Thursday, June 01, 2006

Chag Sameach

Shavuot begins tonight – have a good one if you celebrate it. Originally an agricultural festival celebrating the barley harvest and the bringing of the “first fruits” to the temple, it was historicized by the rabbis of the Talmud to commemorate the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, fifty days after Passover. (The Christian analogue is Pentecost, which bears a similar relationship to Easter.) Traditionally, the book of Ruth is read on Shavuot. Not only is it set at the time of the barley harvest; it also chronicles the acceptance of the Jewish covenant with God by Ruth, a young Moabite woman who becomes the great-grandmother of King David and by extension an ancestress of the Messiah. It is believed to have been written as a rebuttal to the xenophobia that ran rampant after the return of the Jews from the Babylonian exile, when many of those who had remained behind and married non-Jewish women were forced to abandon them, along with their children. Shades of today’s immigration debate, a great deal of which is fueled by xenophobia, whatever legitimate concerns there may be.