Jewish Journal

Understanding the Rape of Dina

by Rabba Sara Hurwitz

December 2, 2009 | 11:12 pm

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, the prince of the land, saw her; and he took her, and lay with her, and humbled he (vayi’aneha)”

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.

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