Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What Nationality was on Ruth's Teudat Zehut? - Parsha Challenge: Parshat Ki Teitzei


לא יבא עמוני ומואבי בקהל ה' גם דור ... עד עולם

This issue actually belongs in Parshat Balak but it is relevant to our Parsha, as well. It is one of the most confounding questions on the commentaries of Chumash and I am astounded that virtually none of the commentaries even raises the question.

The question is this:

The Talmud Bavli states in no less than 4 places (Nazir 23b, Sanhedrin 105b, Horayos 10b, Sotah 47a) that Ruth was a direct descendant of Balak. In at least 2 of those (Sanhederin and Horayos), it indicates that she was a direct patrilineal descendant.

In Parshat Balak (BaMidbar 22:4) Rashi quotes from Midrash Tanchuma that Balak was not qualified to rule over Moav because "he was from the princes on Midyan". So, according to the Tanchuma, Balak was not a true blooded Moavi at all, but rather a Midyanite!

Now, the gemara in Yevamot (78b) tells us that "for non-Jews, nationality follows the male anscestor". As such, if Balak was a Midyanite, as the Tanchuma asserts, and Ruth was a direct patrilineal descendant of Balak as the Talmud Bavli asserts, then Ruth's nationality should not be registered as Moavi but rather as Midyanite!

If so, what was the basis for the controversy in the days of Boaz?? Ruth was not truly a Moavi at all!

Does anybody have any ideas how to reconcile this? Does anybody know any commentary that deals with this question?

Please tell me!

I havc been searching and searching for years. In a few days, BL"N, I will disclose what I have found.

1 comment:

joshwaxman said...

Interesting question. I don't know of any commentary that addresses it. Two possibilities come to mind, but you may well have a much better one:

1) These are separate midrashim that are not meant to be harmonized.

2) While that was his Balak's origin, at the time of the Biblical command, he was already joined to Moav, such that while he was descended from Midian and the people of Moav might question his credentials, his nationality at the time of the command would encompass anyone that had joined the nation of Moav up to that point.

Indeed, the psukim themselves relate the hiring of Bilaam to the prohibition:
לֹא-יָבֹא עַמּוֹנִי וּמוֹאָבִי, בִּקְהַל יְהוָה: גַּם דּוֹר עֲשִׂירִי, לֹא-יָבֹא לָהֶם בִּקְהַל יְהוָה עַד-עוֹלָם. ה עַל-דְּבַר אֲשֶׁר לֹא-קִדְּמוּ אֶתְכֶם, בַּלֶּחֶם וּבַמַּיִם, בַּדֶּרֶךְ, בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם; וַאֲשֶׁר שָׂכַר עָלֶיךָ אֶת-בִּלְעָם בֶּן-בְּעוֹר, מִפְּתוֹר אֲרַם נַהֲרַיִם--לְקַלְלֶךָּ. ו וְלֹא-אָבָה יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לִשְׁמֹעַ אֶל-בִּלְעָם, וַיַּהֲפֹךְ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְּךָ אֶת-הַקְּלָלָה, לִבְרָכָה: כִּי אֲהֵבְךָ, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ. ז לֹא-תִדְרֹשׁ שְׁלֹמָם, וְטֹבָתָם, כָּל-יָמֶיךָ, לְעוֹלָם

and if it says וַאֲשֶׁר שָׂכַר עָלֶיךָ אֶת-בִּלְעָם בֶּן-בְּעוֹר, מִפְּתוֹר אֲרַם נַהֲרַיִם--לְקַלְלֶךָּ, it would be exceptionally surprising for Balak, who was in charge of the actual hiring, not to be included in this prohibition on Moav in general.

Kol Tuv,
Josh