Vayishlach: Dinah’s life mattered

dinah-vayishlachI have no idea what it’s like to be worried about a son every time he goes out the door.  I mean, of course, I worry about my son when he goes out the door.  But I don’t worry that, if something happens, his life is in danger if he’s stopped by the police.  Actual danger for his life.  That’s a whole other level of worry.  “Always be respectful”  “Keep your hands in view”  “Put your hood down.”

The closest I can come to knowing how that feels is, “You can’t wear that.”  “Don’t walk by yourself.” “Keep earbuds in, but no music, so you can hear someone come up behind you.” “Keep your keys between your fingers.”

I have daughters.  And bad things can happen to them out there when they go out, regardless of fault or doing anything wrong.

“One day, Dinah , Leah’s daughter whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the locality, and Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the local prince, saw her; he took her and lay her down and raped her.  He was then captivated by Jacob’s daughter Dinah, and falling in love with the yhoung owman, spoke tenderly to the young woman.  So Shechem said to his father Hamor, ‘Obtain this girl for me as my wife.’” (Gen 34:1-4)

Dinah’s voice is never heard through this story, and there’s been a lot of midrash to try and fill it in.  But there is a sense by many commentators that she was doing something wrong by going out by herself, out with other women, without escort.  The Women’s Commentary Bible says, “Though she seems free to move about, she is not secure anywhere…the message [is] that women, or at least daughters, are vulnerable to calamity when they ‘go out’.”

Dinah’s biggest problem wasn’t that the Hivite prince raped her. There isn’t even a consensus that what happened was what we call today, “rape”, although the Hebrew seems to fit our definition – he saw her, he took her.  We have no idea if it was consensual, and the prince wanted to marry her afterward.  But that never happened.  Dinah’s brothers were outraged.  They insisted the entire town’s males get circumcised, so their sister wouldn’t marry someone unclean.  The King agreed, and the entire town underwent the painful procedure.  Three days later, Simeon and Levi led an attack against Hamor, Shechem and every man in town – killing all.

Jacob was very upset with his sons; their actions “made trouble for [him], making [him] odious to the land’s inhabitants.” (Gen 34:30).  Jacob was worried at retaliation, but the sons defended their actions by saying, “Should he then have been allowed to treat our sister as a whore?” (Gen 34:31)

Blaming victims is nothing new.  She shouldn’t have been out there alone.  He shouldn’t have been driving with a broken taillight.  She shouldn’t have agreed to a drink with him.  He shouldn’t have been out late.  She shouldn’t be wearing that.  He shouldn’t have questioned the cop.

Dinah’s brothers  were trying to defend her honor, in their own violent way.  That may be true. But we have to come to a point where we aren’t afraid any more to do the things we enjoy, as part of our lives.  Women should be able to go out with their friends without fear of attack or worse.  Men of color should be able to go about their lives without fearing that those sworn to protect them see them as prey.  These are lessons of Dinah and her brothers that we need to take to heart, and make happen.






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