The Jewish holiday of Shavuot, Pentecost, begins this coming Saturday night. The holiday has several traditional names: Shavuot, the festival of weeks, marking seven weeks after Passover; Chag HaKatzir, the festival of reaping grains, and Chag HaBikkurim, the festival of first fruits. Shavuot, according to Jewish tradition, is the day the Children of Israel accepted the Torah at Mt. Sinai. It is also believed to be the day of King David’s birth and death.
Chanting the Book of Ruth in synagogue is central to Shavuot. Ruth, a Moabite and widow of a Jewish man (and a Moabite princess according to commentators), gives up her life in Moab to join her Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi, in the Land of Israel. Ruth insists on remaining with the impoverished Naomi and converting to Judaism.
A major plot point is Ruth going to the local fields where barley and wheat are being harvested so that she can collect charitable handouts. She gleans in the fields of Boaz, a judge and a relative of Ruth’s dead husband (as such he has a levirate obligation to marry the widow). The union results in a child, Obed, the grandfather of King David.
The members of the American Colony were pious Christians who established their community in Israel. They were steeped in the Bible and photographed countryside scenes that referred to biblical incidents and prohibitions. These photos are their charming reenactment of the Ruth narrative.
A major effort was made by the photographers to reenact the story of Ruth, probably in the fields near Bethlehem. “Ruth,” we believe, was a young member of the American Colony community; the remaining cast were villagers from the Bethlehem area who were actually harvesting, threshing and winnowing their crops. Unfortunately, we don’t know when the “Ruth and Boaz series” was photographed, but we estimate approximately 100 years ago.