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I'm really perplexed by what is going on in megillas Rus. In chapter 3 Rus and Boaz keep talking about Boaz being a גֹאֵל, but גֹאֵל of what? Boaz is the uncle of Machlon and Kilyon and as such he doesn't have an obligation to do yibum (Yevamos 17b). So why the use of גֹאֵל in that conversation, why not just talk about plain old marriage?

Then, in chapter 4 גֹאֵל is used to describe redeeming an ancestral field. That makes sense to me, but then suddenly in pasuk 5 we read:

וַיֹּאמֶר בֹּעַז בְּיוֹם קְנוֹתְךָ הַשָּׂדֶה מִיַּד נָעֳמִי וּמֵאֵת רוּת הַמּוֹאֲבִיָּה אֵשֶׁת הַמֵּת קָנִיתָ לְהָקִים שֵׁם הַמֵּת עַל נַחֲלָתוֹ: And Boaz said, "On the day that you buy the field from the hand of Naomi and from Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the deceased, you have bought [it], to preserve the name of the deceased on his heritage."

This doesn't sound like any field-redeeming גֹאֵל transaction I've ever heard of. How is Rus involved in this land sale? And how is Boaz able to add in these conditions? If Naomi is really selling the field why isn't she having a conversation directly with Mr. גֹאֵל (Ploni Almoni)?

Then it gets even more difficult. The pasuk (7) sounds like it is talking about chalitzah, but also about monetary transactions

וְזֹאת לְפָנִים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל עַל הַגְּאוּלָּה וְעַל הַ תְּמוּרָה לְקַיֵּם כָּל דָּבָר שָׁלַף אִישׁ נַעֲלוֹ וְנָתַן לְרֵעֵה וּ וְזֹאת הַתְּעוּדָה בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל: Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redemption and exchange, to confirm anything, one would remove his shoe and give [it] to his fellow, and this was the attestation in Israel.

So does גֹאֵל mean marry, redeem a field or both, and how and why does it seem to be used in these confusing ways in the narrative?

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2 Answers 2

Note that in Kesuvos 104 we see that a widow can sell her husband's property to cover the kesuvah. The laws of inheritance are such that the land would have gone to Elimelech's brother and down through the line. Since there were no brothers left, Rus was not subject to yibum (see the Rambam on this) and could have married anyone that she wanted (or who would have her). As a result, the redemption of the land and the marriage to Rus would be "lifnim mishuras hadin".

Boaz probably arranged this with Naomi as she had not wanted to sell the property to cover her kesuvah (and that of Rus if her initial marriage had been legitimate) originally. Thus, he could then present the entire package and marry Rus, relying on his status as the head of the bais din to ensure the psak would be accepted by future generations.

Indeed, questions were raised about the legitimacy of Dovid hamelech and the navi Shmuel had to write the book of Rus to publicize his psak.

Since this "lifnim mishuras hadin" procedure was designed to emulate the yibum procedure and redemption, the same terms are used. The phrase וְזֹאת לְפָנִים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל implies that this was a normal procedure at that time for verifying transactions rather than bringing to mind chalitzah.

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Regarding the performance of Yibum, several Rishonim (Ramban and Rashba), in the context of Tamar's relationship to Yehuda, discuss the idea that Yibum has an intrinsic value, and that it is not intrinsically limited to only a brother, but would have a value, albeit lesser, through even more distant relatives. When the Torah forbade the marriage of relatives, it only left an exception for Yibum in the case of the greatest spiritual benefit. But in the event that there is no prohibition, the intrinsic value of Yibum would still be relevant. So Boaz being a Go'el in terms of marriage could still be understood according to its simple Yibum implications. Indeed, the Malbim explains, Boaz chose to do Yibum in order to spiritually reincarnate Rus's deceased husband, Machalon, which is the Zohar's approach to what happens in Yibum - the soul of the deceased is reincarnated into the son born of the Yibum union. (See Malbim to 4:14, for example.)

Regarding buying the field, along the same lines, he may have chosen to acquire the field through Yibum instead of acquiring it separately in order that it be the nachala (inheritence) of Machalon, and not his own unrelated property, as the Malbim explains at the end of verse 4:5 that the field acquired through Yibum will be associated with the deceased.

The implication of the Malbim is, however, that Tov had no option to buy the field, and it was not merely a choice to acquire it through Yibum instead of purchasing it, but rather this was the only option of how to get the field belonging to Rus, as is clear in his commentary to the first part of verse 4:5. This could possibly be because (my own suggestion) Rus was unwilling to sell the field in order that it be a "bargaining chip" to have Yibum, especially once she knew that Boaz was willing to do Yibum once Tov stepped out of the way (verse 3:13).

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