Posted in: Judaism, Devrai Torah
Published on Aug 31, 2000 by Phyllis Chesler
The Rape of Dina: On the Torah Portion of Vayishlach (Vayishlach Dvar #1)
The Torah portion of Vayishlah (Gen. 32:4-36:43) marks the evolution of the Jews as Ivrim - people who "cross over" from one land to another, from this world to the next, who always maintain a between-worlds perspective into Jews as Israel, a people that not only "crosses over" but also struggles with both God and humanity.
So much happens in this parashah, and so swiftly. The characters, who are also our ancestors and our God, are absolutely accessible - they can always be found right here, in these chapters. We are tempted by their familiarity, but, once lured, we must live with their ever-changing natures and with God's eternality.
In discussing this parashah, I will focus on God's attitude towards the rape of women, as foreshadowed in Genesis 6:1-3, before the Flood. We will see how it relates to the meaning of Dina's name, to her father Jacob's refusal to let God go, to her mother Leah's meritorious assertiveness, and to the destruction of Shechem by her brothers Simeon and Levi. I will also discuss Godly and human suffering, from the perspective of God's decision to dwell within humanity and humanity's yearning for intimacy with God.
The Hebrew word vayishallehehu, "[God] sent them forth," in the Garden of Eden story (Gen. 3:23) foreshadows the opening word of our parashah, Vayishlah, "He [Jacob] sent malachim [angels or messengers] to his brother Esau." Dina's fate must be understood in the context of her father Jacob/Israel's "extensions" of self-, and, for that matter, in the context of the self-extensions required of us from the moment God sent us forth, released us from the Garden of Eden into history, to confront mortality, pain, danger, destiny and covenental glory.
In Vayishlah, Dina, Jacob/Israel's only daughter, "goes out [vatetze] to see the daughters of the land" and is raped. If men "go out," they may wound and be wounded, kill and be killed; if women "go out," like Dina, they may be taken into captivity and raped. This does not mean that men and women should not "go out." We are all already "out" of the Garden of Eden.
In the preceding portions, Toledot ("This is the story of Isaac," Gen. 25:19-28:9), and Fayetze ("Jacob went out from Beer-sheba," Gen. 28:1032:3), Jacob has—has had to—become more like his ruddy, earthy brother Esau. When Jacob wants to leave Laban, he says shalleheni, "send me forth," as in "let me free myself, let me go forth, let me extend myself, let me follow my destiny." Perhaps Jacob had learned some things about being bound. After all, his father, Isaac, had been traumatized, some say blinded, by being bound as a sacrifice. Jacob/Israel is the son (and grandson) who struggles against being bound, who explores the nature and obligations of freedom. It is not surprising to find that Jacob, thematically, is bound up (so to speak) with vayishlah arid shalleheni, sending and being sent. In a sense, Jacob also becomes God's shaliah, messenger.
What now happens in the portion of Vayishlah? Jacob, returning home with his wives, handmaids, children, servants and flocks, sends messengers to Esau, to announce his arrival, to placate Esau with gifts. He extends himself, stretches towards Esau for the pain he has caused him, whether by legal or economic means (he purchased Esau's birthright), or by trickery.1
Jacob sends his wives and children on, across the river Jabbok, and remains behind, somewhere, to pray alone. There, he wrestles with a mysterious "man." Himself? God? An angel? A nightmare apparition of Esau, suggestive of Jacob's own terror and guilt? Amazingly, it is the Godly Other who says: shalleheni, "send me forth," and it is Jacob who says: lo ashallehakha, "I will not let you go, not before you bless me." Jacob, wrestling, wants God's spirit to stay with humanity. This is an important point. We shall return to the significance of Jacob's rather forceful stand.
Jacob is "blessed" by God with a new name: Israel. The explanation for it is sarita 7m Elohim veim anashim: Jacob has "striven" or "wrestled" with God and with human beings. To be a Jew is to engage in God-wrestling and to wrestle with other human beings, and to be wounded by the struggle.2 Jacob names the site of his wrestling-and-wounding "Peniel" because he has "seen God face to face." Then, a profoundly changed and wounded Jacob "crosses over" the river Jabbock.
What else happens? Dina "goes out ... to see the women of the land." Shechem, the prince of the Hivites, "sees" Dina, and he "takes her [vayikah otah] and lays with/rapes her." Shechem also "humbles" Dina. But immediately afterwards, the text tells us that Shechem "loves" Dina and "speaks comforting words" to her. Shechem's "soul cleaves" (vatidbak nafsho) to her, an expression that recalls God's pronouncement after the creation of woman: "Hence a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife [vedavak beishto]." Shechem wants Dina's hand in marriage. He persuades his father, Hamor, to begin the marriage negotiations. The sons of Jacob/Israel demand that all the men of Shechem circumcise themselves - and when they do, Simeon and Levi, Dina's brothers, exploit their weakened state to kill them, every last man.
Because their sister has been "despoiled," Simeon and Levi also "spoil" the city and surrounding fields - that is, they take livestock, wealth and property as spoils of war, and they take all the women and children into captivity. Both theoretically and according to custom, a woman taken captive might become a wife or concubine (pilegesh), or a handmaid/slave (shijhah); she might either become a Hebrew or be treated according to Hebrew law. As such, some say, her treatment might have been a notch above the treatment of women in pagan cultures. Be that as it may, from a feminist point of view, all the captive women were forced into domestic and/or sexual slavery.
But first, Simeon and Levi take (vikhu), rescue, their sister Dina from the house of Shechem. When Jacob/Israel castigates them for exposing Israel to the wrath of multitudes, they answer: "Should our sister be treated like a whore?"
Is Dina Everywoman raped? In Israel, the Middle East, America, Bosnia, Rwanda? In November 1998 a major study on rape in the United States was released. It documents that at least 876,100 rapes were perpetrated against women every year; 111,000 men were also raped, mainly by other men. Thus, one out of every six American women and one out of thirty-three American men have experienced attempted or completed rape as children or as adults. Rape is definitely common, even epidemic—but rapists, at least today, are usually intimates, relatives or acquaintances. Thus, Dina's fate is not common. Stranger-rape does occur, but marital, date, neighborhood and acquaintance rape are far more prevalent. In the 1998 study, three quarters of the women who had been raped as adults reported having "known" their rapists. 3
What Dina's brothers do is also uncommon. They rescue their sister, break her out, kill her rapist—in fact, they kill all the men in his family.4 Simeon and Levi do not kill their sister for having shamed or endangered their family. Perhaps this story is a warning parable against intermarriage, meant to remind non-Jewish men not to marry Jewish women even when they are willing to convert/circumcise themselves. If the motive for intermarriage is lust, the acquisition of property, or the assimilation of Jews, and not a longing for God, then even circumcision/ conversion is unacceptable.5
The Jews are small in number and surrounded by mighty multitudes. Simeon and Levi engaged in overkill by slaughtering all the men and taking the women and children captive. However, we may well argue that had Simeon and Levi not rescued and avenged Dina, all Jewish women would have been "fair game" for those mighty male multitudes. Immediately afterwards, Jacob/Israel says he is troubled and afraid that the massacre in Shechem will endanger Israel in Canaan. On his deathbed, he remembers his sons, Simeon and Levi, for their "weapons of violence" and "cursed, fierce anger and cruelty." Clearly, Simeon and especially Levi whose descendants become the kohanim, the priestly caste - are both blessed and cursed with a capacity for ruthless overkill in matters of honor—God's honor, especially.6
Ellen Frankel, in her recent book, The Five Books of Miriam: A Woman's Commentary on the Torah, presents Dina as a Talmudic commentator. "Rav" Dina notes that "[My brothers] recognized that honor stolen can never be recouped: Hamor's proposed payment transformed rape into prostitution. The only compensation they [Simeon and Levi] would accept was vengeance. But neither act could compensate me for what I had lost."7
What would? Many women, feminists included, morally shun patriarchal overkill or vengeance as appropriate responses to rape. However, while money and vengeance may not be enough to restore a raped woman's honor or wholeness, premature forgiveness will not do so either. Some admirers of non-violence have wishfully advised victims of sexual violence to adopt a policy of non-violent or "Christian" understanding and forgiveness towards their attackers. In my view, such an act of forgiveness on Dina's part would not make her whole.
As most feminist therapists know, a rape victim does not "heal" by "forgiving" her attacker. Forgiveness as a path to wholeness is a misguided notion in cases of rape, incest or battery. A rush to forgive often means that the victim is unable or unwilling to acknowledge exactly what has happened, and that she has been harmed by it. To make that acknowledgment is not tantamount to becoming a lifelong, helpless victim; to fail to make it means that one cannot begin the arduous and painful work of healing. In any event, a private, psychological, individual, act of forgiveness does not constitute justice, nor can it prevent the forgiver or others from suffering a similar fate at the hands of the unjudged, unpunished rapist.
Many survivors of rape, torture or genocide say that the most lasting harm resides not only in the atrocity itself, but also in how others either dealt with it or failed to do so. Survivors are haunted by those who heard the screams but turned their backs; by those who blamed the victim and collaborated with the rapist/torturer/killer; by those who minimized, exaggerated or merely misunderstood what rape or torture is about; and by those who preached, authoritatively, righteously, against revenge, but envisioned no justice.
Simon Wiesenthal, in Justice, Not Vengeance, has written: "Hitler not only murdered millions of Jews and millions of his adversaries, he also morally destroyed millions of Germans and millions of Austrians—what's more, for generations to come."8 In addition to the civil and criminal prosecution of war criminals, Weisenthal recommends a "constant coming to terms with the past, and learning from it." There can be no peace without justice, no justice without honor, no honor without memory—without the literal creation of memorial monuments both to women victims and to heroic resisters. More than a decade ago, American feminists tried to found a rape museum. For a number of reasons, the attempt foundered, but many feminist artists have begun and continue to explore this subject in powerful ways.
If the Biblical Dina was, indeed, being held against her will as a sexual captive, as many women are today (also in Israel, to my sorrow), I might welcome similar "brotherly" (and "sisterly") rescues—of course, without the accompanying wholesale slaughter, certainly without the rape and enslavement of the rapists' female relatives and tribeswomen. Such brutal overkill, especially in matters of family or tribal honor—a particularly sensitive matter in the Middle East—cannot be justified. Moreover, while Dina's rescue by her brothers freed her, it did not necessarily empower her any further or empower her at all, at least not in feminist terms.
The Torah, however, seems to show us that accomplishing something important always involves "pain"—a lawful consequence of creativity and of God-wrestling. Eve will "create," give birth, in pain; Jacob is wounded in his struggle with God (or with God's messenger). It is "painful" to move out of Eden, away from childhood's familiar comforts, away from our families and birthplaces, into Egyptian slavery, into miraculous Red-Sea waters and manna-drenched desert-wandering, up into Israel, into and out of exile, steadily out into history. Refusing such "pain" and uncertainty is even more costly: one is left behind, among the nations; one is detached from Jewish destiny. Even for those who lived before Sinai, not keeping one's promise to God entails a high cost. Jacob did not build an altar at Bethel upon his return to Canaan, as he had promised upon leaving it (Gen. 28:19-22); and that, according to a midrash, was the failing that led to Dina's rape.9
The feminist identification with and resurrection of Dina began with the 1986 anthology 7he Tribe of Dina, edited by Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, Irena Klepfisz, and Esther F. Hyneman. Jewish feminists wanted to reclaim their "disappeared," silenced foremothers—especially those who might not have married or had children—as proof that Jewish women have always been "different," and thus radical, unscripted destinies are possible. The editors wanted to redeem Dina by claiming her as their/our tribal ancestor. They asked:
Did Shechem rape her? Did her soul cleave unto him? And when her brothers found out, what did she feel? No words, no hints. Only what the men felt and thought: his woman, his wife, their sister defiled, their honor sullied ... And Dina: Did she long for sisters, for daughters to gather a Tribe of Dina?10
The collection of poems, short stories, essays, interviews and artwork is very moving and, for its time, informative. It takes great care to include and translate works by women who wrote in Yiddish and in Ladino and to resurrect the forgotten lives of both "ordinary" and extraordinary Jewish women. However, it remains committed both to defining Judaism and to understanding Dina mainly in a secular, contemporary way.
In 1989, the poet, novelist and playwright Deena Metzger, published a novel entitled "What Dinah Thought." 11 Metzger clearly consulted the midrashic sources, and she uses them all. The novel itself is a series of midrashim on Dina, one that is daringly erotic, beautifully written, mystical and dangerously romantic about peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Dina is both the biblical Dina and a modern, independent filmmaker named Dina Z., who falls in love with an Israeli man named Joseph and with a Palestinian activist named Jasmine, whom she experiences as Shechem. Metzger writes: "Once I did not exist, but afterwards Dinah exists for all time ... I am Dinah. I loved a heathen. My brothers killed him. It was thousands of years ago." Dina Z. is in Israel, in search of Shechem: "I knew [that] the border I had to cross to enter this country was the border of the psyche. ... Where is the border between past and future?"
One of Metzger's midrashim has the biblical Dinah give birth to Shechem's daughter Asenath and also marry her half-brother Joseph, with whom she becomes the mother of his sons Menashe and Ephraim. Like her midrashic self, the modern Dina Z. has a daughter whom she names Asenath. According to another Metzger midrash, Dinah stops her brothers from slaughtering Shechem and his people, marries Shechem, and they live together for 118 years; their daughter, Asenath, marries Joseph.
At the end of the novel, Dinah asks, "Shechem, my love, it's done, everything is as it should be. Why isn't there peace yet?" He replies: "Miracles, Dinah, work themselves out imperceptibly with the rhythm and form of history, that is very, very slowly ... [And in the meantimej we live our lives as best we can, each time better than the time before." Metzger closes:
When there is no Sabbath, it is said that it is not possible to cross the river to Grace and Gan Eden. But if one must cross the river then one finds the narrowest way, for it is also not possible that the path to the Gods is entirely closed, but only that it is so narrow that without mystery it cannot be traversed.
In 1997, Anita Diamant published an eminently readable novel about Dina, The Red Tent, which also draws on some midrashic sources."12 Diamant views pre-monotheistic paganism as woman-centered and woman-controlled. Dina's grandmother, Rebecca, is portrayed as terrifying and cruel in her crusade against paganism. Diamant presents Dina as her Aunt Rachel's apprentice, both in pagan ceremonies and in midwifery. Dina runs away from Jacob's family after her brothers slay Shechem. Diamant's Dina is the mother of one son, by Shechem, who is reared by his Shechernite paternal grandmother. Reluctantly, Diamant's Dina accompanies her half-brother Joseph ("he could talk the wings off a bird") to the deathbed of their father Jacob/Israel. Joseph, too, is portrayed having been sexually victimized (by Potiphar, not just by his wife). Diamant's Dina never forgives her brothers Simeon and Levi. She lives apart from her tribe.
These three feminist works constitute an important phenomenon. They view Dina either as a woman in love—with Shechem—or as a symbol of what happens to Jewish women who dare too much. In reclaiming Dina, these writers are claiming a place for themselves, as (feminist, lesbian, secular, radical, sexual) women within Jewish history. However, these dear and tender volumes are not meant for an audience of Torah scholars, and none are presented as scholarly. They mostly share the view—based on longing, not research—that pagan practices were pro-woman, and that Dina was not raped, that she loved and wanted to marry Shechem.13
Feminists, understandably, are haunted by Dina's unknown fate. Nevertheless, there is something paradoxical about contemporary feminists "daring" to identify with Dina as a shamed-and-silenced victim, or as a "disappeared," marginal woman, since, in reality, Jews continue to name their daughters Dina. If there is shame or horror here, it does not seem to cling to the name. If, as the midrash suggests, Joseph's bride Asenath (or Osnat) was none other than Dina's daughter, then this is another example of a nobly imagined redemption, of both an individual human being and of the Jewish people, despite past shameful or forbidden sexual relations? 14
There are other questions that concern feminist interpreters, myself included: Does Dina really love Shechem; are her brothers simply opposed to the love match? (There is no evidence that Dina and Shechem had ever met before.) Are Dina's brothers also punishing her for daring to choose her own, forbidden, soul-mate? Did Dina herself conceive of a rape/marriage scheme with Shechem, so that her father and brothers would have to allow their marriage, since she was already "spoiled"? (Later, in Ex. 22:15-16, the Torah prescribes that the rape or the sexual seduction of a virgin be redeemed with a marriage proposal, and, if rejected, with the equivalent of the bride-price.)
Certainly this reading is possible, but I don't believe it.
Feminists are haunted by still further questions: After rescuing Dina, do her brothers kill her—or do they welcome her back? Is Dina pregnant by her rapist/suitor Shechem, does she die in childbirth? Does the kidnapped and raped Dina descend into madness, does she remain a spinster, become a prostitute? Does she sit like Tamar at some crossroads, red sash displayed, looking for her rightful blessing: does she sit there still? Do Jacob and Leah quietly marry Dina to a man much older than herself, is Dina his second or third wife? Is Dina barren; does she run away? Is Dina punished because she wanted to "see the [pagan] women of the land?" Is the act of "seeing" too dangerous? Throughout the Torah, looking and seeing are fraught with danger, and ultimately can be risked only by a chosen few, like Jacob/Israel and Moses. To "see" is to "know," understand, experience—a degree of intimacy with God which is sometimes understood, metaphorically, as analogous to human erotic experience.
Does Dina talk to God? Since her foremothers all did, one may assume that she did, too. She is, after all, Rebecca's granddaughter, Sarah's great-granddaughter, Leah's daughter. One must imagine such conversations into being.
Is Dina raped and denied a tribal blessing because she "went out," because she was unacceptably out-going for a woman?15 At the end of Deuteronomy, the twelve tribes are-blessed. Dina is not blessed; she is the mother of no tribe. However, the creators of the midrash cannot bear this. They imagine that Dina had a daughter, Asenath, who married Joseph. Their children, Ephraim and Menashe, became the progenitors of tribes.
There are a number of traditional explanations as to why Dina was raped, beginning with Jacob's failure to fulfill the vow he made to God at Bethel, on his journey out from Canaan (Gen. 28: 20-22). More often, however, Dina herself is blamed. "Dina bat Leah," says the famous medieval Torah commentator Rashi, declaring that "the daughter is like the mother." Is Leah a roamer, a rank curiosity seeker? Is this a fault—or a virtue? Or is Dina actually rescued and redeemed by her mother Leah, who is, after all, the mother of so many of the tribes, and clearly blessed by God? Do Leah's sons rescue their sister in their mother's honor? Does Simeon "hear" Dina's cries, as God heard Leah (Gen. 30:17)? Does Levi feel joined to his sister, as Leah had hoped, after his birth, finally to be "joined" (yillaveh) to her husband (Gen. 29:34)?
Some rabbis suggest that Dina's rape is a judgment against Leah for having "gone out," albeit to meet her lawful husband, Jacob, to tell him that she had "purchased" his (sexual) company for the night from her sister Rachel by giving Rachel the magical fertility mandrakes that Reuben found (Gen. 30:16). Perhaps this much sexual independence and agency arranged by women only, with no male decisor, was too much for misogyny-blinded rabbis. Thus, "like mother, like daughter," Dina was punished for her mother's presumed "going out." The rabbis derive from this that it is unacceptable and dangerous for women to "go out," a view later codified by Maimonides. "The king's daughter is all glorious within" (according to a traditional interpretation of Ps. 45:14). What a misguided, misogynistic view!16 Our Foremothers, as well as our Forefathers, were all great "out-goers," as we shall soon see.
If Leah hadn't "gone out," then, according to the midrash, Rachel would not have given birth to Joseph, and Joseph could not then have saved his family and tribe from famine. According to another midrash quoted by Rashi, the fetuses in Leah's and Rachel's wombs also "went out." Dina and Joseph were switched so that Rachel, who originally carried Dina, would bear a son and thus a tribe. Joseph and Dina, born together, have often been paired. Both were outcasts, solitary. Perhaps they are one soul, or two karmically linked souls.
"Dina bat Leah": her lineage is given through her mother. Are both Leah and Dina impulsive, too natural? Is it because they are not loved at home that they "go out"—Leah from her father Laban and from her husband Jacob, who does not love her, Dina from a family in which she is the only daughter, and may be lonely for "sisters"? Or is Dina restless, like her grandfather Abraham? Like him, does she look for the angel in every stranger, run out to meet Her? Or is Dina expansive, like her father Jacob/Israel, or like her grandmother Rebecca who "went out" to meet Abraham's servant Eliezer, and who left home to marry a man she had not yet met? Ah, is Dina "curious" like our great foremother Eve, who was so tempted by knowledge? As Dina went out to "see" the daughters of the land, so Eve "saw" that the fruit of the tree was good (Gen. 3:6). Is Dina, like Eve and like God, fated to suffer the inevitable consequences of knowledge and creativity, namely, pain?
Din is a judgment, and in Dina's name it is feminine in form, suggesting either that the Judge is female, or that just as homicide and femicide were pre-figured as fratricide and male-specific in the story of Cain and Abel, sexual violence is a specific male violation of women or of Shekhinah, the feminine divine presence. (This is true even though some men also rape other men and boys.)
The continuation of male sexual violence towards women is something God must live with for having allowed "man," the human race, to continue to exist despite the widespread pre-Flood rape of women by men, as well as many other evils. In Gen. 6:2, the sons of God "took [vayyikhu) any woman they chose." What does God say, almost immediately afterward, in Gen. 6:3? Lo yadun nihi baadam le'olam: "My spirit shall not shield man forever," or: "I am not going to keep fighting with Myself." Yadun, din, dina: they come from the same root. Is God now refusing to be man's Eve, man's handmaid, the "helpmeet" (Gen. 2:20), the One who helps man when he's good, but opposes man when he is not? The One who struggles with man? Yes—and no. God will struggle with individual men—but not forever.
According to a medieval midrash (in Yalkut Shimoni), Dina's rape was the first time since the Flood that a man had raped a woman. God must also live with the suffering entailed by allowing God's spirit to "dwell contentiously" among living creatures who are flesh, meat, animal in nature cc since he too is flesh," as Gen. 6:3 continues. God's judgement, in the same verse: Human beings will not live forever, we will not even live that long a time.
Jacob's wrestling with God (or with God's messenger) is also about not letting go of God, demanding that God remain, or at least, reveal Godself before departing. "Tell me your name," Jacob demands—but God reveals it only later, in Exodus, to Moses.
When God decides to spare the human race, God also understands accepts?—that there may be in each generation only a handful of human beings who, like Noah, are tamim, blameless, righteous people who "walk with God." The good news: If even a few "walk with God," this will honor our covenant with God and alleviate God's eternal loneliness.
If, according to the midrash, God suffers because the Egyptians, who are also God's creatures, are drowning in the sea, are we not to imagine that God also suffers Dina's rape and the "defiling," "spoiling" (rape), and captivity of the women and children of Shechem? The pitiless slaughter, not only of Dina's rapist—but of every male inhabitant of Shechem?
Lo yadun ruhi: this has about it the sound of Shekhinah energy, swift, grave, tragic, maternal. Rachel weeping for her children ...
A promise is a promise. God is not remaindering the rainbow, the "bow in the skies." God will suffer with us. But we can limit or even alleviate that suffering through tikkun olam, our world-rectifying actions. If we truly understand that God was sickened, outraged, by pre-Flood rape, as well as by other human evils, then we have an obligation not to rape, and to protect women (and men) from such sexual violence. We also have an obligation to comfort and counsel rape victims - not to deny or minimize their pain; an obligation not to become bystanders; an obligation to pursue justice: arrest, prosecute, and sentence rapists, including those who rape their own children. We have an obligation to pursue those who "bu y" women's bodies - those, who, like Dina, have been kidnaped, tricked, held against their will in brothels, and also those who have been "trafficked" into prostitution by incest, poverty, and racism, and by male lust and greed. And we have an obligation to bring up our children so that they do not rape, and if raped, do not blame themselves. In turn, we must not blame or ostracize rape victims. In Dina's story, her brothers do not blame her. They rescue her.
Women were once expected to marry their rapists; this is no longer true. Dina was not expected to marry Shechem. Once, women were advised to "keep quiet" about being raped; this is no longer true. Simeon and Levi do not keep quiet about their sister's rape; it is their stated reason for destroying Shechem. In the past, when women attempted to have their rapists prosecuted, they were rarely believed or treated humanely in the courtroom, where most were "raped" again, this time legally. This is only somewhat less true today.
Post-Bosnia and post-Rwanda, for the first time in history, rape is being defined not as the "spoils" of war but as a weapon of war and a war crime.Perhaps our global perception of rape will shift, radically, once it becomes known that rape is not merely a "personal misunderstanding" between a rapist and his victim but is, rather, a crime against humanity. And a crime against God.
How do we unite humanity with God? We do tikkun olam, we do mitzvol. But we also try and understand things differently, look for the larger pattern, take the aerial as well as the microscopic view. We try to understand that many things are not either/or but both, that opposites exist to define each other and to be reconciled. Opposites are also closer than we think. Thus, Leah and Rachel are two, but they may also be one—Rachel, is more visible, more immanent, while Leah is less visible, more mysterious. Esau and Jacob are two—but they may also be one: Israel must be both. Leah-Rachel and Esau-Jacob, the oldest and the youngest of the first cousins, are two, but they also reveal themselves to us as constantly "switched": they are always changing places. Ultimogeniture supplants primogeniture, but not without human reckonings and reconciliations. Isaac, the younger, inherits, not Ishmael, the first-born; Jacob, the younger, not Esau—yet Isaac remains close to Ishmael, Esau marries Ishmael's daughter, Jacob and Esau reconcile. In a sense, they are ascending and descending like the ladder-angels—and, for a moment, they are all one. May we all also be One with God.
* This Devar Torah is dedicated to my dear departed parents: my father, Arye Leib ben Perele ve Yakov, (Leon Chesler), and my mother, Faige Leah Dvorah bat Gittel ve Nusen (Lillian Hammer Chesler). May their memories be for a blessing.
I would like to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of Rivka Haut and Deborah Greniman.
1 Jacob first "bought" his brother Esau's birthright as the firstborn, and then, with the help of their mother Rebecca, tricked him out of his blessing. Can we begin to imagine Esau's bitterness and despair: "Is there no blessing left for me, Father?" Esau strikes me as a real Cain figure, unfairly maligned. Even Cain had his human, if not moral reasons for committing fratricide: Abel's offering was accepted by God, but not Cain's. God's psychotherapeutic advice: "Try again, set aside your anger," doesn't soften Cain's hot, wounded anger. Psychologically, Cain has evolved into Esau, who is able, years later, to "weep on his brother's neck." Of course, Jacob is also more evolved and complex than poor Abel.
2 Arthur Waskow, Godwrestling (New York: Schocken, 1978). Waskow reminds us that Rachel is the one who first says: "'With Godlike wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and have prevailed' ... it's as if Rachel taught him how to do it. ... [The moment of Jacob's wrestling] is the moment that connects their wrestle in the womb ... this time [Jacob] wrestled not to conquer Esau but to conquer his own fear and hatred of Esau" (pp. 6-7).
3 United States National Crime Victimization Survey: National Violence against Women (November 1998); Stephen J. Schulhofer, Unwanted Sex. The Culture of Intimidation and the Failure of Law (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998); Phyllis Chesler, "What Is Justice for a Rape Victim?" On The Issues, 5 (Winter 1995), pp. 12-15, 47 and 56; Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery (New York: Basic Books, 1992); Alexandra Stiglymyer (ed.), Mass Rape: The War against Women in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Lincoln-London: University of Nebraska Press, 1992); Diana Russell, Rape in Marriage (New York: Macmillan, 1982).
The 1998 U.S. National Violence against Women survey challenges the 1998 (and previous) national crime victimization studies, such as the uniform crime reports issued annually by the FBI and the Justice Department. These sometimes omit gender entirely, and they are never based on interviews but only on the number of rapes reported to and/or treated as credible by the police. In 1998, the FBI study reported a 12% decline in rape. The 1998 violence/women survey used female phone interviewers armed with detailed questionnaires, which they administered randomly to 8,000 women and 8,000 men. This survey defined rape as oral, vaginal or anal intercourse accompanied by force or threat of force. It found that 54% of all rape victims report having been raped before their eighteenth birthdays. The typical female rape victim is raped nearly three times a year. More than three out of four female rape victims are raped by present or former domestic partners.
The books cited demonstrate a variety of variables. Schulhofer mentions the failure of American law (lawyers, police officers, juries, judges) to believe and fight for rape victims; the failure to arrest, jail, and adequately sentence rapists; the frequency with which rapists are found "not guilty," under-sentenced, or given probation only; and the frequency of appeals-level judicial overturning of the rare jury verdict of guilty. Herman writes about the post-traumatic stress symptoms involved in World War I "shell shock" and Vietnam-era "combat fatigue" and their consequences of rape, incest and domestic violence. Stiglymayer's anthology notes the psychiatric consequences of mass and gang rape in wartime, when those rapes are part of a calculated military campaign: they are the weapons, not merely the "spoils" of war. It is clear that at least half the war rapes in Bosnia were committed by men whom the women already knew.
4 According to some of the midrashim collected by Louis Ginzberg in his Legends of the Jews (Philadelphia: JPS, 1909, vol. 5, pp. 334-336), Simeon and Levi allowed some Shechemite men to live and took them captive.
6 It is not clear whether Jacob views the violence perpetrated by Simeon and Levi in Shechem from a practical point of view, in terms of tribal survival, or from a moral point of view, as an offense against God—or both. One way or the other, the kidnapping of Dina by the Hivites and her rescue by her Hebrew brothers is, in my view, unrelated to and should not be taken as prefiguring any current Israeli policies towards Israeli Arabs or towards Palestinian national aspirations. The reconciliation of the half-brothers Isaac and Ishmael is more profoundly instructive on this point.
Along with the other tribes, Simeon and Levi are represented on the breastplate of the High Priest, whose purpose is that God will see the tribes' names and "recall their righteousness." Perhaps God understands the actions of Simeon and Levi differently than does Jacob/Israel. In a troubling passage (Ex. 32:26- 28), Moshe gathers the Levites around him (actually, they step forward), and tells them that God has commanded them to kill the worshippers of the golden calf, even their brothers, friends and relatives. The Levites went on to slaughter 3,000 people. The Levites, who include the priest and the workers in the sanctuary, may, troublingly, be consecrated to God in holy work of a bloody kind.
9 Some commentators suggest that the rape of Dina is a judgment against Jacob/Israel for not fulfilling his vow to build an altar to God quickly enough. The proof? Jacob/Israel rushes right off to do so in the very next chapter. Rashi, for example, condensing the Midrash Tanhuma, comments: "because [Jacob] delayed on [his] journey [to build an altar to God at Beth-El, as promised, Jacob] was punished by this, [Dina's] fate."
Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg, commenting on the affair of Dina in her Genesis: The Beginning of Desire (Philadelphia-Jerusalem: The Jev is.. Publication Society, 1995, pp. 220-223), cites the talmudic discussion of Eccles. ):4: "Better not to vow at all than to vow and not fulfill." Rabbi Meir comments: "Better not to vow at all," while R. Yehuda says: "Better to vow and fulfill." The lesson: If you make a vow, fulfill it right away, have your hand close to your mouth. Immediately after the rape and the consequent massacre, God tells Jacob/Israel (he apparently still has to be told), to travel to Bethel and to set up the stone pillar, as he promised to do on the spot where he had the original dream of God.
13 See Judith Antonelli's wonderful book, In The Image of God: A Feminist Commentary on the Torah (Northvale, N.J. -London-Jerusalem: Jason Aronson, 1995). Antonelli argues persuasively that, for its time and geographical region, the Torah attempted to elevate the status of women, compared to the treatment of women in the pagan, non-monotheistic Egyptian and Babylonian worlds.
14 Joseph and Dina, both outcasts, may have the power to redeem each other. According to other midrashim, Joseph "recognizes" Osnat, Dina's daughter, by something she is wearing, an amulet or necklace. Jacob had taken a golden bell, written God's name on it, and put it around Osnat's neck. Then the archangel Michael came down and took her to Egypt. See Ginzberg, Legends (above, note 3), p. 336. Ginzberg discusses a wide variety of midrashim on this subject, but see especially Pirkei derabbi Eliezer 3 8.
15 Some rabbis believe that Dina was raped because she "went out." However, there is a lot of "going out" in this parashah: four instances, to be precise. The first is vatetze Dinah (Gen. 34:1)— Dina went out, beyond her father's tents, "to see the daughters of the land"; then Shechem's father Hamor "went out" to negotiate with Jacob (verse 6); the Hivite men, who followed Hamor's orders to submit to circumcision, are described twice as kol yotzei shaar 7ro, "all who went out of the gate of [Hamor's] town" (verse 24); and, finally, Simeon and Levi took Dina from the house of Shechem and "went out" (verse 26). Each "going out" has a different consequence and a different meaning. From one point of view, the last "going out" is victorious, since the brothers have rescued their sister and are "going out" of the house in which she was held captive. Each "going out," except for the last, has dangerous, even fatal consequences.
However, let me offer some feminist support for Rashi's view—not that he needs it. Rashi believes that Shechem and his father Hamor coveted the Jews' cattle and property and wished, through assimilation, to incorporate it all. Why do I think Rashi is right? Because, in my experience, few rapists ever fall in love with their victims. More: Few rapists wish to many their rape victims unless they see further gain for themselves. While there are exceptions, it is rare for a kidnapper-rapist to hold his beloved as a hostage while he negotiates with a potential father-in-law for her hand in marriage.
16 In their collection, Daughters of the King. Women and the Synagogue (Philadelphia-Jerusalem: The Jewish Publication Society, 1992, p. xxiii), Susan Grossman and Rivka Haut cite the Tanhuma, a collection of midrashim edited some time after 800 C.E., which declares that the appearance of a woman in a public place is a temptation to men. This conclusion is based on the story of Dina. Maimonides, in Hilkhot Ishut (The Laws of Marrige) 13:11, advised that "it is shameful for a woman to always be going out. ... And a husband should stop his wife from this and should not allow her to go outside except perhaps once a month. ... Because it is not becoming to a woman ... for so it is written: 'The King's daughter is all glorious within'" (cited in Grossman and Haut, p. xxiv).
Grossman and Haut challenge this view on the basis of another midrash from the Tanhuma (Num. 3) which gives a different interpretation of the verse from Psalms. According to this midrash, the Tabernacle was built in the wilderness so that God could speak with Moses within. "Once the Tabernacle was erected He said, modesty is becoming ... and He began speaking with him in the Tabernacle, and so David [i.e., the psalmist] said "The King's daughter is all glorious within." The King's daughter is Moses ... therefore, "The King's Daughter is all glorious within" (cited in ibid., p. xxvi).
We are not accepting comments at this time, please go to the Facebook page to generate discussion!