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Most everyone who reads it loves the book of Ruth, with its bucolic settings, its charming loves, its grace, and its devoted characters—Naomi, Boaz, and Ruth herself. Alongside that appeal, the book of Ruth also conveys truths about the human condition: about who children are and what they mean for the life of a woman, a family, and a nation; about the complementary human and divine sources of redemption; and about a distinctly Hebraic sense of the shape of a human life.

These ideas and more are offered up in a 2021 book about Ruth by Leon Kass and Hannah Mandelbaum, Reading Ruth: Birth, Redemption, and the Way of Israel. The origins of their book—a line by line commentary on Ruth—is itself a story no less moving than the text it interprets. Hannah Mandelbaum is Leon Kass’s granddaughter, and they began to read the book of Ruth together while mourning Amy Kass, Kass’s late and beloved wife of 54 years and Mandelbaum’s grandmother. In so doing, they followed a path that Ruth herself treads, from desolation to gladness, with a distinguished Jewish future unfurling along the way.

Leon Kass is an emeritus professor at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, the author of many books, including studies of Genesis and Exodus, and the dean of faculty at Shalem College in Jerusalem. In this conversation, recorded at an event in 2021, he joins Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver to talk about Reading Ruth and writing it with his granddaughter.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.