Tuesday, June 27, 2006

murder...hmmm, let me look that one up...

taking place within the mind and modified by individual bias; "a subjective judgment"

undistorted by emotion or personal bias; based on observable phenomena; "an objective appraisal"; "objective evidence"

I think that if I read one more blog post about how all of morality is subjective without a deistic super-truth, I'm going to just plain scream.


And these are the skeptical bloggers.

Okay, I know that I'm stepping out of my hyper-intellectualizing persona here. But tell me, how is it that in every kindergarten class in the world, kids know right from wrong, but give them advanced degrees in metaphysics, or send them to yeshiva, and it all becomes very blurry and complicated.

I'm trying.

I'm really trying to remain positive about religion.

But don't you get it. Us non-believers are NOT the ones with the morality hangups. We aren't the ones killing the infidels, discriminating against gays, or women, or against those who believe differently.

Godol recently pointed out that all of the major word religions have pretty much eliminated all of the realy objectionable practices, from their list of things which are 'okay'. Well, who do you think established the moral standards to MAKE these practices immoral in the first place. It wasn't the bible thumping fundamentalists, that's for darn sure.

I'm trying, really trying, so help me out here, ye faithful friends.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The South Park Problem

Godol Hador, recently back from his sojourn, (we all breath a sigh of relief), has been busy posing about what I fondly call "The South Park Problem".

He writes:

Billions of people believe in contradicting religions of which only one (at most) can be correct. Therefore billions of people have the wrong religious beliefs, yet are convinced they are correct. Hitler was able to exterminate 6 million innocent people in the heart of the civilized world, and convince his nation that this was okay. How is all this possible? Will people believe anything, if taught the right way?

Well, for better or worse, yes.

The Train... Life-Purpose Part III

There is a civilization in which there is a belief that the train schedules and rule book were written by a great, mysterious, spiritual genius . The believers hold that making the trains run properly and abiding by the rules have enormous spiritual significance. Some rules have obvious moral significance; no pushing on the platform, no fighting on the trains, no smoking. Some reasons can not be exactly determined (after all, it is beyond the grasp of the average person) but there are many rich and beautiful theories, full of moral lessons and metaphysical symbolism. It is held that those who facilitate the train schedule and live up to the moral ideas within the rules are influencing the advancement of spirituality in the universe.

Train Driver A grew up believing that the belief was a myth. He can’t prove that it isn’t true, but it seems far more reasonable that it was written by the old train company. His own family never gave it any credence.

Train Driver B grew up believing that it was true. Although he did not claim to be able to ‘prove’ it, much time was spent explaining arguments about why it was very likely to be true. His entire family took it very seriously, and being expert in all of the details were an important part of his education.

Driver A loves his job. Each day he takes in the beauty of the landscape, he chats with the passengers, listening to their stories, appreciating the nuances of how different each their lives are and enjoying the feeling of sharing the short journey with each. The job is difficult and is often fraught with problems. He is sometimes tired, or under the weather. Sometimes he must deal with difficult passengers. Sometimes everything seems to go wrong, and the day is a struggle to get through. He does not like the problems, but he accepts them as an inherent part of doing the job which he loves. He takes pleasure in getting his customers to their destination as well as he can, and, although not everyone appreciates it, it is far from easy.

Driver B feels lucky to have his job. He spends his long hours on the job focused on the nuances of the schedule and rule book, sometimes fantasizing about the benefits which he is bringing the world. He makes a point of being polite and friendly to the passengers (as the rules provide). He makes every effort to be on time, and he reports to work even when he is not feeling well or is exhausted. There are some things which he does enjoy. He sometimes meets passengers who he likes and enjoys talking to them. He sometimes notices something nice on the countryside which he likes looking at, though he tries not to let his mind wander off of the important train rules. When things go wrong, he perseveres through with the sustaining thought of the great deed which he is doing.

One day, a document surfaces which details the human origins of the schedule and rule book. Most of the believers come to the conclusion that the new document is a fake, some ridicule it, some believe that it was planted by evil non-believers. Some believe that it is a test of faith. Most simply ignore it.

But Driver B is shaken. He looks back on his life and experiences and realizes that the theory never really made any sense. He believed it simply because it was such a strong assumption which all of his role models believed in. The more he thinks about it from ‘outside’ of his old system of thought, the more apparent it is to him that this is simply a man-made book.

Driver B seeks out driver A and they have the following conversation:

B: “I used to think that there was a great purpose in driving this train, instead of just a meaningless job.”

A: “What are you talking about? We drive through some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. Don’t you enjoy that?”

B: “Sure, it’s nice and all that. But seeing nice scenery isn’t important.”

A: “Well don’t you enjoy the passengers, many of them are fantastic people, and sometimes you can really connect with them.”

B: “Yes, they’re okay. I like them, and I suppose that they feel good when I’m polite to them, but just making these guys feel good isn’t really that important.”

A: “Don’t you think that it’s important to get them where they are going on time? It’s quite a challenge sometimes and you do a great job of it.”

B: “I’m not saying that it isn’t important at all, but it isn’t going to make much of a difference in the overall scope of humanity.”

A: “How about enjoyment? Don’t you love your job?”

B: “I guess that I do like it most of the time, but we don’t work because it’s fun. What does enjoying your job have to do with making it important?”

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Life Purpose, Part II

In my last post about Life Purpose, I offered the thesis that believers who stop believing have a serious problem recapturing a satisfying life purpose. This feeling is echoed in a number of the comments which I received. Here is a comment from Orthoprax which captures the feeling very well....


"Non-believers seek internal answers. They look within the individual for the aspects of life which hold meaning and purpose. That meaning is vastly different for each person. And it is the accomplishment of each individual’s life purpose which enables that person to truly give to others, and to benefit mankind as a whole."

Can you tell me then what would be wrong with a person choosing his meaning in life to be, say, watching television all day? Or one's purpose in life is to have sex with as many women as possible? In modern society that seems to be popular among the younger people - or at least that's as far as the media presents it.

You seem to define a "good purpose" as that which gives to others or benefits mankind. On what justification do you make that assertion?I suspect you are making the same type of extrinsic value judgements that you criticize theists (and post-theists) of doing.

See, I've been there on the other side of things. I've even given the arguments that life's meaning is self-discovered and self-contained, but I now find them unfulfilling. It's not that atheists can find meaning so much easier, it's just generally that they don't think on the same scales that people like I do.

They don't think about the question in the way I do.They may say that they live for X, but they aren't willing to see, or to recognize, that X is an artifical construct not really worthy of living for in itself. I am victim of it myself, but at least I'm trying to root it all to something more, well, meaningful.


You may be right, that I’ve let my own value judgments creep into the post. But, at least philosophically, I do not think that there is such a thing as an absolute ‘good’ life purpose. This is different from morality, where I do think that there are absolute standards for behavior which are detrimental to society and are immoral.

I do have one conviction which is very central to my own thought process; that each of us pursuing our own unique life purpose is what keeps the planet moving forward.

Perhaps that is due to spirituality, perhaps Dawkins, perhaps it is just my rose colored contact lenses. But, by my observation, it is our own diverse internal goals, priorities and motivators which have been the most powerful force in advancing both the scientific and humanistic progress of our civilization.

And, I believe that if something makes you feel happy and fulfilled, you will be a more positive force on earth. This isn’t a just a granola and bean-sprout argument, it’s a simple observation that people who are happy are just healthier humans. Being around someone who is happy with his life and satisfied with his endeavors is much more beneficial than being with someone who is unhappy and frustrated. And yes, they can give you more; as your spouse, your parent, your friend.

So I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with deciding that your life purpose is to watch tv all day, or to have consensual sex, or even spend all your time blogging. If you look at the world, you'll see that very few people are true hedonists, and can really find fulfilment in these pleasures. But I’d rather that you do that and be happy than expend your energy on something which is supposed to be more worthwhile, but makes you miserable.

Even if that ‘something’ is a very altruistic pursuit, if you find it frustrating and unsatisfying, you may do more harm than good. Haven’t we all had teachers who were burned-out and frustrated, or doctors who were cynical and bored? Wouldn’t we have been better off if they had run off and joined the circus? Then they could have added some joy to the lives of the people who are passionate teachers and healers.

And, for whatever reason, lots of people find that all sorts of altruistic pursuits, large and small, are satisfying and fulfilling. So you can worry about what would happen if everyone wanted to watch tv all day long, but the beauty of humanity is that there is inherent diversity. You may just as well worry about what would happen if everyone wanted to spend the entire day learning Talmud. Relax, they all won’t. Different strokes for each of us.

You mentione the problem of ‘scale’ in finding the non-theistic life purpose which is satisfying. These are the very same words used by other commentors, and it is, perhaps, the greatest challenge of former-theists.

For theists, certainly for Orthodox Jews, the life purpose we seek must to have a great, global, world redeeming, eternal significance. We set ourselves at the center of God’s attention, and we look at each of our minute thoughts and deeds as being eternal in His memory. That is the scale with which we are trained to search.

Someone sets you to search for a very valuable thing called a ‘diamond’, and explains that it is shiny, translucent and beautiful. But all of your life experience tells you that things which are valuable must, by definition, be very large. You will not be able to recognize the diamonds when you see them. You are looking for something gigantic - ten stories high - when all around you are tiny precious jewels which are fare more significant than the gigantic object which you envision.

But there is something much more insidious. Not only have we placed great importance on the idea of Divine Purpose, but we have diminished and discounted our own human value. We are taught to look at ourselves as being insignificant without God. As it says in the Netaneh Tokef prayer on Rosh Hashanah “Man is...a broken shard, withering grass, a fading flower, a passing shadow, a dissipating cloud, a blowing wind, flying dust and a fleeting dream.” It is only God that gives our lives significance.

And we are not just devaluing ourselves, we are dismissing the value of all of humanity. No wonder it is so difficult to privilege a more personal life purpose. We can’t value our own life purpose because – absent of God – we can’t sufficiently value our own selves.

In order to regain a meaningful and satisfying purpose we must be able to regain the importance which we place on our own life, values, goals and happiness. And, we must realize that our community is important, the earth is important, mankind is important. They have value not because of God, but in their own right - because of their own existance.

A core teaching in Orthodoxy is that one can not have faith in ones own self. “Hillel said…’trust not in thyself until the day of thy death…’” (Perek II:5). But to value our own path, we must have faith in that path. We must re-learn that our own selves – our hopes, our fears, our thoughts, our values, our feelings, our experiences – these are not simply chafe to be ignored in light of the Almighty Will. These internal forces are and feelings comprise the roadmap itself. And, we must regain our faith in ourselves to live up to our own ideals, to conquer our failings and to achieve our goals.

Is it diminishing to seek not the great purpose for all of creation, but to seek the special purpose for our own selves – for one individual of the six and a half billion souls on earth. Are we sacrificing our quest for greatness? Are we settling for a smaller life? No, we are not reducing our own worth in the least, quite the contrary.

We are elevating all of mankind.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Life, the Universe and, (uy) Everything. Part 1

What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? What is our purpose?

These issues, particularly for those with religious backgrounds, are hardly a casual esoteric college campus discussion. Our answers to these fundamental questions gives us the basic clarity to make decisions in our lives.

What career should we pursue? Should we build a family? What are our criteria for success in life? How do we guide our priorities and make the myriad of choices which define our lives?

No one would want to go to sleep at night with a secure understanding of why they are here on earth and what their goals are, and wake up in the morning with no idea at all. But that is the problem facing those who can no longer believe in the theism of their past.

Two of the popular bloggers in the ‘skeptical’ Jewish blog world are currently struggling with this very conundrum. Both of these writers have significant doubts about the dogmatic structure of Orthodox Judaism. Both remain observant. And, both struggle to formulate a grand meaning in their religious practice, belief and lives.

I admire both of these persons. They are honest, intelligent and filled with integrity. They deal fairly with the issues about which they write, and they speak and explore from their own hearts.

Orthoprax, who has constructed an elegant re-statement of the entire observant Jewish proposition, writes the following (excerpted from a recent comment):

“People need purpose in their lives. Modern society is full of people who invest all their energies into their jobs or other short-sighted ambitions, but is that all not pointless toil? So many artificial constructs are made in human society to shield people from the truth that they don't know what this, meaning human existence, is all for - if it is, in fact, for anything.The point of life then is to search for the point of life. That is the search for God. What else can you possibly compare to that imperative? “

The compelling but elusive Godol Hador, (the Harry Houdini of OJ blogging) with all of his skepticism of Jewish theological dogma, has (at least for the moment) rested his case on ‘meaning’:

“If one could sum up the fundamental message of Judaism, I think ‘meaning’ would be a good choice. We see meaning in the Universe, meaning in History, meaning in our lives and meaning in every ritual and piece of text that we have in our tradition. The outside world suffers from a serious lack of meaning. Of course there are religious folks who simply go through the motions, and of course there are strong atheists who spend their lives performing charity. But these are the exceptions to the rule, not the rule.”

[I will note that the use of ‘meaning’ as compelling justification for observance of Jewish law is coupled, at least for these two bloggers, with the presumption of the morality of that law. But that is the subject of a different post.]

Orthoprax and Godol Hador have both gotten stuck in the ‘meaning of life’ vortex. These writers have many differences, particularly regarding their level of theistic certainty, but to both of them, religious belief and practice is equated with meaning, while non-belief and non-practice is equated with the absence of meaning.

Why are these two highly intelligent people bottlenecked at the same question? Why is it so hard to recover your ‘meaning’, your ‘purpose’, after shifting from the theistic model of life?

Believers do not have a corner on the market for seeking and understanding life purpose. Our drive to understand our reality is one of the great universal characteristics of mankind. But theists and atheists come at this question from such opposite experience points that it is often impossible for each of them to value the answers which the other postulate.

And former believers face a special problem: They are phrasing the question in theistic terms, yet looking for answers in humanistic ones. They have (unknowingly) disqualified all of the answers available to them even as they look for those answers. In religious systems, life purpose is linked inextricably with God and the divine goals of creation. In these systems, the broad answer is often not at issue – it is to serve God’s purpose – the only question which remains is how to best discern His purpose and how we can best serve it.

Believers seek answers which are inherently extrinsic. They must originate from a source outside of our individual selves. Either they must be God given or, at least, they must hold universal truths which have validity for humanity.

A recurring theme in the believing world is that the absence of purpose is equated with hedonism and nihilism. They are imbuing their own inability to find meaning in the world without the crutch of a deity upon others. I can hardly blame them, it took years of religious training to reinforce these ideas. But those ‘others’ do not need God to reach a meaningful life.

Non-believers seek internal answers. They look within the individual for the aspects of life which hold meaning and purpose. That meaning is vastly different for each person. And it is the accomplishment of each individual’s life purpose which enables that person to truly give to others, and to benefit mankind as a whole.

To be continued.

Friday, June 09, 2006

June Again

I suppose that each of us have a certain date in the calendar which elicits sadness.

For those of us who had the good fortune to know Zack Baumel before he vanished in eastern Lebanon on June 11, 1982, this time of year is fraught with unresolved agony. I last saw Zack while he was boarding a bus, on his way to the Lebanon front on June 6, 1982. We were both just about done with our time in Yeshiva. Zack was applying to business school for the rapidly approaching school term, finally able to turn to college after five years in study and military service. I had weaseled my way back to Gush Etzion for a brief month after having returned to America the year before to attend college.

The evening before he left, Zack and most of the other senior class at Gush had received "tzav shmonah", an emergency order to proceed directly to a muster point in the north. I had been tremping (hitchhiking) through central Israel that day, visiting some relatives before my planned trip back to the US, and had been stuck for a few hours along the main north-south coastal highway. Hour after hour, a solid line of eighteen wheel tank carriers barreled up the road, moving Israeli armor from the southern front to the north. My two years of study in the "Hezder" yeshiva system, in which students divided their time between Talmudic study and service in the "Shiryone" (Armored Corps), allowed me to identify some of the weaponry. Israeli made Merkava Tanks were in abundance, surprising since these tanks were in short supply compared to the older US made Pattons.

I knew that my friends preferred the innovative active armor of the Israel tanks over the sheer tonnage of the Pattons, and I tried to gauge the probability that they would be able to land an assignment in one. Just three weeks earlier, the graduating "Machzor" (class) had been discharged from active duty in the Israel Defense Forces. All of the boys who had reached the rank of tank commander, (an enlisted rank, since the yeshiva boys typically did not apply for officer training), were assigned to reserves in a "super corps" of tank crews in which each member of the four man tank team was an accomplished soldier in their own right. I don't think that anyone realized it at the time, but this provided the IDF with an armored shock force which could be rapidly deployed to the most tricky and dangerous assignments.

Israel had already pushed into Lebanon twice in the past few years. In each action, they had moved the PLO forces back a safe distance so that their rockets could not threaten northern Israel. Then, they had withdrawn. But the situation was deteriorating. Just a year before, Zack, me, and two other friends had backpacked through the Golan and experienced the weird mix of breath catching scenic beauty, poorly marked minefields, hospitality of the local Arabs and Druze and blasts of sudden air raid sirens. Even then, before the arrival of Russian T-72 tanks (much admired for their low profile and automated shell loading systems) in southern Lebanon and escalating attacks and incursions, the area seemed to be teetering between thriving human progress and devastating conflict.

Two weeks later, after the fateful battle, I was on an El Al flight back to New York. My trip, and precious air ticket, were obtained by arranging to accompany my ailing grandparents back to the US. My last three days in Israel were spent calling hospitals throughout the north and waiting in lines to speak to rude and impatient army information officers.

We didn't know very much of what had transpired. It was just "scuttlebutt". The only thing which was consistent about the news was that it was all contradictory and of questionable veracity. It's ironic, I suppose, that now, 24 years later, the information which we have about Zack's fate can be characterized in approximately the same terms. The endless comedy of intelligence and military errors, the disgusting hubris of politicians and military staff on all sides of the conflict, the tantalizing, problematic and contradictory evidence about Zack's fate, all of these have made it all but impossible to navigate with any certainty through the puzzle of the events of June 10/11, 1982.

Zack's mom, Miriam, (vivacious, creative, irreverently funny, and direct to the point of discomfort), once wrote a letter which came closest to my own haunting feelings about Zack. She writes (I'm paraphrasing from memory):

"Is he cold? Is he hurt? Is he hungry? "

"How does he cope? Does he have anything to occupy him through the long years? Does he have even a sidur, or an old newspaper?"

"Does he know that we are searching for him? That we love him? That we haven't forgotten him?"

I'm not a "Zack is Alive" fanatic, (a fact that I feel some guilt about). I don't know where he is or what fate befell him. I've read all of the things which are in the public domain, and I just don't know. It isn't that there is no information ,there is plenty, and all of it problematic. Many have told me that he died long ago, in the orange grove at Sultan Yaacob or in the frantic, brutal aftermath.

But in all of the long years since we hugged goodbye, through all of the many, many, days, there has not been a day in which I have not thought of him.

Faithful friend. Brave companion. Conscience and comic relief for his friends.

Once, staggering back to town from a harrowing series of misadventures - ragged, starving and completely broke - Zack pulled a 100 Shekel note from his shoe (a fortune, back then) and said, "this was in case we got into any real trouble". (We'd have beat the crap out of him, if we could only catch him.)

I've observed a certain universal fellowship among those who have sustained first hand loss from war. Mankind seems at times to be sleepwalking. War has become an accepted facet of civilization, and we abhore it with the passive indiference with which we great bad weather. But when tragity strikes, and the fog can lift, the full absurdity and immorality of the situation hits with full force.

And, in the throws of that clarity, we feel like taking the human race by the shoulders and shaking them hard until they wake up. We feel like shouting these words - again and again - until someone begins to listen:

"Conflict is human. War to resolve conflict is a moral travesty. Politicians who send our children to death and disfigurement to resolve their conflicts are criminals. Just as a civilization can not tolerate aggressive murder, so humanity can not tolerate aggressive war. "

One day perhaps not in our lifetimes - there will be a real and enforceable doctrine of International Law. A legal system in which national aggression will be dealt with in the same manner as criminal murder, in which national conflicts will be resolved in the same manner as individual conflicts - by courts of justice and by global peacekeepers. In which no nation will be able to attack, harass or persecute its neighbor without the certainty of consequences. In which all humans will be granted the basic protections of security, freedom and human rights. In which no nation will be allowed to pursue vigilante justice to resolve their grievances.

I miss my friend.

Midrashic Musings

One of my favorite bloggers, e-kvetcher, (of “Search for Emes”) just wrote a post on the ‘slippery slope’ question of how to relate to midrash.

This is hardly a ‘new’ issue here in this micro-universe of jewish bloggers. In fact, it seems like midrash has been in the forefront of many erudite minds:

Judaic studies scholar (and bottle head blues master) Fred McDowell published a very telling post in which he ‘fisks’ an article about whether midrash should be taught as fact or fiction. Dov Bear, who has ranted on this in the past, suggests a ‘ranking system’ which would indicate the level of historical likelihood of each midrash. (Dov Bear’s system has the benefit of being color coded so that even the residents of New Square can use it.) The great Godol Hador (perhaps soon to be zt’l), contented himself with a passing shot at Dov within this post, and some well aimed strafing at Fred.

As an agnostic who does not believe in Torah Misinai, I don’t feel like I’m in much of a position to critique the credibility of midrash. I leave that for the believers to argue. As e-kvetcher points out, the issue is disturbing because it is, in fact, a slippery slope. Or, to use Godol’s point, why is one supernatural story more believable than another?

I would like, however, to point out some more subtle things which are both positive and negative outcomes of our affinity to midrash.

First, it is important to recognize the astonishing storytelling power of allegory. Parables can create an emotional connection to a moral message or insight into the human condition much more forcefully than expository writing. From “The Trial” to “Life of Pi”, allegories give the author freedom to create an entire setting – divorced from our experience of day to day life – which brings the subject into powerful focus.

Often, politicians, pundits and public speakers use small personal stories to convey a global point. In some ways, this is the same mechanism at work. We don’t ask for ‘proof’ of these stories – and many of them are apocryphal. But they are there to connect us with a theme. We are evaluating the point itself, not the story.

My second point is what I call “miracle inflation”. It’s never enough for us jews. Revelation at Sinai wasn’t enough. God had to suspend the mountain over our heads. 600,000 (or 2.5 million, all in) jews was not enough. All of the future souls had to be assembled as there well. God couldn’t just speak, he spoke both versions of the 10 commandments simultaneously. Etc., etc, etc. What’s wrong with us? Are we worried that the basic miracle isn’t impressive enough?

Last, and this is just something which adults should know, children are taught midrash as fact. If you think that midrash should be taken literally, then fine. But, if you don’t, you may want to check in with your kids. You many be a bit surprised by what you find out. My kids attend fairly liberal modern orthodox schools. Here is a question from my eleven year old son:

“If each body of water split at the same time as the Yam Suf, and the Yam Suf split into twelve paths (one for each shevet), then did each river and lake split into twelve parts?”

Of course, this is only one aspect of the abuse of mythic storytelling in our education system. The principle of my son’s school recently told his class the ‘chicken’ story. In a nutshell, it is this:

“A devote butcher is rushing to close his store before shabbos, when an old begger woman knocks on his door and asks him to butcher a chicken for her. In his impatience, he sends her away. Later that evening, as he is making kiddush, he suddenly tells his family that they must take the entire meal to the home of this poor woman. His family is perplexed, but he is adamant and so the go along with him. Afterwards, he explains that in his previous life, he failed to do the exact same mitzvah in the exact same situation. God had given him a second chance, which he nearly missed taking advantage of.”

Okay. So what gives? Do we (litvaks that we are) believe in reincarnation? I know that chessed is very important, but is it impossible to make that point without reverting to such extreme fiction? And, in case you’re dismissing this as just a way to get through to small children, guess what, a few years ago the Rabbi of my (RW MO) shul told the exact same story. Did we all laugh? Did we shuffle uncomfortably in our seats? No, we listened, we nodded. The conditioning worked; Hear enough incredible stories your whole life, and pretty soon, you can believe anything.

In the end, many fine and noble ideas are conveyed through midrashic allegory, and there are many, many midrashim who’s beauty touch me to the core of my soul. But in the orthodox fog of fact and fiction, I would gladly shed the magnificent allegory for a fidelity to truth and a moral priority to tell it the way it is.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Why Ruth is My Favorite Megillah

This is obviously a run-off between Esther and Ruth.

Eichah (Lamentations) is beautifully lyrical but is not a great pick-me-up. Song of Songs is either great oriental poetry or really dense and unfocused allegory (take your pick). Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) is great reading if you’re looking for inspiration in composing a good suicide note. (Was Solomon manic depressive, and who DID write that last line.)

So, although it lacks the edge of your seat, white knuckled suspense, and home-run hitting wind-up of Esther, here are my top ten reasons that I love the Book of Ruth:

1. The only slice of life ‘real’ story from the era of the Judges, or really any pre-Rabbinic period.
2. Naomi’s bitter sarcasm.
3. Boaz and Ruth, love at first sight.
4. The great medrash about “Liny po halaylah”, starring R’ Meir and Elisha ben Avuya.
5. Boaz and the birth of the world’s most convenient diyuk.
6. A much better melody than Esther.
7. They really took Leket, Shichichah and Peyah seriously.
8. Those boys in the tribe of Judah just can’t help themselves.
9. The absence of anything supernatural.
10. No graggers.