In the book of Ruth it never openly states that she converts and in fact she is referred to as Ruth the Moabite throughout the text. At what point, chronologically, did she in fact convert?

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    – Isaac Moses
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 15:03

6 Answers 6


With regard to when she converted, both Ibn Ezra and Ralbag seem to believe that she converted before she married Machlon, being that we don't find any mention of her conversion afterwards and Boaz certainly would not have married her otherwise.

Akeidas Yitzchak condemns this approach, though, since Naami explicitly tells her to return to her people, and why would Naami try to convince her to retract her conversion? (Although Ralbag does mention that this was because Naami wanted to see if her conversion was legitimately sincere.) Akeidas Yitzchak therefore believes that Ruth converted on the way with Naami.

Alshich also follows this approach, pointing to the fact that the Talmud Bavli (Yevamos 47) learns from the dialogue between Naami and Ruth with regards to the laws of conversion.

As for why the text continues to refer to her as "המואביה", first of all, as @Alex has noted in the comments to the other answers, it is not uncommon to find someone referred to by the country of origin even if they are no longer associated with it. Second, it is important to keep in mind the purpose of Megillas Ruth in the first place. Abarbanel writes that Shmuel Hanavi wrote Ruth after he anointed David to highlight David's ancestry and to show that he came from noble stock. The Chida writes that Shmuel wrote Megillas Ruth to counter the claims that arose later against David's kingship saying that he was unfit being that he descended from a Moabite which the Torah prohibits entering our nation. The famous response to this was "מואבי ולא מואביה" (only male Moabites are prohibited to marry). Shmuel wished to show how even though Ruth was a Moabite, she was a righteous woman and earned the respect and marriage of the great shofet Boaz. (Chida refers to this as Shmuel's "p'sak" that David was legitimate.)

With that in mind, it is quite possible to say that the reason the text continues to stress her Moabite origins is precisely to counter that claim that was common at the time of its authorship. In other words: even though she was a Moabite, look how great she was and how Boaz accepted her etc. However, Alshich writes the opposite. When he sees the text refer to Ruth as "מואביה", he explains that even though she had already converted, she still retained some of the nature of her original upbringing in the way she conducted herself. He explains at length what it was that she did that was "Moabite in nature".


There are indeed a lot of opinions on when Ruth underwent conversion. Rashi (to Ruth 1:12) states that she (and Orpah) were still gentiles when they were on the road back to Eretz Yisrael (indeed, we derive from their conversation the halachah that we are to attempt to dissuade a prospective convert (Yevamos 47b)). On the other hand, Zohar Chadash strongly takes issue with the idea that Machlon could have married a non-Jew; it explains that basically he coerced her into converting (and then, only after her husband's death, did she accept Judaism voluntarily).

I once suggested (Kovetz Haoros Ubeurim Oholei Torah, no. 982, page 76), based on some other Midrashic statements, that at the time of her marriage Ruth was halachically not yet an adult, because she was an ailonis (a woman who never undergoes the normal bodily changes of puberty) but didn't exhibit the symptoms thereof (listed in Rambam, Hil. Ishus 2:6); in that case she reaches halachic maturity only at age 35 (ibid. 2:4). So Machlon had her converted as a child (as per the halachah - Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 268:7), but once she reached halachic adulthood she had the opportunity to renounce her conversion (ibid.) - and that's why Naomi had to point out to her the full ramifications of her decision, so that her acceptance of the mitzvos would be a conscious one.

(And once this was accomplished, then it retroactively validated her conversion as a child - just as is true today when a child is converted and then continues to keep mitzvos after bar/bas mitzvah; thus, no further conversion ceremony was needed when they arrived in Eretz Yisrael, and indeed none is recorded.)

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    that is a very interesting solution. I wonder how this would effect the existence of a mitzvah of yibum. If she was a minor at the time of her husband's death would the mitzvah of yibum still apply once she attained her majority? I would further reiterate my question in the comment above, that if this is the case why does the megilah continue to refer to her as rus ha'moaviah?
    – bookofruth
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 16:11
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    Note that answer would ostensibly also have to assume that Orpah was an ailonis as well.
    – bookofruth
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 16:17
  • @bookofruth, you may wish to ask that (why the m'gila refers to her as a Moabite after she was converted) as a separate question.
    – msh210
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 16:19
  • A ketana can certainly be mezukeket leyibbum (read: a female minor whose husband dies childless is obligated in yibbum or chalitza to the husbands brothers if he has any.)
    – Double AA
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 16:19
  • @msh210 I believe the two points are intertwined, the fact that she is continually called a moabite seems to indicate the she has not converted. to prove that she converted at any point I believe one needs to address this second issue as well. should I perhaps add it to the original question?
    – bookofruth
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 16:21

In this shiur Rabbi Daniel Glatstein makes the point, based on the Tzafnas Paneach, that it is possible that Rus and Orpah converted before they married but that their conversion was in doubt. He points to Rambam issurei biah 13:14-15 which states that if there is reason to suspect that the conversion was for reasons beside belief (money, power, love etc.) then the conversion has to be investigated. He goes on to say that Naomi probed the motives behind the conversion of her daughter in laws during her trek home as did Boaz during his initial meeting with Rus. Once Rus came to Boaz at night this clinched his belief that her conversion was for the right reasons and he immediately proceeds to "redeem" her.


I believe that it is the Malbim who says that when Ruth Says Ameikh Ami Elokayikh Elokai (your nation is my nation your God is my God) it means that Ruth has taken on keeping the mitzvoth and at this point begins living as a Jew.

It is clear (at least from the p'shat of the text)that she didn't go through any formal conversion process that we would recognize today. This book is often used by people who want to undermine modern halakhic standards of giyur.

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    I don't see that in the Malbim. In fact the Malbim on that verse implies the opposite: that the Giyur only happened when they got back to Israel מלבי"ם רות פרק א פסוק טז שאף אם אצטרך לעזבך לא אשוב מאחריך לארץ מואב כי בכל זה אלך לארץ יהודה ואתגייר שם ע"י אחרים
    – Double AA
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 15:35
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    ALl I said was that the pashut phsat is that none of this happened. I also said that people use this to try and undermine the halakhic requirements of giyur which I should I guess have qualified. I think that anyone who uses Ruth to do so is absolutely wrong and doing something atrocious Commented May 7, 2012 at 15:43
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    I'm saying I don't even think it's pashut pshat. Is it pashut pshat that Rut never ate breakfast? We only see her eating dinner! Not everything missing never happened. There has to be some reason for the details to be there before we can question why they aren't.
    – Double AA
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 15:45
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    @bookofruth Moabite is an demonym not a religion. Just like African-Americans are Americans of African descent. It doesn't change their American-ness. So too Ruth could be Jewish and still be the the Jewess-from-Moab.
    – Double AA
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 16:03
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    @bookofruth: actually, in every place where she's called "ha-Moaviah" it's in third-person narration or conversation; she's never called that to her face.
    – Alex
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 16:26

While many believe Ruth converted when she said in 1:16, that “your G-d is my G-d,” Gersonides, also known as Ralbag interpreted chapter 1 to be saying that Orpah and Ruth converted to Judaism prior to marrying Mahlon and Chilion, and the proof is that her conversion is not mentioned for Boaz. Naomi even later tested them to see if they have converted. Thus, the rabbi disagreed as to when Ruth converted.


The concept of women converting to Judaism is relatively modern, as women were historically viewed primarily as instruments for reproduction. Ezra's decree, issued some 600 years later, was merely educational and did not fundamentally alter the perception of Jewish women.

Analyzing the Book of Ruth through the lens of Rabbinic standards, which likely emerged during the Hasmonean period, is anachronistic. The book itself presents a contradiction: regardless of whether Ruth was a converted Jew or a gentile, her status is irrelevant to Boaz's redemption of Elimelech's property.

In my understanding of this pre-Hasmonean Biblical world, Ruth the Moabite, upon marrying Mahlon, became his (and his father's kin's) property, somewhat like livestock. If she was Jewish, upon Mahlon's death she would be set free, but she's consistently called "Ruth the Moabite" to stress that she wasn't.

Boaz acquired Machlon's property, including Ruth, without any mention or need for conversion. This process is similar to the process of taking a gentile captive "Yafat Toar", who can be married after the initial acquisition: "וְאַחַר כֵּן תָּבוֹא אֵלֶיהָ וּבְעַלְתָּהּ וְהָיְתָה לְךָ לְאִשָּׁה".

The most reliable source, in my view, is the opening text of the Mishna in Kiddushin, which describes the acquisition of various forms of property using the same language of "kinyan" (acquisition).

"הָאִשָּׁה נִקְנֵית...
עֶבֶד עִבְרִי נִקְנֶה...
עֶבֶד כְּנַעֲנִי נִקְנֶה...
בְּהֵמָה גַסָּה נִקְנֵית...
נְכָסִים שֶׁיֵּשׁ לָהֶם אַחֲרָיוּת..."

  • I rarely downvote an answer but I feel compelled to here. Not only does this add nothing useful to the answers already given it appears driven by an agenda as shown by the statement "While it is customary to cite sources, all rabbinic sources from the Talmud onward are inherently biased by later interpretations and fail to offer a coherent historical context." This "answer" does not address the question "At what point, chronologically, did she in fact convert?"
    – Edward B
    Commented Jun 11 at 9:29
  • Thank you, I rewrote it a bit. I explicitly pointed out that conversion did not exist in Biblical times so the Book of Ruth can not be seen through this lens. So asking "When did she convert" is meaningless. DId you notice that conversion is not mentioned in the Bible?
    – Al Berko
    Commented Jun 11 at 9:53
  • I have reversed my downvote
    – Edward B
    Commented Jun 11 at 10:16

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