Columns - 2008

    The house that Ruth built

    by Doug Brook
    Deep South Jewish Voice columnist

    By the time you read this column, almost several of you will have read the biblical (not the more recently bestselling) Book of Ruth as part of your observation of the holiday of Shavuot.

    For the great majority of you who don't know, Shavuot was originally one of the three harvest festivals, and also commemorates the giving of the original to-do list at Mount Sinai.

    Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, occurs each year after the counting of 49 days to commemorate the number of people who in modern times attend services for both days of Shavuot. Combined.

    Because you most likely haven't heard the story of Ruth since you were a babe yourself, here's a brief recap. Like most biblical tales, it takes a scorecard to keep track of all the people so we'll provide one to keep appropriate with the time of year.

    There was a time of Judges in the Middle East, but the idol rulings they made were quite different from anything Simon, Paula, and Randy ever considered.

    During this time there was a famine, kind of like our current famine for quality TV amid the aforeluded contest, but involving a lack of food instead. An Israelite family moved to Moab, away from the famine: Naomi, her husband, and two sons.

    Because some men really can't live without their remote control, her husband dies. Her sons marry Moabite women and soon the sons die too. (Editor's Note: The writer strained his back restraining himself from making any jokes in the "marriage causing death" milieu. Or, at least, from writing them down. This time.)

    Naomi decides that you can go home again, so she does, encouraging her widowed daughters-in-law to stay behind. One of them, Ruth, insists on going with her.

    In the first, and to this day exceedingly rare, recorded instance of someone getting along with her mother-in-law, Ruth takes the field and starts gleaning what she can to support them both.

    It turns out she's playing in the field of Boaz, a guy who's impressed by her actually getting along with her mother-in-law. It turns out Boaz is also a close relative of Naomi's passed husband.

    It also turns out that, back in the day (and night), matchmakers had more to work with. More people were eligible than today. In fact, they were required.

    Warning: You've reached the big dip of the lineage rollercoaster. You must be this tall to continue reading. Do not read this if you are pregnant or have severe back or heart trouble.

    Being a close relative of Ruth's passed husband's father, and therefore of her passed husband himself, Boaz was required to marry Ruth in place of her passed husband, the son of Boaz's close relative. Boaz was fine with this because his JDate account was still pending.

    Warning: The traditional cruel follow-up dip after the big dip is coming. We'll assume you haven't gotten shorter or been miraculously cured since the previous dip, so the same people can keep reading.

    Before Boaz can get the ring back from the jeweler, Ruth reminds him that there's a closer relative who actually has right of first refusal on both her and her father-in-law's land. Boaz brings the man before the town elders to discuss it all.

    The other man is unnamed, in what might be the first case of witness protection. At first Boaz mentions the land, which the man agrees to inherit. Then Boaz mentions that he must also take Ruth as wife, and the man says Boaz can have it all.

    Why? Nobody knows for sure, and JDate declined to respond to queries about this unnamed person's account status at the time.

    So Boaz got to marry Ruth, got to inherit the land that Naomi carried forward from her husband, and there's no recorded word that Naomi ever gave him (or her sons before him) a hard time about marrying a woman who started out non-Jewish.

    Boaz and Ruth have a son and live happily ever after, with Naomi hanging around.

    Where's the house that she built? The story ends with more names. This lineage of Ruth's descendants famously, to those who actually know about it, leads to King David.

    So what? David's son was Solomon. Today in Jerusalem you can leave notes in the Western Wall of a little shul he built that you might have heard of.

    Doug Brook is a writer in Silicon Valley whose title for this column does not directly or implicitly support, endorse, or in any other way say anything nice about any New York ball club that rhymes with "blankies." For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit his website at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.