that it will offend and hurt him; see Rambam, Hilkhot Teshuva 7:8; Hilkhot Mekhira 14:13. See also the well-known story of Reish Lakish and R. Yochanan in Bava Metzia 84a.
 It is, moreover, intriguing that the consonants of this name, attributed to Ruths Moavite persona, are identical with those of Goliat, whom Chazal identify as Orpahs son.
 One midrash (Ruth Rabba 7:1) regards Naomis plan as extremely problematic, maintaining that this situation could have resulted in the desecration of God's Name.
 One midrash makes this connection: And she said, Everything that you tell me I will do. Eilai is read but not written. [Ruth] said to her, Even though this generally is steeped in [licentious] sins, and someone could come and harm me, even so, everything that you tell me I will do (Yalkut Shimoni, Ruth 604).
 It would have been more common to use the perfect verb: Everything that you just said (amart) to me I will do. The imperfect verb suggests a general assertion of obedience: Everything that you say to me in any context (including this one) I will do. See also II Shemuel 9:11; II Melakhim 10:5.
 We discussed this phenomenon at greater length in shiur #7.
 One midrash seeks to limit the lengths that Ruth is willing to go for Naomi, maintaining that Ruth will only agree to act on Naomis instructions if they are in accordance with Gods Will, for the sake of heaven (Ruth Zuta 3:2). Nevertheless, as I noted in shiur #10, there is no indication that Ruth is acting to follow God. In fact, her actions are entirely focused on Naomi and seem to derive from her affection for and loyalty to her mother-in-law.
 See also Shabbat 113b and Rashis commentary on Ruth 3:6.
 This midrash implies yet another scathing critique of the licentiousness of Bethlehem society during the period of the Judges.
 Commentaries on this midrash regard the dog as a metaphor, ostensibly for a depraved person. It is intriguing that some midrashim relate that on the night that she parted from Naomi and Ruth, Orpah had relations with a dog (Ruth Rabba 2:14, 20; Midrash Shemuel 20:4). This diametrically opposite portrait of Orpah and Ruth appears to be deliberate. See also shiur #4.
 See e.g. Bereishit 27:22; 42:28; Shemot 19:16; I Shemuel 14:15.
 Rashi suggests that Boaz is not afraid of an earthly being, but rather of a demon.
 For the purposes of our study, I will assume, in accordance with the midrashim, that Boazs restraint is not a result of his advanced age or lack of desire, but rather a conscious attempt to overcome his desire for a higher purpose.
 See especially shiur #13.
 The two situations are connected by the common word ha-zot (meaning this) in each query: Is this Naomi? followed by To whom is this girl? Indeed, in his generosity towards Ruth, Boaz will restore identity not simply to this girl (meaning Ruth) but to this Naomi as well.
 As noted, the disregard for the identity of women is especially notable in the narrative of the concubine from Givah, who has no name, no voice, and no choice in her story (Shofetim 19). She is treated as an object by all of the men in the story, including her husband, father, and the townspeople of Givah.
 We will see several midrashim to this effect in our next shiur.
 See also Horayot 10b.
 See Avot De-Rabbi Natan 2:37; Soferim 6:3; Bereishit Rabba 51:33. Sifrei Bamidbar 69 offers a similar interpretation based on massoretic dots that do not appear in our texts.
 The best biblical example of this idea is Mordechai, who is always described as the one who knows (Esther 2:22; 4:1). While some midrashim actually view Mordechai as a particularly intelligent and knowledgeable person (e.g. Megilla 13b; Menachot 65a), Mordechais own words to Esther explain the source of his knowledge. In attempting to persuade Esther that she must go to the king and plead on behalf of her people, Mordechai states (Esther 4:14): And who knows if it is for this occasion that you have attained royalty? Who, indeed, knows for certain why Esther was chosen? The human inability to reach certainty in understanding the world does not, however, absolve anyone of the obligation to seek knowledge. It is only the one who seeks knowledge, one such as Mordechai, who ultimately obtains it.
 I am aware of the midrashic interpretation of Bereishit 38:15 according to which Yehuda does not recognize Tamar since, due to her modesty, she had always covered her face when she had lived in his house (Megilla 10b; Sota 10b; Rashi and Ibn Ezra loc. cit.). However, this is hardly the simple meaning of the verse (see Rashbam, Ramban loc. cit.).
 Ramban (Bereishit 38:18) suggests that Yehuda gives this prostitute the symbols of his kingship that is, the symbols of his destiny! In transferring the symbols of his future to a harlot, whom he never again expects to see, Yehuda displays apathy toward his destiny.
 Unlike Lot, Yehuda, of course, returns to his family and his destiny, spurred by Tamars rather pointed message: Recognize, please: Is this not your seal, cord and staff? (Bereishit 38:25). Yehudas response, She is more righteous than I (Bereishit 38:26), is sincere and transformative.
 This comparison between Lot and Boaz is not entirely warranted. After all, Boaz was not the protagonist who opened the Megillas narrative by separating from his kinsmen. Rather, it was Elimelekh, who leaves for Moav during a famine in the land of Israel and removes himself from the fate and destiny of the nation of Israel. Boaz, however, finds himself in the position of being deceived by a woman determined to obtain continuity. In my opinion, it is precisely because Boaz never left his people and never gave up on continuity that Ruths attempt to deceive Boaz fails.