|1. Why did you decide to write about Ruth? What about her story specifically interested you?
There were several angles of Ruth's story, as set out in the biblical book of Ruth that attracted me to it.
First, there was the mystery of the man whose name is never revealed, but who is referred to as "Ploni Almoni", that is, the one who is not named, or "The Unnamed". He was Ruth's deceased husband's next of kin, and by law and custom was required to take her for his wife. Thereby he would also have acquired her husband's property, yet he refused.
As I read and reread the Scripture, I began asking myself questions: who was this mysterious unnamed man? Why is his name concealed? Why was he so adamant not to marry Ruth, even though this marriage could have enriched him?
Second, in the book of Ruth there is a beautiful and suggestive scene, in which Ruth, at Naomi's instigation, lies down at the feet of Boaz as he is asleep in the field at night. In the middle of the night he is startled out of his slumber by her presence... The rest remains rather hazy.
I asked myself: what truly transpired between Boaz and Ruth that night when he discovered the attractive young woman lying at his feet?
I decided to write a story that would present my own interpretation and solution to those mysteries.
Third, in the book of Ruth , when the young Moabite first reached Bethlehem with her mother-in-law Naomi, the women of the town made a big fuss about Naomi, but totally ignore Ruth, and only much later did they accept her. I wondered how Ruth must have felt initially as a stranger in a strange land. I myself came to what was at that time Palestine at a young age, and (though a Jew) had much the same experience. I began to identify with Ruth and decided to give voice to what must have been her initial anguish.
Fourth, and finally, Ruth was David's, Israel's glorious king's, great-grandmother. I wanted to tie in Ruth's story with that of David.
Also, David was anointed as king by the Prophet Samuel. This gave me the opportunity to connect David's (and thereby Ruth's) story to the story of Samuel, which forms a large part of my fist biblical novel The Song of Hannah. In this manner, in some way The Garden of Ruth became a sequel to The Song of Hannah.
2. How did you research this novel?
Quite a bit of research went into the writing of the book: I consulted a large number of written scholarly sources about the social setting in which the story took place, and scoured the Bible itself over and over again for any hints it may yield about foods and spices consumed, "cosmetics" used by women, clothing worn, and family and social structure.
Research also entailed inspecting excavations in various parts of Israel, which show what houses looked like at the time, how their internal space was divided, and how the household tasks of grinding flour, cooking and baking were performed.
Finally research included visiting museums, in which various artifacts used at the time, such as clay bowls, glass vessels, mirrors, silver pieces (the ancient equivalent of money), and the like are displayed.
The main point about this research, however, is that it had to be concealed rather than displayed, so that the reader would not be aware that so much of it went into the writing of the book.
3. What women's issues did you set out to address in this novel?
The book contains certain feminist messages. Women who lived some three thousand years ago could not be presented as blatant feminists. So the feminist messages had to be conveyed in a subtle manner, but they are nonetheless there.
The first such message stems from the fact that the Bible has been written chiefly about men from a male point of view. The women appear in it as side characters, as seen in the eyes of men.
In The Garden of Ruth this is reversed: the book is written first and foremost about women, from a feminine perspective. The men are still very important, but they are presented as seen through the eyes of women.
Second, the novel shows, how women coped with life and with the limited options before them in a male dominated society. It shows that although they were weak in their position, they were strong in their character.
Here, by the way, the book is based on firm precedent in the Bible, which shows that although women were dominated by men, most found various ingenious ways of obtaining what they wanted.
Third, the novel shows that although the women are weak in their position when they stand alone, they gain strength by banding and bonding together. In other words, it celebrates the sisterhood of women, through which life became bearable for them, and so, I believe, it is also today.
4. What other issues are dealt with in the novel?
The novel also deals with the theme of religious persecution versus interfaith tolerance, and with that of religious conversion--topics that are still highly relevant today.
5. What are you working on now?
My next biblical novel, on which I am still working, is about the renowned prophetess and judge, Deborah, and the military commander Barak, as described in the book of Judges.