Q: Did Ruth and Orpah convert to Judaism before marrying Naomi's sons? Was Naomi allowed to send Orpah back to Moab?
Q: In Darash Moshe, Vol. II (a selection of sermons by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein) he comments on Parashat Vayigash (Ber.47:8,9) (see page 80,81). He explains the difference between Yitzchak and Yaacov, and that Yaacov never had any positive influence upon Lavan.
Then he writes: While there is a commandment to admonish a sinner, and one might think that for his reason Yaacov should have sought to correct the evils of Egyptian society, the verse specifies that this commandment refers only to a fellow Jew; not to a gentile. An example of this can be seen in the case of Naomi and her two Moabite daughters in-law, Ruth and Orpah. When Naomi's two sons died, Orpah returned to her Gentile family and their practice of idol worship. Naomi encouraged Ruth to do likewise, despite the fact that idol worship is forbidden to all people as one of the seven Noachide commandments. Thus, it is clear that we are not obligated to care for the spiritual well-being of the Gentile population.
1. What is your opinion about this comment? A: I do not accept it.
2. How can Naomi ask them to "go and return, each to her mother's house" (Ruth 1:8). And "....to her people and her gods" (1:15 )? Naomi indeed seems to encourage them to return to their people (Moabites !!) and their gods, to idolatry, which is also forbidden for Gentiles. How can she do this? Rabbenu Bechayei says that in the time of the prophets there was no command to stop foreign nations outside of the land of Israel from worshiping idols because this was their way of knowing G-d. In terms of halacha, this is an extension of the concept of "tinok shenishba" (a person taken into captivity as a child and not taught the mitzvot).
3. How do we know for sure from the text that Orpah also returned to her gods? Why couldn't she have returned to her people as a Noahide, like Yitro perhaps did? (It all depends how you interpret the events of Yitro, whether he was a ger tsedek – a convert to Judaism – or not.) A: It is a matter of tradition.
4. How do we know that Goliath was a descendent Orpah? A: Perhaps by tradition, but also by the fact that Goliath is called "born of Harapha," which may be the same as to "Orpah".
5. How can some commentators write that Ruth and Orpah converted before their marriage ? A: Why not? There is no need to make their husbands sinners.
6. How can Naomi refer to yibbum (when a man marries his childless sister-in-law after his brother dies)? a. The marriages were not hallachically legal. b. Yibbum exists only between living brothers, not for a brother who is born after the death of the childless brother.
A: This is not yibbum in the restricted sense but something closer to "ge'ulah" (redemption).
7. Some commentators write that their conversion was invalid. Or perhaps it was halachically valid but it was unknown in Israel that conversion is possible for Moabite women but not for Moabite man. A: It was always known that any non-Jew can convert. The only thing that was unknown is that it is possible to marry a Moabite woman who has converted.
8. If they really converted before marriage they were Jewish, and Naomi couldn't ever send them back to their people and ....their gods!! For this reason it seems to me impossible that they converted before marriage. A: There is a halachic concept of "conditional conversion" which is confirmed only after it becomes clear that the person is sincere.