For Introduction to Judaism Course
Unit 1 Session 6
Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black, Leo Baeck Centre 2012
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• Pesach comes first - the spring (barley) harvest.
• We read ‘You shall count seven weeks from the
start of the harvest. Then you shall observe
Shavu’ot’ (Deuteronomy 16:9-10).
• Shavu’ot is the early summer (wheat) harvest in
Israel (Chag heKatzir – the festival of gathering)
and the first fruit harvest (Chag haBikurim).
SHAVU’OT – One of the Three
There are three important festivals to mark
the harvests – ancient Israelites would
take their thanksgiving offerings to the
Priests in the Temple in Jerusalem:
Springtime in Israel - PESACH
Summer in Israel - SHAVU’OT
Autumn in Israel - SUKKOT
SHAVU’OT – Post-biblically
• Without the Temple and pilgrimage, the
one-day Shavu’ot lost out to the week-long
holidays of Pesach & Sukkot.
• Pesach celebrated the EXODUS
• Sukkot marked wandering in the DESERT
• SHAVU’OT had no historical connection,
according to the biblical account.
• The ‘Giving of Torah’ at Sinai had no
festival associated with it in Torah (in Mark
One – Biblical - Judaism).
• So the RABBIS (Mark Two – Rabbinic Judaism) married an event without a
festival to a festival without an event!
• That’s how SHAVU’OT became ‘The Time
of Giving of our Torah’ - Z’man Matan
Torateinu (see Mishkan T’filah p 412)
Counting the ‘Omer’: ‘Don’t forget Shavu’ot is
Study (late into or even through the night)
Dairy foods (cheesecakes, blintzes)
Flowers (decorating the synagogue)
Ruth (The book or Scroll of Ruth is read)
We could argue that Shavu’ot also
has an important extra theme:
Ger (M) – stranger – giyoret (F)
Hence ‘Gerut’ – meaning ‘bringing
in the stranger’, ie conversion
There’s always been ‘joining’ or ‘conversion’ in
The best-known ‘proselyte’ is Ruth the Moabite
After the development of Christianity, it
became less easy to become Jewish.
It became usual to send people away 3 times
Realistically, today we are all Jews by Choice
Conversion process
Learn about Judaism
Believe as a Jew
Behave as a Jew
Belong to the Jewish people
A continuing journey
Sharing both the burdens and the glories
Brit Milah – religious circumcision
Bet Din – Jewish court - certificate
A significant Hebrew name is chosen
Usually ben/bat (child of) Abraham & Sarah
Mikvah – immersion
Acceptance ceremony in your community
Orthodox only accept orthodox conversion
• ‘Dearer to God is the proselyte who has
come of their own accord, than all the
crowds of Israel who stood at Mt Sinai’.
• The Israelites witnessed the ‘special
effects’ - thunder, lightning, quaking
mountains and the sound of trumpets. But
the proselyte, who saw none of these
things, came to God and took on the yoke
of heaven. Can anyone be dearer to God?
MIDRASH - Tankhuma Lekh Lekha 6
Ruth as the quintessential
‘Jew by choice’.
So Naomi returned from the country of Moab with Ruth,
her Moabite daughter-in-law. And they came to
Bethlehem at the beginning of the harvest (Ruth, 1:22, quoted
in Mishkan T’filah World Union Edition Festival evening service p 407)
Book of Ruth - overview
• Found in the K’tuvim’ (Writings) section of
the TaNaKh (Hebrew Bible).
• Set at harvest time, the plot exhibits a
belief in the comprehensive but hidden
providence of God working through
‘ordinary life’
• Probably dated 950-750 BCE
• The conclusion – the connection with King
David – is probably dated 400 years later
• Ruth is a Moabite. Naomi and her family
are Israelites. Ruth marries Naomi’s son
Makhlon (‘sickness’) in Moab. He dies.
• Naomi sets off back to Bethlehem, telling
Ruth to stay in Moab and find a new
• But Ruth insists on coming with Naomi.
Ruth says: ‘Wherever you go, I will go
‘Wherever you lodge, I will lodge
‘Your people shall be my people
‘Your God shall be my God
‘Where you die, I will die,
and there will I be buried’.
• When they return to Bethlehem in the land
of Israel, Ruth goes to glean in the field.
• There she is spotted by Boaz, Naomi’s
• He marries Ruth
• She bears him a son, Obed
• Obed’s grandson is said to be King David
Don’t underestimate this!
• Ruth was born a non-Israelite (a Moabite)
• She adopts the Israelite God and life
• She is able to give birth to the line of King
David and from him King Solomon, who
builds the Temple in Jerusalem
• From that line of Ruth the convert, tradition
says the Messiah will come.
Your Personal Journey
• Create a roadmap of your journey into
Judaism so far
• Special people, events, experiences,
books or moments of insight
• Sign-posts at crucial moments
• Moments of doubt and/or insight
Receiving Torah
Care taken of those who place
their trust in God
Welcoming the Convert
Does Progressive Judaism welcome
conversion to Judaism?
It certainly does! We are delighted when
others discover the wonderful and rich
framework of life that Judaism offers.
• ‘God, from time immemorial You have
chosen us
• Isn’t it time you chose someone else
for a change?’!
• Recommended Reading: Jacobs ch 5
• We are ‘Chosen for God’s purposes’
• Bachar as in bachar banu mikol ha’amim
(Torah blessings, Mishkan T’filah page 368)
• Not a rejection of those not chosen
• ‘A sculptor works on a suitable piece of
marble for one work, then uses another.’
• Exodus 19:5-6 : If you will listen to my
voice and keep my covenant then you will
be my own treasure, a kingdom of priests
and a holy nation.
• God chose you to be God’s own treasure
(Deuteronomy 7:6-8) – because the
ancestors were faithful, or promised…
• Exodus 4:22 talks of Israel as ‘God’s firstborn’. Parents love all their children, but
the first makes them parents. Israel first
recognised God as parent of humanity.
First born, first daughter, middle child,
baby - each are a different relationship,
and each have special uniqueness.
Making the Abstract Concrete?
• Great achievements cannot be made in
abstract – Shakespeare had to be an
Englishman writing in English in an
English environment – later translated into
many languages for all people.
• So ‘ethical monotheism’ developed
amongst the Israelites in their unique time
and context but is intended for all people.
• Jews had the ‘God experience’ on which
they based their teaching about what God
expects of people. It was first developed
amongst their own group. But what
ultimately came out and will come out is
for the benefit of all humanity. Is this God
‘chosing’ the Jews? (cf blowing into the
narrow end of the shofar – Jews – makes
sound that fills the universe – everybody)
• Some have suggested ‘racial superiority’ – that
Jews have a special soul. Then they say this is
not ‘better’ but ‘worse’ as the responsibility is
greater and punishment more severe!
• In Judah Halevi’s time, he argued Jews were a
special super-human category as different from
other humans as humans are from animals.
• These concepts are objectionable to us and we
reject them. Non-Jews have always been able
to become Jews – so all human beings clearly
have the potential to become Jews.
• The traditional formulations of the Aleynu prayer
demonstrate the problem: ‘God has not made us
like the nations of other lands and has not
placed us like other families of the earth…’ (See
version II, MT page 586, but this is interpretively
translated and moderated as ‘...set us apart from
the other families of the earth, giving us a
destiny unique among the nations’.
• Version I seems preferable, revised to ‘... spread
out the heavens and established the earth’ p.586
Torah blessing
• Torah is distinctive to Judaism, the ‘core’
framework of Jewish life.
• The blessing is: ‘…asher bachar banu
mikol ha’amim, v’natan lanu et haTorah’
• ‘…who has chosen us from all the nations,
giving us the Torah’ (see Mishkan T’filah,
World Union Edition, page 368)
God is not only concerned with
Jews – we are all God’s people
• Isaiah says ‘May my people Egypt be
blessed, and Assyria, the work of my
hands, and Israel, my inheritance’. (19:24-25).
• ‘Are not you and the Ethiopians all the
same to me, children of the one God?’
(Amos 9:7)
7 laws of the sons of Noah:
Non-Jews just have to be ‘decent human beings’
1. One God and no idols
2. Respect God and do not blashpheme
3. Lead a moral life – no adultery or incest
4. Be responsible member of society - do not
5. Be honest – do not steal
6. Establish courts and practice justice
7. Do not harm animals
This will get people the same reward as
observant Jew – a ‘place in heaven’.
Kiddush haShem
• Meaning ‘sanctification of God’s name’.
More usually it is used about the few
things Jews should give up their lives for –
such as if they are forced to denounce
God or die – but actually we are all
‘banners’ for Judaism and God in the way
we live our lives, so we always need to try
to maintain good standards of care and
behaviour to others and to our world.

Shavuot & The Book of Ruth. Ruth as the quintessential …