I’m a little confused as to what happened between Boaz and Ruth. Did he become her second husband or only a sole provider for her to have a child? Was sex outside of marriage less taboo then than later?

You know, as many times as I’ve read this, I’ve never considered this question carefully. Regarding sex outside of marriage, according to a 2005 book on marriage and sex in Judaism by Michael Broide (quoted in Wikipedia): “The written Torah [as opposed to the oral Torah] never forbids sex outside the context of marriage, with the exception of adultery and incest. According to Exodus 22:15–16, the man who entices a single woman to have sex must offer to marry her afterwards or the equivalent in compensation, unless her father refuses to allow him. This law is only for virginal women, as their value in the marriage market, as it were, decreases. Therefore, the man must either himself offer to marry her or pay for her lesser value, as it were, in a marriage market that highly values virginity,” Note that the source for this factoid is the case law in the bible itself.

So Ruth runs the risk of devaluing herself by attempting to seduce Boaz; on the other hand, Ruth is not a virgin, so perhaps the conditions mentioned above do not apply to her. Also, she has no male relatives to be compensated if she IS cheapened by sex, which gives her a special freedom to use her sexuality to protect her family. Another story from the Persian or early Hellenistic era, Esther, shows Esther using her sexuality for her people, but in this case through a lawful union, though that union is with a “foreign” husband.

Regarding Boaz’s status in relation to Ruth, I think that Ruth’s relationship to Boaz is that of a marriage; he is her second husband because her first husband dies. But “second wife” means something different, because wealthy men had multiple wives. The first had the highest status, but that was often an arranged alliance; the second wife was more often a love match.

So the question is, is Boaz single when he meets Ruth? We don’t hear of any children or wives. But he is an older man (he praises Ruth for approaching him rather than the young men). In second temple times, Jewish men are strongly encouraged to marry and reproduce. It is their main job. Moreover, when he discovers who Ruth is, Boaz invites her to glean (pick up extra grain after the threshing) with his “young women” (Na’ arah). This word seems to mean either single women of marriageable age, concubines, or prostitutes. In most cases it means an untouched woman, but in judges it is used to refer to a second wife. So the question, who are Boaz’s “young women”? Are they servants? Are they a harem? Both seem possible to me, especially if Ruth was written in the Persian period, when texts like Esther specifically mention harems. (The word “na’ arah is used 10 times in regard to these harem women, who are kept pure and beautiful and taught sexual techniques to please the King. They are being auditioned to become his new first wife or queen).

Therefore, it’s quite possible that Ruth is not Boaz’s first wife. However, the negotiations around their marriage specifically refer to the idea of levirate marriage, so Boaz understands that if he has a child, it will be for Elimelech (not Naomi, despite what the story tells us). Since Elimelech is the elder kinsman, Boaz’s child for Elimelech would inherit the family name and wealth, thereby disinheriting his other children, even if they were older.

Since Ruth’s goal is to find someone to care for herself and her mother-in-law, she has accomplished her goal, regardless of where she resides in the harem. On the other hand, as the mother of the heir, she would enjoy a special status, so Naomi would enjoy that status too.

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