A Woman Deprived

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. Sender Rozesz is Jewrotica’s resident Double Mitzvah columnist. The views reflected in his writing represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated.

Rated R

This will be the third year in a row in which the Double Mitzvah column for this week’s ParshahVayishlach — discusses the rape of Dinah. It is a powerful story, with at least 50 shades of complexity; but I wanted to share at least one more angle with you.

The entire story involving Dinah herself takes up four verses:

Dinah, the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to look about among the daughters of the land. And Shechem the son of Hamor, the Hivvite, the prince of the land, saw her, and he took her, lay with her, and violated her. And his soul cleaved to Dinah the daughter of Jacob; he loved the girl and spoke to the girl’s heart. And Shechem spoke to his father Hamor saying, “Take this girl for me as a wife.”[1]

Now the words “he violated her” are key to the story. They are the words that distinguish Dinah’s predicament from that of the many other beautiful women in biblical times who were “taken” at prerogative of the ruling party. For example, Sarah — Dinah’s great-grandmother — was taken twice: once by Pharaoh in Egypt, and once by Avimelech in Philistia. Indeed, there is every indication that Abraham expected her to be taken both times, which is why he pretended that she was his sister — so that when (-not if-) she was taken, it would not be at the cost of his own life.

So, like Pharaoh and Avimelech, Prince Shechem took the beautiful Dinah. Unlike the experience of her great-grandmother Sarah, however, no angels interfered with Shechem’s intentions, and “he lay with her.”

But then “he violated her.”

What does this mean? Is the violation simply a feature of Shechem’s having sex with her? Had Pharaoh or Avimelech actually consummated their intentions with Sarah, would the Torah similarly have editorialized the account with the words “and he violated her”?

Or perhaps there was indeed a (thankfully-abandoned) culture in which male rulers would — and were expected to — help themselves to the women within their borders for purposes of marriage. That was certainly the case for Pharaoh,[2] Avimelech,[3] Achashverosh of the Purim story,[4] and even the not-that-ancient practice of jus primae noctis?

And if that is true, then was there something different about Dinah’s encounter that warranted the extra description “and he violated her”?

Was he rough with her? Harsh with her? It wouldn’t seem so — particularly as the verse is immediately followed by the statement “his soul became attached to Dinah the daughter of Jacob; he loved the girl and spoke to the girl’s heart.[5]

The Midrash suggests that the phrase “he violated her” has little to do with either Shechem’s attitude, or Dinah’s emotional state or willingness. Rather, “he lay with her” and “he violated her” simply describe two different sex acts: vaginal sex — the normal and conventional form of intercourse; and anal sex — a somewhat less vanilla, more edgy form of sex.[6] Perhaps anal sex would be considered more of a “violation” (thus earning the description “he violated her”) because of its potential to cause pain — particularly if it involves a reluctant and tense partner.

However, there is another interpretation of the phrase “and he violated her,” that may turn our understanding the rape of Dinah on its head.

The single Hebrew word used for “and he violated her” is “Vaye’aneha” (וַיְעַנֶהָ). We have encountered this word recently. In fact, other than changes to the (strictly grammatical) prefixes and suffixes, “Vaye’aneha” (וַיְעַנֶהָ) is the exact same word as the one that we discussed in last week’s column, regarding Laban’s final demand of Jacob: that he not afflict — Te’aneh (תְּעַנֶּ֣ה) — his wives, Laban’s daughters. The root Hebrew word — Inui — means affliction.

Last week, we discussed the nature of the affliction that Laban was concerned about, which the Talmud says was withholding sex. Laban wanted to be sure that his daughters would be sexually-satisfied in Jacob’s care, and that they would not be afflicted by having their needs ignored.

If “affliction” means having sex withheld, then what does it mean that Shechem “afflicted” Dinah?

The Talmud says an extraordinary thing: that Shechem afflicted Dinah precisely by abstaining from sex after their first time, despite Dinah’s desire for more![7]

This may perhaps explain how Shechem on the one hand could be so cruel and insensitive to rape Dinah in the first place, and then immediately have his soul become attached to Dinah, love her, and be romantic and gentle with her. Perhaps after their first time, Shechem felt that further sexual intercourse would cheapen this girl that he had come to love, and he resolved to abstain from any further sexual activity until he had formalized their relationship.[8]

If the “affliction” described by the Torah indeed refers to Dinah’s unsated desire for more sex, then there is actually no indication that Dinah was either coerced or displeased with her dalliance with Shechem at all.[9]

This would certainly seem to lend support to the creative and alternative interpretation of this story offered by Anita Diamant in her wonderful and insightful novel, The Red Tent, in which she casts Dinah as being quite enamored with Shechem — and devastated when her brothers ultimately kill her loving suitor and his people, delivering a rescue that she neither asked for nor desired.[10]

As we discussed here, the Midrash states that when all of the dust settled, Dinah was pregnant with Shechem’s child, and nine months later, she gave birth to a beautiful girl. For some reason (that I cannot imagine being comfortable with), the baby girl was abandoned along the side of the road. However, she was left an amulet around her neck with the following inscription: “Whoever connects with you, connects with the seed of Jacob.”

Shortly thereafter, the baby was taken up by a passing caravan and brought to Egypt, where she was adopted by Pharaoh’s chief chef and his wife, and raised as their daughter. They called her Osnat — a name which apparently derives from the bush in which she was found. The amulet never left her neck — and some 30 years later, it caught the eye of the dashingly-handsome newly-appointed viceroy of Egypt named Tzafnat Pane’ach, whose real name, of course, was Joseph, Dinah’s half-brother. With the aid of the amulet Joseph recognized Osnat as his kin, and took her as his wife.

Shabbat Shalom!

[1] Genesis, 34:1-4.

[2] Genesis, 12:15.

[3] Genesis, 20:2.

[4] Esther, 2:3-4, 8.

[5] Genesis, 34:1-3.

[6] Genesis Rabbah, 80: 5.

[7] Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 77b.

[8] The fact that Shechem made the decision to abstain from further sexual intercourse until he had succeeded in making Dinah his lawful wife seems to draw into question the basis for the rash action subsequently taken by Dinah’s brothers, which they justified saying: “Shall he make our sister like a harlot?” Genesis, 34:31. While this may have been a compelling argument had Shechem slept with Dinah and then sent her back home, it is undermined by the intensity of his commitment to her.

[9] It is certainly interesting that the rumor that reaches Jacob’s ears is not that Shechem raped or violated his daughter, but rather that “he had defiled his daughter Dinah.” Genesis, 34:5. The word “defiled” — Tamei — has connotations that suggest that any sex that was pre-marriage and/or with Shechem, a Canaanite, might have been just as scandalous to Jacob and his sons — even if Dinah was fully consenting.

[10] In terms of historic and/or biblical accuracy, The Red Tent unquestionably contains many compelling insights. For example, Dinah’s enthusiasm for Shechem and his city is presented in the context of the contrast between the clean, well-performed and civilized urban-dwellers and Dinah’s undoubtedly rougher and coarser family of shepherds. This cultural distinction almost certainly existed. That said, other areas of Jewish literature make clear that Dinah was likely far too deep and spiritual a woman to have made her most important life choices based upon such superficial considerations.