Vayishlach: The rape of Dinah

Vayishlach: The rape of Dinah

The rape of Dinah is rarely discussed. I’m sure this is in part because of the difficulty of the subject matter, but also because of the troubling nature of the response by her brothers and then the interaction between Jacob and his sons. We read, “Now Dinah, the daughter whom Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the daughters of the land. Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, chief of the country, saw her, and took her and lay with her by force.” (Genesis 34:1-2)

Traditional Jewish sources on this passage find fault with Dinah because she “went out,” meaning she was too outgoing, too forthcoming. However, I would hope in this day and age that everyone would agree that rape is a heinous crime that should be abhorred by one and all. And yet, rapes still happen. There are men who so hate women that they are willing (and sadly able) to violate them in the most intimate and devastating of ways. But let me be clear there, is no justification for forcing sex upon someone.

I suspect more common, but equally deplorable, in our communities are cases of “date rape,” where a man somehow does not understand that “no means no.” Instead, he thinks that what he wants is more important than what the woman wants, that he is entitled to take something not offered and defiling something that should be sacred to both participants. It does not matter if it is an acquaintance or a couple who are dating; they may even be in an intimate relationship. No one ever “owes” someone else sex. If sex is forced upon someone against their will, then that qualifies as rape.

Drug-facilitated sexual assault is also a problem, where someone’s drink is spiked without their knowing it with a substance that alters their mental state, making them vulnerable to attack and perhaps unable to recall it as well. The predators could just be on the prowl for a victim, but half of all assaults come at the hands of someone known to the victim. It could be a co-worker or someone at a party. It is important to remain vigilant.

Forcing sex on someone can never be justified. It is never the fault of the victim. It does not matter what clothing they wear, what they say or what they do; there is no valid reason for forcing sex upon someone. It is simply wrong. Using a position of power, drugs or alcohol are never acceptable tools for abusing a relationship and forcing sex. It is a crime, sadly, an underreported crime, but a crime nonetheless. Never blame the victim.

Dinah’s brothers respond to this attack by tricking and killing not only Shechem, but all the men of his city. I’m certainly an advocate of punishing criminals, but scope and the viciousness of the brother’s response is difficult to justify. And Jacob’s response to them is admittedly practical, but lacks the moral outrage that I would hope to find and shows no concern for Dinah and what she experienced at the hands of her perpetrator. There are times when the text of the Torah inspires us, but this is one of those moments where the text is difficult for us and challenges us. While the Torah provides many eternal truths, it also has parts that reveal the historic context of our ancestors, though their actions repel rather than inspire. But we can learn from the actions of others, sometimes to emulate them but at other times to avoid following in their footsteps.

When I read this story my sympathies are not with Jacob nor with Shimon and Levi, but rather with Dinah, the victim. My heart goes out to her both for what she experienced and then for the lack of support evidenced in the text. My hope and prayer today is that any time we encounter someone who has had the misfortune of being raped that we will provide what support and comfort we can offer them as they struggle to overcome the damage inflicted upon them. And may the day come when never again will someone be forced to have sex against their will.