Letter 21

DAY 21

Karina Martin Hogan

Associate Professor of Theology
Fordham University
February 9, 2021

Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,

The Jewish and Christian traditions share the commandment “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39). But what does love of one’s neighbor actually look like, in the realm of politics? Both traditions hold that it means prioritizing the common good over self-interest. In our current moment in the United States, I submit that loving one’s neighbor means prioritizing the common good over individual freedom, as some understand it: the right to make choices that endanger the health and safety of others.

The biblical book of Ruth exemplifies the sacrifice of freedom that love entails. Naomi, who has lost her husband and both of her sons while residing in the land of Moab, is determined to return alone to Bethlehem. She urges her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, to return to their families; they are free to remarry, to start their lives over again. While Orpah tearfully returns, Ruth “clings to” Naomi (Ruth 1:14). Her declaration of love is well known: “Wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried” (Ruth 1:16-17).

“But what does love of one’s neighbor actually look like, in the realm of politics?”

Naomi is silenced by Ruth’s refusal to abandon her, but her next words, to the women of Bethlehem, must have pierced Ruth’s heart: “Do not call me Naomi, call me Mara (‘Bitter’), for the Almighty has made me very bitter. I left here full, but the LORD has returned me empty” (Ruth 1:20-21).

Ruth is able to hear Naomi’s words as an expression of grief, not rejection, and she continues to love Naomi “as herself”—that is, as she hopes to be treated. Eventually, Naomi is able to recognize and reciprocate Ruth’s love. Naomi comes up with a plan that allows the two of them to form a family with Boaz, a righteous man of Bethlehem.

Many of us can identify with Naomi’s bitterness at this moment in American history, but let us follow Ruth’s example of steadfast love and work to repair our shattered society by putting the common good first.


Karina Martin Hogan

Dr. Karina Martin Hogan
Associate Professor of Theology
Fordham University

the author

Karina Martin Hogan is a scholar of the Hebrew Bible and ancient Judaism in the Theology Department at Fordham University. She is a faculty member in Fordham’s programs in Jewish Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. Her BA is from Swarthmore College and her MA and Ph.D. are from the University of Chicago Divinity School. Although most of her research is on wisdom and apocalyptic literature of early Judaism, she is currently working on a book about global contextual interpretations of the book of Ruth.