Women-wise and Other Wise

Mrs. Randolph Guggenheimer, Editor

The week before last, when one rainy day after the other kept us all close to the house, we sat one late afternoon in the library and discussed, half seriously, half playfully, which of the many women figures in the Bible and Jewish legends we would—if we but could—call back to life and invite as a week-end guest to the house.

Many suggestions were made but most were rejected. Eve? No, not at all. For despite the fact that she must have had some youthful ingenuousness and charm she was surely rather crude and terribly curious to taste forbidden fruits. And a house-guest of such temper is bothersome. The Queen of Sheba? No, decidedly not. She might be an exciting guest but also an exacting one. Judith who slew Holofernes? By no means. We’d all feel uncomfortable with her, and though we sincerely consider her a heroine and are certain that she did very right, our modern nerves are too jumpy and if she’d merely touch a steel knife our hearts would skip a beat or two. But then one woman was named who, all of us agreed, would be the ideal house-guest. More than that. She seemed to us the ideal type of Jewish womanhood. That was Naomi, the mother-in-law of Ruth.

Consider her story for a moment. The wife of a well-to-do man, Elimelech, the mother of two sons, she follows her husband and her children to the land of Moab when for economic reasons they decide to emigrate. She has evidently quickly adapted herself to her new surroundings without in any way forgetting her racial and religious heritage. When her sons marry young Moabite women, Naomi makes the new daughters welcome, never trying to influence them, unless it were with the silent but powerful example of a life lived beautifully. She loses husband and sons, youth and fortune, and as a poor, bereft, yet still gentle and considerate woman, she decides to return to Bethlehem, to her own people, the friends of her youth, the relatives of her blood.

But Ruth who has lived with this kind, unassuming, and yet so noble woman can not bear to part from Naomi. She declares that she will go with her and worship the God Naomi adores, for she surely felt that a religion which creates a character of such quiet perfection must indeed enshrine a divine truth. Naomi first gently dissuades her, and when she finally permits Ruth to come with her, she does not selfishly expect the younger woman to share her grief for the dead but sees to it that Ruth finds a new love and new happiness. Thus, through sheer beauty of living, she brings to Israel one of the few converts of whom the Bible speaks.

Judaism has never been eager to make converts, has never sent out missionaries, never engaged in proselytizing, never imposed in any way its doctrines on others as the only path to salvation. Whenever converts were accepted, and it was always done hesitatingly and only after careful deliberation, they came to us out of their own free will, called either by the grandeur of our ethical laws or the virtues of Jewish life, which were never depicted better than when Bileam, the foreign priest, exclaims: “How beautiful are thy tents, O Jacob, thy dwelling places, O Israel.” And today, too, when everywhere prejudice and persecution raise their evil heads, it seems to me that we should answer them and gain friends and adherents by fostering the Naomi spirit among our women, among our people. This spirit stands surely for the best in Jewish life, and though I do not want to insist that every Jewish woman is a Naomi, I know that we possess even now a rich leaven of this type, and it is, after all, the leaven and not the lump that decides the vitality and the virtues of a race.

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