The Rape of Dinah

It is impossible not to pay attention to the story in this week's parasha about the rape of Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob who is mentioned. The text is clear that Shechem, a son of the Hivite tribe, sees Dinah, takes her and 'lays with her by force'. Such an offense, in the biblical world, brought guilt on his tribe, and it was customary at that time (and still, today) that the violation of a virgin was to be avenged.  The story presented here is gruesome and deeply disturbing: Dinah's brothers use guile to slaughter Shechem and all the males of his village.  It's an awful read, and one which our tradition tries to ameliorate with convoluted interpretations.  But, sometimes, we just have to confront the story and call it out for being an abomination. 

What is deeply concerning is that Dinah's father, the patriarch Jacob, says nothing when he learns about the rape.  The text says that he 'kept silent until his sons came home [from being out in the field] (Genesis 34:5). He says nothing. Nothing. And when the dastardly deed is done, and his sons have committed a mass slaughter, his only response to them has to do with how he will now be considered in the eyes of the other tribes. In other words, he is more concerned with his reputation for the slaughter rather than the act itself (not to mention that he becomes wealthier by the deed, as the sons bring back the women and children as slaves. ugh). 

We are all deeply immersed in the endless revelations about sexual harassment in every aspect of society. It is safe to assert that every single woman (and some men) on this planet is part of #metoo. And it is the silence around the assaults that is the most disruptive.  Saying nothing, even when knowing that an attack has occurred, pours hot sauce on the wound. Saying nothing keeps men who are moved to say something, silent. Saying nothing keeps us women bound into layers and layers of internal dialogue, trying to dismantle the grip in which harassment holds us.

Jacob, despite his designation as one the patriarchs of the Jewish people, is a scoundrel, and every year, I am deeply disturbed by his status. Some of his sons continue in his vein; others are able escape the family inclination to deceive in order to achieve.  

So why study this? Precisely because it sickens us and presents us with a mirror of our own times. Precisely so that we can be frightened by what vengeful men who have weapons and a feeling of superiority can do in the name of 'justice'. So that we become highly sensitized to the outrage in order that we can do the opposite of the story: to insist that this narrative becomes something of the past, and work together, men and women, to make sure that rape and the revenge that follows, is a thing of the past. What will this require? Wrestling until we defeat the scourge.  May it be so.