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Vayeshev 5781 ~ Dec. 11, 2020

One of the most troubling parts of this parshah for me is the account of the rape of Dinah.  Perhaps what is most disturbing is the lack of details particularly any comment from or about the effects of the experience on Dinah herself.  I understand that this is a patriarchal society, but the lack of voice and details in such a disturbing incident are appalling to say the least.

We are told, Dinah went out to visit the daughters of the land. She is noticed by Shechem, the prince of the city and is raped.  Consequently, Shechem comes to Jacob and asks to marry her.  There is no reference to the rape or the effect, physically or emotionally on Dinah.  She was rescued from Shechem’s palace after her brothers killed all the men and pillaged the city.  Did she want to be rescued?  What horrors did she occur being in the middle of such a massacre?  What happens to her after she returns home?  We never hear about Dinah again after this incident.  Was she shunned?  Was she killed?   Did she marry and have children?  We have no answers.  What is equally disturbing to the lack of details about Dinah and her experience is the response by Jacob and her brothers.  Jacob when being told of the rape keeps silent.  His ultimate concern is his safety and relation with the Canaanite people.  He does not comment on the plight of his daughter.  Simeon and Levi deceptively enact the slaying of the Shechemize people while they are recuperating.  They insist it is to defend their sister’s honor but it has been suggested that their motive may have been more for military objectives. Was such violence necessary?  On his deathbed, Jacob will angrily confront Simeon and Levi for this violence.

Yes, Dinah is a voiceless victim and we can empathize with her plight.  Unfortunately, over the centuries commentators have been less than kind and have made the incident even worst.  They have suggested that Dinah was a gadabout and invited the rape by her behavior. According to Midrashic tradition, Dina herself was to blame. Since God created the first woman from Adam’s rib, a part of his body that was covered, women were to be modest by nature. Thus, Dina acted unnaturally by going out, and in so doing, endangered herself. As the fourth century Rabbi Berekiah said in Rabbi Levi’s name: “This may be compared to one who was holding a pound of meat in his hand, and as soon as he exposed it a bird swooped down and snatched it away" (B’reishit Rabbah 80:5).

We have heard this story before. Namely blaming the victim for what has happened.  It would be nice to excuse it as patriarchal or just medieval commenters but we unfortunately share the reality in our own day and age.  How many victims of rape, harassment even abuse are blamed for their behavior as opposed to the perpetrator being brought to justice.  It’s noteworthy that Dinah means justice and how this is so seldom what is done in such situations.  How many times have we heard the victim blamed for what happened based on their manner of dress, their mannerisms or the time and place?  How many young women have been date raped and then blamed because they should not have been drinking?   How frequent it is that prosecutions in rape and assault cases remain focused on attacking the character of the victims? 

The Me-Too movement may have brought the issue of women’s rights more out into the public but unfortunately in this day and age so many women like Dinah remain voiceless Violence against women, rape, and human trafficking are as real  in our own society and in our world as they were in biblical times.   Too often, these real stories get swept under the rug, with the woman being shamed. And women's rights are too often ignored, as evidenced by recent attacks on organizations such as Planned Parenthood for providing women with healthcare options.

Dinah your silent voice is deafening thru the centuries.  We feel your pain and injustice and recognize that all too unfortunately it continues to this day!  Let us vow as we gather here in prayer and study to give voice to those who suffer from such atrocity.  Let us be open eyed to witness their struggles and to stand up for the justice that you Dinah were so unfortunately denied. 

As Jacob encounters Esau in this parshah this week, he tells him "to be fully human is to see in the other's face the face of God." (Genesis 33:10)  Let us work to make this our goal as well, and let us work for a world where that is true for both men and women!

Shabbat shalom, 

Diane Maran

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782