Photo Credit: Urim Publications

Title: Faith and Fortitude: Megillat Ruth and the Torah Reading for Shavuot with Commentary from the Writings of Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits
By: Compiled and Edited by Reuven Mohl
Urim Publications



Rav Eliezer Berkovits was one of the greatest rabbinic minds of the 20th century. Yet, mention his name today and far too few people know of this gadol.

While Reuven Mohl spends his working hours as a dentist, he also spends a lot of his time working on getting the writings of Rav Berkovits into print, beginning, a few years ago, with Jewish Women in Time and Torah. In Faith and Fortitude, he brings Rav Berkovits’s brilliant insights about Megillat Ruth to the written page.

As Mohl notes, there are few direct references to the book of Ruth throughout Rav Berkovits’s writings. Mohl formed the commentary in this book by merging thematic connections between the text of Megillat Ruth and the writings of Rav Berkovits, attaching his thoughts to the texts and trying to explain them through his words.

R’ Aharon Lichtenstein often posited that Orthodox society prefers evolution rather than revolution. For many, they saw R’ Berkovits as being too revolutionary. This was especially true regarding women’s rights and the plight of agunos – one of the main themes of Megillat Ruth.

In the book, R’ Berkovits notes that the practice of our time in the application of the Torah’s marriage and divorce laws often leads to grievous human suffering and much desecration of G-d’s name. He says that it is ethically indefensible, but halacha is not responsible for it.

The verse in Megillat Ruth 4:7 states, “Such was the practice in Israel.” This phrase is often used to defend practices that worked in previous times but are no longer relevant to current times. R’ Berkovits writes that it is a fundamental principle in Judaism that Torat Moshe is unchangeable and eternal. However, it is not part of Jewish doctrine to believe that the application of the Torah to one special period of Jewish history must remain unalterably valid for all time.

A similar approach was articulated by the great Jewish composer Gustav Mahler, who said, “Tradition is tending the flame; it’s not worshiping the ashes.”

However, the challenge in modifying halachic practices is that it can often be akin to modifying DNA. While the outcome can have horrifying consequences, Judaism has only survived by adapting to new circumstances while keeping its core the same. This is an explanation of the success of Satmar, under the leadership of the Satmar Rebbe. As detailed in American Shtetl: The Making of Kiryas Joel, a Hasidic Village in Upstate New York, Satmar as a group was able to change without changing. It led them to regrow into one of the most potent political and religious groups in New York State.

The protagonists of Megillat Ruth are women, and much of the commentary is regarding the status of women. One of the most, if not most, vexing issues surrounding women and halacha today is that of the agunah. Throughout this fascinating book, it’s eminently clear that R’ Berkovits can toe the very fine line between fealty to halacha and being a feminist in the true sense of the word. He pioneered examining many present-day crucial ideas within a halachic framework.

Megillat Ruth is relatively short, consisting of 85 verses, which is also the numerical value of Boaz. The running commentary here takes the reader only a short time to read, but it will undoubtedly enhance their understanding of Megillat Ruth and the holiday of Shavuot.

Rav Eliezer Berkovits was ahead of his time. But thanks to Dr. Mohl, who is bringing his writings to print, they are now quite timely.

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