Ruth's Conversion as Moabite?
I have a question about the Book of Ruth. As a Moabite, why was Ruth allowed to convert to Judaism, given the biblical injunction against accepting converts from the Moabite nation?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Excellent question! Before I answer, I need to add an important clarification to your question. The Torah does not exactly forbid a Moabite to convert, only to "enter the assembly of God" (Deut. 23:4). This is understood by the Talmud to mean that they may not marry a pedigreed Jew (Yevamot 77b). Thus, a Moabite may in fact convert, but may not subsequently marry into the Jewish people – but must rather marry another convert or a Jew of poor lineage. Although a Moabite may personally become Jewish and observe the mitzvot, as a result of the historic cruelty they showed to the Jewish people, the Torah did not permit their truly becoming a part of the nation (v. 5).
The question is thus not how Ruth could have converted, but how she could have subsequently married Boaz. In fact, Ruth's descendant – the illustrious King David – was hassled by some of the greatest scholars of his time claiming that Ruth's marriage had never been permitted, and so David was not fit to rule.
However, upon closer inspection we see that the Torah was precise in writing the word "Moabite" in the masculine form, indicating that only Moabite males are forbidden to marry in, but Moabite females are allowed to.
Initially her name was Gilith, but she changed it to Ruth when she married. The Hebrew name Rut (for Ruth) spelled backwards is "tur" which means dove. A dove is a bird that is allowed to be offered on the altar – symbolizing that Ruth was permitted to fully become a part of the Jewish people.
(Sources: Talmud – Yevamot 77a; Zohar Chadash – Ruth 78a)