The Book of Ruth, which inspired the whole series of Ruth, Esther, Anna Behind the Veil, is usually read in a synagogue during the Feast of Weeks – Shavuot, in celebration of the harvest and of the Torah being given to the people of Israel on Mount Sinai. Many years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture delivered on this topic by Aviva Gothlib Zornberg in the Torah school for women in Jerusalem. It left a lasting impression on me and generated a plethora of reflections. The Book of Ruth
is a story of a Moabite woman named Ruth who decides to accept the God of her mother-in-law Naomi as her own: “Your people will be my people and your God my God” says the daughter-in-law to the despairing widow who had lost two childless sons. This seemingly simple story encompasses a
parable about overcoming death. Just like Gilgamesh, Ruth is seeking a way to overcome the irreversibility of death. Gilgamesh fails in this endeavor. But in the Book of Ruth the story involves a woman who represents not only the Other but is also Medianite. The Torah forbids the people of Israel to have contacts with Medianites. But here, the Other is not only accepted in the community,but also becomes the ancestor of the King of Israel, King David, whose lineage will produce the Messiah.
Very soon, as a follow up on the topic of Ruth, another cycle manifested, inspired by another
scroll from the Jewish traditional canon – the Book of Esther, which is read in the spring, during the Purim celebrations, when the meaning of events is hidden or inverted. The commentators have been trying to locate the story in history – it may have taken place in Persia during the reign of Xerxes.
The name Purim comes from the Persian expression for drawing lots, which in the story are to decide the annihilation of the Persian Jews. While in the Book of Ruth we find a model of the tradition’s approach to the Other among Jews, in the Book of Esther we see a story of Jews among the
Others. The exegesis of both stories is possible at many different levels. It was such discovered interpretations, the unexpected thought patterns that fueled the process of painting about Esther.
This brief introduction is all I can provide as a key. Since the Jewish tradition teaches us to read the stories of the past through the context provided by the present, let me suggest that the paintings you
see may inspire your own, personal inquiries.