For Shavuot: Book of Ruth Recreated 100 Years Ago

Bible-loving members of the American Colony in Jerusalem photographed a reenactment of the Biblical Story of Ruth.

Lenny Ben-David ,

Ruth and Naomi
Ruth and Naomi
INN: LIb of Con

The Jewish holiday of Shavuot - Pentecost is celebrated this week.  The holiday has several traditional names: Shavuot, the festival of weeks, marking seven weeks after Passover; Chag Hakatzir, the festival of reaping grains; and Chag Habikkurim, the festival of first fruits.  Shavuot, according to Jewish tradition, is the day the Children of Israel accepted the Torah at Mt. Sinai.  It is also believed to be the day of King David's birth and death.

The reading of the Book of Ruth is one tradition of the holiday.  Ruth, a Moabite and widow of a Jewish man (and a princess according to commentators), gave up her life in Moab to join her Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi, in the Land of Israel.  She insisted on adopting Naomi's God, Torah and religion.

A central element of the story of Ruth is her going to the local fields where barley and wheat were being harvested so that she could collect charitable handouts.  She gleans in the fields of Boaz, a judge and a relative of Ruth's dead husband (as such he had a levirate obligation to marry the widow).  The union resulted in a child, Obed, the grandfather of King David.  

The members of the American Colony were religious Christians who established their community in the Holy Land in 1881 after the Great Chicago Fire.  They were steeped in the Bible and photographed countryside scenes that referred to biblical incidents and prohibitions.

The society engaged in philanthropic work amongst the people of Jerusalem regardless of religious affiliation, gaining the trust of all the local communities. During and immediately after World War I, the American Colony carried out philanthropic work to alleviate the suffering of the local inhabitants, opening charitable ventures such as soup kitchens and orphanages.

A major effort was made by the American Colony photographers to re-enact the story of Ruth, probably in the fields near Bethlehem.  "Ruth," we believe, was a young member of the American Colony community; the remaining "cast" were villagers from the Bethlehem area who were actually harvesting, threshing and winnowing their crops.

We present a few of the dozens of "Ruth" photographs found in the Library of Congress' American Colony collection

Photo portrait of "Ruth the Moabitess" (Library of Congress)

Ruth said, "Do not entreat me to leave you, to return from following you, for wherever you go, I will go.Your people shall be my people, your God my God"

And Naomi and Ruth both went on until they arrived at Bethlehem


Ruth came to a field that belonged to Boaz who was of the family of Naomi's deceased husband

Boaz said to his servant, who stood over the reapers, "To whom does this maiden belong?"


Boaz said to Ruth, "Do not go to glean in another you shall stay with my maidens"

Boaz said to her at mealtime, "Come here and partake of the bread..." He ordered his servants "Pretend to forget some of the bundles for her." 

Ruth carried it to the city and Naomi saw what she had gleaned

We have matched the pictures with corresponding verses from the Book of Ruth.

See more of the pictures here.

Ruth came to the threshing floor and Boaz said, "Ready the shawl you are wearing and hold it," and she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley....

Unfortunately, we don't know exactly when the "Ruth and Boaz series" was photographed, but we estimate approximately 100 years ago.

Posted with permission from Israel's History: A Picture a Day website.