When we take on the responsibility of receiving the Torah, we continually take on the onus of becoming and being Jewish.
Being one of the shortest books in our TaNaKh and one of only two named for women, Ruth’s inclusion in the Jewish Bible shows the grit, determination, and tenacity of women. The place of importance the story holds in relating to the holiday of Shavuot demonstrates that when we take on the responsibility of receiving the Torah, we continually take on the onus of becoming and being Jewish. Whether we are born into it or come into our Jewish identity later on in our lives, as progressive or liberal Jews throughout the world, we constantly choose, time and again, to identify as Jews and heed the call of Judaism, just as Ruth did. Her famous dictum accepting and choosing her own life moving forward captures a powerfully moving verbal form of devotion.
In honor of Shavuot, here are a few other worldly Ruths who have transformed our understanding of doing and being Jewish in modern society through their actions and their own ways:
Margaret Ruth Adler (1944 –1994) was a feminist, human rights campaigner and child welfare advocate. She founded Amnesty International’s Scotland office in 1991 and Scottish Women’s Aid in 1974. She was editor of the Edinburgh Jewish newspaper as well as Secretary and President of the Edinburgh Jewish Literary Society.
Ruthie Blum (1959-) is an American-Israeli journalist who made aliyah in 1977. A former senior editor of the Jerusalem Post, her current work involves editing for the Gatestone Institute, an organization that promotes global security and freedom. Her book “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the Arab Spring” was published in 2012.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg 1933-) currently serves as a US Supreme Court Justice. She volunteered for the American Civil Liberties Union, serving as a member of its board of directors and one of its counsels. The documentary “RBG” and major motion picture “On the Basis of Sex,” chronicling her fight for gender equality and equal rights earlier in her career, both premiered in 2018.
Dra. Ruth Westheimer (1928-) is a preeminent sex-therapist and media personality. A survivor of the Holocaust, Westheimer moved in 1945 to British Mandate Palestine, joined the Haganah, trained as a sniper, and fought in the War of Independence. She received an honorary PhD from HUC in 2000 and is on the board of directors and an honorary president of the YMHA of Washington Heights.
Rabbi Lillian Kowalski was ordained in 2019 by HUC-JIR, currently serving as the Rabbi-Educator of Temple Israel in Tulsa, USA.