Understanding the Rape of Dina

We are about to read the disturbing story of Dina, the daughter of Lea and Jacob. The entire chapter 34 of Bereishit, all 31 verses, narrates the events surrounding Dina’s rape and her brother’s response. We will read how after Dina is raped, her father Jacob is silent; then all of Dina’s brothers devise a plan where they convince the people of Shchem to circumcise themselves, and on the 3rd day Shimon and Levi rise up and murder the men of Shchem. Many people may have read the Red Tent, where Anita Diamante reads the text as a love story between the prince of Shchem and Dina—but I believe this to be a misrepresentation of the text. If you look closely at verse 2, it says:

And Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite,prince of the land, saw her; and he took her, and lay with her, and humbled her (“vay’neha”).

He saw, he took, and lay with her and HUMBLED HER, afflicted her, raped her: inui. Diamante ignored this word, thereby making the story more palatable. I too have trouble coming to terms with the story, but it was that very word, inui, that helped me understand the purpose of the Dina narrative and why the torah dedicates so much space to it.

We are told near the beginning Genesis (15:13)  that in order to enter into a covenantal relationship with Gd, Jews must undergo 3 experiences: one must be a stranger in a strange land, enslaved, and suffer: geirut, avdut, and inui.  We see these 3 words appear several times throughout the stories in Bereishit, but it is especially clear in the book of Exodus. (chapter 1, eved 5x, inui, 2x, ger, 1x in chp 2)  Bnei yisrael enters into a covenantal relationship with God only after being strangers in Mizrayim, enslaved by the Mizrayim, and caused to suffer bitterly in Egypt; only after experiencing geirut avdut and inui does Gd redeem Bnei Yisrael.

 The story of Dina is an exact parallel to the story of the Exodus.  Let’s examine what the parallels are.  Dina in Shchem is like Bnei Yisrael in Egypt.  Having newly arrived in Shchem, she is a stranger—so lonely, that in the first pasuk she goes out to find friends,  “Lirot b’bnot ha’aretz.”  But, rather than find friends, she encounters the prince of Shchem.  And, as we already saw he takes her, lies with her and afflicts her. We are told that she suffers. In addition, Shcehm holds her captive, enslaves her in his house for at least 3 days until Dina’s brothers rescue her.  Like Bnei Yisrael in Mizrayim, Dinah experiences geirut, avdut, and inui.

 Jacob, in our story, is as silent as God was for 400 years while the Jews suffered in Egypt. In verse 5 we are told:

“Now Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter; and his sons were with his cattle in the field; and Jacob held his peace until they came.”

When Jacob heard that his daughter had been defiled, he kept silent.  He did nothing.

Then, perhaps because their father did not come to defend his daughter, 2 of Jacob’s sons, Shimon and Levi rise up in anger, and slay the people of Shcehm. The questions is, who do Shimon and Levi represent in our metaphor? Could they be like Moses, who also rises up and kills a Mitzri in defense of his brethren. Rashi (34:25)says that Shimon and Levi merit being called Dina’s brothers (Achai Dina) because they were willing to risk their lives to save her. Moses too risked his life to defend and save the Jews.

Or, perhaps Shimon and Levi represent God, who after so many years hears the pain and suffering of his children.  God rises up and kills the first born in Egypt.  Immediately following the death of the first born, in chapter 12 verse 31of Exodus, God instructs bnei yisrael to get up (kumu) and go out of Egypt so that they could serve and worship God.  And, after Shimon and Levi kill all the people of Shchem in the Dina narrative God says, in ch 35 verse 1: come, get up (kum) go to beit-el, sacrifice to me and worship me.

The story of Dina is an exact metaphor for the experience of the Jews in Egypt.  After the Jews experience geirut, avdut and innui—being a stranger, being enslaved, and being afflicted, only then are they ready to receive the Torah at Mt Sinai.  Here too, Dina’s suffering is the impetus that allows God to bless Jacob, renaming him Yisrael.  The blessing reiterates the promise that Jacob will be the father of Bnei Yisrael, that he will be a great nation, and along with all of Bnei Yisrael, will inherit the land of Israel.

5 Responses to Understanding the Rape of Dina

  1. Gedalia Walls says:

    I would make another suggestion: When Moshe first approaches Pharoah, he believes he can walk in, guns blazing, and redeem his people from Egypt. This characteristic warlike effort of Moshe Rabbainu to redeem the afflicted is mirrored by the medrash beginning of Eichah, where the Jews in Bavel see a vision of Moshe coming to save them before G-d stops him. In fact, Rashi explains that the “charbi” and Kashti” Yaakov Avinu mentions in his final address were none other than his prayers. Struggle is VaYishlach is met with three options that continually become issues for the Jewish people through the Torah and through history- do we fight, appease, or pray? Rashi says it in this parsha, it is mentioned by Avraham, by Yehudah, and surrounding every conflict (such as the episode of the Pilegesh B’Giveah as the Ramban elucidates so clearly in Parshas VaYeirah). We are always struggling, yet succeeding. We don’t have the answers, and should not pretend to have them. In a sense, Yaakov knows that Hashem will protect them, but relying on the Act of G-d to instill fear into the inhabitants is not the conduct of Him or His People. That’s partially why we don’t have a definitive tradition about whether Shimon and Levi were not only justified, but sanctioned by Torah law to act as they did. These fuzzy, gray areas that creep in between the words of Torah are what makes Klal Yisrael great. We don’t settle every battle with our fists, or walk away. Prayer is the tzad ha’shoveh to help bring us to a conclusion on how G-d would want us to act. No final conclusion, other than to point out that we don’t know exactly what G-d wants, just that we are willing to take up the struggle to find out.

  2. Hyim Shafner says:

    Fascinating post Maharat. Indeed the Talmud calls God, “Mi Kamocha B’ilmim” “who is like you in silence o God”, (Gitin 56b) since God is know for being silent in the face of human suffering.

  3. […] Understanding the Rape of Dina, a parsha post by Sara Hurwitz […]

  4. Your comparison fails on more than point. Firstly, Bnei Yisrael were not enslaved because they caught the attention of the Pharaoh while attempting to establish themselves amongst the Egyptians; they were enslaved because their ancestor, Joseph, instituted the precedent of servitude to the state (Gen 47:15-25) and the new Pharaoh forgot the debt owed to him and his kin.

    Secondly, you have also failed to take into account the extent to which Jacob disparaged the actions of Simon and Levi, which is indicated in both this chapter (Gen 34:30) and in his cursing of them on his deathbed (Gen 49:5-7). If we take Jacob’s role as an isogloss for God’s role, and the role of Simon and Levi as an isogloss for that of Moses, then you need to account for the absence of any divine reprimand for Moses’ murder of the Egyptian. This problem is even more compounded if you follow your second suggestion, that Simon and Levi represent God.

    You have referred to the rape of Dinah twice as having been an “exact” parallel with, or metaphor for, the story of the Israelites’ servitude in Egypt. All I see is a vague correspondence on the basis of three words which occur numerous times elsewhere in Tanakh as well. If you wish to view a correspondence between the Exodus narrative and a passage in Genesis (and I don’t actually know why you would want to), I would look to Abraham’s treatment of his wife’s handmaiden, whose name is reminiscent of the status of the Israelites in Egypt, and whose Egyptian nationality renders poetic the treatment of Abraham’s descendants.

  5. Noreen Cohen says:

    My belief is that G-d wanted the Israelites to value their women. Arab and other societies shun a woman who is raped or kill her in vengeance, saying that the woman has now been soiled and it is her fault, not the man who raped her. Judaism comforts the woman and protects her. We accept her back into our family and not caste her out or kill her to keep the family’s reputation unsullied.
    I believe that the revenge of Dina was the younger generation’s new thought on this matter. Jacob did nothing. It was his sons who defended their sister.. a new thought process. We are a new people in a new land with new ideas to teach the world. Children born of rape are loved in our religion. They are not killed or shunned either. And, because their mother is Jewish, no matter who the father is, that child too is Jewish. This is a major break in the thinking of cultures who practiced infanticide. We instead, save a life. The life of the mother and child. Ours is a just religion. Though i feel that the punishment should have been on the perpetrator only, the prince. I always feel sorry for the rest of the people, who were innocent and had not participated in the rape. They were going to accept G-d and become circumcised. That was a rotten thing to do.. similar to a police sting where they tell a people that they won a lottery and then arrest them. However these people were innocent, weren’t they? Why did they kill them too? In any event, I feel that the saving of Dina and her embracement from her family following the rape, exemplifies the love G-d is teaching us to have for our women and to respect them.

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