Orpah seems to do exactly what Naomi tells her to do–she leaves. Should we demonize her because of it?

Heh! You would think that Orpah (Oprah’s mother tried to copy that name but transposed the letters) would be off the hook, since she is just doing what her mother-in-law told her to. But that’s not always how it works. One time my mother told me to leave the dishes till she got in. Boy, did I get clobbered when I obeyed her. Some people expect to those who care sincerely to keep pushing. Observe this excerpt from How to speak Minnesotan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdLPJfbLNOM

Something similar to this happens at the end of Judges, when a “certain Levite” comes to retrieve his angry “second wife” from her father. It takes a very long time for him to leave, and from there, things do not go well. Some see this story as an example of what happens when people violate host/guest protocols. For a summary of these, click here protocols: http://www.maryadams.net/classpages/bible/downloads/hospitality.html.

Therefore, I believe that Orpah needed to insist on staying, as Ruth did. Clearly Ruth’s insistence is treated as true “friendship,” while Orpah seems to merely observe basic politeness before she sprints away. Let’s say your elderly neighbor was having symptoms of a heart attack and insisted he would be fine. If you believe he is in danger, you have a moral and human obligation to push on. In Naomi’s case, she did not want to be the reason Orpah and Ruth ruined their lives. But she probably secretly hoped they would stay with her.

Moreover, this story doesn’t exactly advocate obedience to authority. It is a story about how to manipulate those in charge to make sure your family is cared for. It could be argued that Ruth doesn’t do exactly what Naomi tells her to do when she appears at Boaz’s feet. But she accomplishes the same result–maybe even a better one.

By the way, if you want to read more tales about Orpah from the Midrash, here are some resources. Here is the Ruth/Boaz story in Ginzberg’s Legend of the Jews; you can search on the page Orpah and learn more about her–fascinating! She did not fare well in the misogynistic oral tradition, where she is described as sleeping with 100 men in one night (including butt stuff!) and giving birth to Goliath, David’s enemy in the story: https://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/loj/loj403.htm (Links to an external site.)

The Jews loved symmetry. Also, here is a resource I didn’t know before: The Encyclopedia of Jewish women. I am so glad to find it! It summarizes the Aggadah tradition of Orpah, not just the few tales told by Ginzberg: https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/orpah-midrash-and-aggadah

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *