A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Synchronicity Ironies: Nakba Day at 65 Coincides with Shavuot

May 15 is marked (certainly not "celebrated") as Nakba Day by Palestinians, the date in 1948 on which the British Mandate for Palestine formally ended and the first Arab-Israeli War/Israeli War of Independence began, still known among Palestinians as the nakba, the catastrophe. Israel had proclaimed its independence the day before, on May 14, but due to the differences between the (mostly lunar) Hebrew calendar and the solar Western calendar, the two dates today rarely coincide, since Israelis celebrate Yom Ha'Atzmaut or Independence Day on the Hebrew date of 5 Iyar (this year it was April 16, just about a month ago), Israel has already celebrated its 65th birthday, while Palestinians are marking 65 years of their own loss today. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict at age 65 has made a few faltering steps towards a solution, but is not yet ready for retirement.

Despite the difference in dates observing the same event, this year sees an interesting and perhaps ironic juxtaposition: the Jewish holiday of Shavuot began at sundown last night. And there are some interesting symbolic aspects to this coincidence of Nakba Day and Shavuot.

Shavuot (in English Bibles and the New Testament often translated literally as the "Feast of Weeks") comes seven weeks after Passover and traditionally marks the giving of the Torah to the Jewish People at Mount Sinai. But Shavuot also has a traditional linkage to the Biblical Book of Ruth. As the Wikipedia Shavuot article notes:
The Book of Ruth (מגילת רות, Megillat Ruth) is read on Shavuot because: (1) King David, Ruth's descendant, was born and died on Shavuot [Y Chagigah 2:3]; (2) Shavuot is harvest time [Exodus 23:16], and the events of Book of Ruth occur at harvest time; (3) The gematria (numerical value) of Ruth is 606, the number of commandments given at Sinai in addition to the 7 Noahide Laws already given, for a total of 613; (4) Ruth was a convert, and all Jews also entered the covenant on Shavuot, when the Torah was given; (5) The central theme of the book is loving-kindness, and the Torah is about loving-kindness; (6) Ruth was allowed to marry Boaz on the basis of the Oral Law's interpretation of the verse, "A Moabite may not marry into the Congregation of the Lord." (Deut. 23:4). This points to the unity of the Written and Oral Torahs. 
What was once a familiar story may deserve a summary here: Naomi and her husband Elimelech had moved from Bethlehem in Judah to Moab, and their two sons married Moabite women. Naomi's husband and both sons then died, and Naomi determined to return to her own people. One of the daughters-in-law, Orpah, agrees. The other, Ruth, has other ideas.

Most Gentiles will best know Ruth for its famous line in Chapter I, verse 16 (KJV), which has entered the familiar phrases of the English language:
16 And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:
Returning to Bethlehem with Naomi, she marries a kinsman of Naomi named Boaz, and becomes the Moabite ancestor of the future royal line of Judah. Ruth carries much symbolism, not just of loyalty, but of the role of the outsider: Ruth is a direct ancestor of King David, yet a non-Hebrew Moabite; the gospel genealogies of Jesus, which trace him to David and beyond, also include Ruth, the Gentile ancestor of Jesus.

And Ruth's relationship with Naomi despite both of their losses has led to some commentators calling Shavuot "a holiday of nonviolence."

I'm not going to belabor the imagery here. But the coincidence of the 65th anniversary of Nakba Day and the major Jewish holiday that celebrates assimilation with an outsider seemed worth a comment. Especially lately.

Greetings to readers celebrating Shavuot, acknowledgment and sympathy to readers celebrating Nakba Day. May the reconciliation of outsiders not be merely a nice Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age legend, and the integration of the other be embraced.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

Thanks for this worthy thought.