Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Vayishlach: A family of con artists benefits from a rape

Avraham Avinu/Abraham our Father twice passes off Sarah Iménu/Sarah our Mother as his sister for fear that the locals will kill him to take her, and is rewarded with “compensation” for any possible damage to his “property” (wife). Yitzchak/Isaac does likewise with Rivka/Rebecca. Yaakov/Jacob first cons his brother Esav/Esau out of his birthright, then he and his mother, Rivka, conspire together and deprive Esav of the blessing of the firstborn. Yaakov pays for his deviousness when Lavan/Laban substitutes Léah for his beloved Rachel at their wedding. Then Yaakov pulls a switcheroo on Lavan, depriving him of his most productive livestock through good husbandry practices and what sounds like some interesting hocus-pocus. Finally, Yaakov returns to K’na-an/Canaan, where he has to face the possible wrath and revenge of his brother, Esav. That doesn’t go as badly as expected, but . . .

Dinah is raped. (There’s a Midrash/rabbinical interpretive story that says that Dinah was raped because Yaakov hid her from Esav, as he didn’t want his brother getting any “ideas.” Terrific—Yaakov makes the wrong decision and his daughter pays the price.) Her brothers Shim’on/Simon and Levi avenge her rape by conning the entire community of Shechem, her rapist, into becoming circumcised so that they can intermarry, then slaughtering all the men while they are still recuperating. My rabbi says that they had to slaughter all the men in order to prevent a cycle of revenge. But isn’t it a bit too convenient that, yet again, the family benefits from a woman’s difficult situation, in this case taking with them all the women, children, and spoils?

There are still far too many questions unanswered. Was the massacre a hostage rescue, or did Dinah stay in Shechem’s home voluntarily? In terms of historical context, it's instructive to check out Megillat Rute/the Book of Ruth—with her husband and sons all dead, Naomi might have starved to death if Ruth hadn’t, essentially, volunteered to take care of her; Naomi, in turn, set up a “shotgun wedding” between Ruth and Boaz to ensure that Ruth would have someone to take care of her. In those days, would there have been any possibility that any other man would have taken Dinah as a wife, given that she was no longer a virgin, or would she have preferred to stay with Shechem so that she would have a husband to support her and children to care for her in her old age?

Sorry, guys, but the story of the rape of Dinah simply cries out for “kol isha,” a woman’s voice. For me, as a committed Jewish woman, this is one of the most difficult texts in the Torah/Bible, not only because Dinah was raped, but, even worse, because, while we know how her father and brothers felt, we have no idea how she felt (or, for that matter, how her mother felt), nor do we know what, ultimately, became of her. Unfortunately, we can only speculate, because the voice of this woman named Dinah was silenced.


Blogger Shira Salamone said...

For more thoughts on the story of the rape of Dinah, see Rachel's post on Parshat Vayishlach at

Wed Dec 01, 10:22:00 PM 2004  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Check the parsha: The Torah itself says that the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Chamor his father "b'mirmah" (verse 13), which the Hertz Chumash translates as "with guile" and the ArtScroll Siddur, in the prayer after the Amidah (Kelokai n'tzor l'shoni meirah...My G-d, guard my tongue from evil...) translates as "deceitfully." They had the men of Shechem circumcise themselves for the precise purpose of disabling them so as to make them easy targets for a revenge massacre, as they said to their father in verse 31, "Should one make our sister like a harlot?" (I hope that's a reasonable translation.)

Welcome to my blog. I'm glad you like the moniker. :)

Sat Dec 11, 09:30:00 PM 2004  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

So now we're back to the old "blame the victim" routine. Dinah was raped because she had the unmitigated chutzpah to leave the house. Would you at least consider the possibility that *Shechem* is responsible for the rape of Dinah? Why do you not hold Shechem responsible for failing to control his yetzer ha-ra/evil inclination?

Tue Dec 14, 10:14:00 PM 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as progressive Jews, why do you assume that the fact that Schem had premarital sex with Dina constitutes rape? It says "he saw her, took her, lay with her, and defiled her." this clearly delineates illegitimate sex, and perhaps rape. However, "his soul was drawn to Dina...he loved the girl and spoke kindly to the girl (34:3)", "the soul of my son Schem longs for your daughter", etc. Perhaps he is not uch a monster. he clearly desired to marry her, and the brothers don't just go out and retrieve her, he asks to marry her and they tell him to get circumcised. he wants to marry her and he is in love woth her. Is it not possible that they had sex and the brothers consider her defiled, yet not raped?

Wed Nov 15, 08:17:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I see this as second thoughts on the part of Shechem. If he'd thought of marrying her *before* the incident, he would have gone to his father and hers and arranged a marriage. That said, it was decent of him to offer marriage (and/or he thought he'd be "shotgun-weddinged" into marriage, anyway, and figured that it would look better if he, himself, initiated the process).

"Is it not possible that they had sex and the brothers consider her defiled, yet not raped?" It's possible. I'm just not sure how typical, and/or possible, it was for women to have voluntary premarital sex in those days.

Wed Nov 15, 11:54:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel really intimidated being here, because I am not Jewish, and I have to rely on interpretations of Hebrew to read this story...
Could it be that we do not hear the voice of Dinah because she is a young girl? I mean, really young -- not old enough to have an informed opinion. She may have "gone out" to play with the other girls, and not to seduce a man This story reads to me to have a "statutory rape" element to it.

It also bothers me that Shechem "stacked the deck," so to speak, to make certain that he got what he wanted. Once he defiled Dinah, her marriage prospects were seriously limited. In essence, he would be assured of getting what he wanted. So, while he offered to pay "her price," whatever it may be, he knew (better than any man should with a young girl) what he was "paying for." It stands to reason that he could have been moved to his soul by his own guilt over taking her.

There can be no social order in a society wherein one with perceived power can take now, and pay later.

Tue Nov 25, 09:00:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Wow, am I ever sorry that I didn't see this comment sooner!

Here's the problem: *If* the rape of Dinah occurred shortly after the family's return to Canaan, then you're right--it was statutory rape. That would also explain why Shimon and Levi felt it necessary to deceive the men of Shechem into being circumcized en masse: The boys were too young to take on an entire town of adult males unless the victims were disabled.

The following are my calculations, courtesy of Excel:
20 years Yaakov spent with Lavan
-7 years until Yaakov's marriages to Leah & Rachel
=13 years between Yaakov's weddings & his departure

6 number of Leah's own children
x9 months of pregnancy
=54 minimum # of months needed to have 6 kids

4.5 minimum # of years needed to have 6 kids

4.5 years - .75 year (9 months) =
3.75 minimum # of years needed between births of Reuven and Dinah

13 years-.75 year (9 months) =
12.25 Reuven's maximum possible age at Yaakov's departure

12.25-3.75 =
8.5 Dinah's maximum possible age at Yaakov's departure

12.25-.75 year (9 months) =
11.5 Shimon's maximum possible age at Yaakov's departure

The problem is that we have no idea how much time elapsed between Yaakov's return to Canaan and Dinah's rape. All we know, from the text itself, is that Yaakov had enough time to build a house and some structures for his cattle in Sukkot, then to move to Shechem, buy some land, and build an altar.

Fri Nov 19, 10:51:00 AM 2010  

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