Bible Commentator

Articles

Rabbi Moshe Reiss

moshereiss@moshereiss.org

THE STORY OF DINAH

      


In the story of the ‘defilement’ of Dinah Jewish tradition has it that Shechem, the Prince of Hivite and all the people were guilty. We think other interpretations are possible. Particularly we are fascinated by the possible change of Jewish history had the Hivite community been included in the wider house hold of Jacob-Israel. Blame can be placed for the massacre of the Shechemites on the disturbed family relationship between Jacob and Leah and emphasize on the violence of Simeon and Levi.


Jacob rebukes Simeon and Levi for their mass murder and says ‘you have sullied me and cause me to stink among the inhabitants of the land’ (34:30).

It seems his complaint was directed at their misguided tactics.  However decades later, on his deathbed Jacob instructs his other sons not to take heed of the council of Simeon and Levi; he defines them as cruel (a term Jacob uses twice); he curses their anger and wants to separate them from his brothers (Gen. 49:5-7).  


Levi apparently understood the need for repentance, Simeon did not. When Moses, grandson of Levi, blessed the tribes shortly before his death Simeon does not even appear (Deut. 33:6-25). One may deduce that Honor killing was rejected by both Jacob and Moses.


 Perhaps reading the text may illuminate.


Dinah, the daughter of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob went out see the daughters of the land (Gen. 34:1). Why the stress of Jacob as the father; it is obvious that being the daughter of Leah Jacob would be the father? She is under her father’s protection. It seems unlikely that she went out without his permission. The text tells us Shechem, the Prince, took Dinah and slept with her, and dishonored or defiled her, but did not rape her as sometimes suggested (Gen. 34:2). Defiled presumably because he did not have permission of her father for marriage and she was a virgin.  He disobeyed a Mid Eastern custom.  Whether Dinah experienced shame or dishonor is not stated nor whether it is a cultural based perception by her brothers. The only other description of ‘rape’ noted in the Bible is the rape of Tamar by Amnon his half-sister. We are told he used his strength to overcome her. After raping her he banished her from his house in her torn clothes (2 Sam. 13:14,18).


How does Shechem act? ‘His soul cleaved to her and he loved and spoke kindly to her’ (34:3).  The only other man in the entire Tnakh described in such loving terms to a women is Jacob’s tender feelings for his wife Rachel (29:18). We are also told that Jacob kissed her the first time he saw her (29:11).  One could argue that such extreme behavior could be construed or misconstrued as close to a defilement as one could get in that society.  However, crucially different Rachel, of course is not Dinah’s mother.  Dinah’s mother is Leah – the despised wife of Jacob (29:31).  Imagine a young girl whose father married two sisters, her mother and her Aunt, one of whom, her Aunt, her father loves and speaks tenderly to, but to her mother he never speaks tenderly.  Dinah’s older brother Simon is named ‘because I was hated’ (29:33). After giving birth again she names the child Levi hoping that after three sons ‘this time my husband will love me’. (29:34). Of course, he does not.  Dinah, her daughter finds a man who speaks tenderly and states his love for her.  


It seems highly unlikely that Dinah would not react positively to a man who is gentle with her, demonstrates his affection something she never heard her father say to her mother, although she heard her father say tender statements to her Aunt Rachel. This must have been the behavior she secretly fantasized about from her father towards her mother. The chances that she would not love Shechem back are almost nonexistent.  Shechem asks his father to arrange a marriage and was prepared to offer any price to marry Dinah (34:12).


The sons, led by Simon and Levi aggressively announce to their Father that we cannot give our sister to an uncircumcised one.  What are her options; other than her brothers, half-brothers, cousins from her Uncle Esau or from her Granduncle Ishmael where is she to find a circumcised husband?  Her full brother Judah can marry a Canaanite and in fact marries two, the latter becoming the maternal ancestor of King David, the messianic King.  The Prince we are told ‘did not hesitate to do it (34:19). The ‘it’ is to be circumcised. He was prepared to be circumcised instantly. Why? ‘Because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter and was honored’ (34:19). He convinces or orders all the males of the city to be circumcised. When the men of Shechem are recovering from the circumcision Simon and Levi violently attack and slaughter all the males, enslave the women and children and plunder the city. Dinah is, of course, never consulted about her preferences.


Simon and Levi say to there father ‘Should our sister be treated like a whore’ (34:31).  The words Hebrew ‘ya’aseh et achosanu’ is very similar to Cain responding to God ‘ha’shomar achi anochi’ (Am I my brother’s keeper) – three words with the same meter.  


Did Simon and Levi feel that their mother, hated by their father, treated her as child producing sex object – as a whore’? They must have known that there was no love relationship between their mother and their father, especially given their names.


Jacob clearly saw the circumstances differently.  Could both Jacob and Dinah recognize that a loving husband was positive?  Simon and Levi acted out of mid-eastern honor and vengeance. There virgin sister was defiled in their eyes; therefore they feel totally justified to take vengeance and kill the perpetrator and his tribal family. The love that finally entered their family was either irrelevant to them or they were jealous of what their mother did not have?  Are vengeance or love Jewish values?


One learns more about Simon later – he was the leader who wished to kill his brother Joseph, hence his imprisonment by Joseph.  At the end of Moses’ life he blesses all the tribes with exception of Simon. Simon is missing in the list of tribes (Deut. 33:6-29). Why is Simon excluded? Did Moses wish to eliminate the whole tribe from the Jewish people? A descendant of Simon, Zimri had sexual relations with a foreign woman in front of the mishkan – the holy place.  Phineas, the Levite spears him to death (Num. 25:6-12).  The tribe of Levi – Moses’ tribe – had changed; the Simonites had not.  


Just before the incident at Shechem we are told of the reconciliation of Esau and Jacob. After twenty years of separation Esau reconciled his relationship with his brother Jacob. Esau decided reconciliation was better than the vengeance he originally sought from his brother (27:41).


It is fascinating to conjecture the implications of the people of Hivite marrying into Jacob’s family after their circumcision? Such an intermarriage seemed acceptable to Jacob. Alternately what if Dinah had married one of the circumcised men in her extended family; perhaps one of the grandchildren of her granduncle Ishmael’s or one of the twelve sons of Uncle Esau?


The Targum (Job 2:9) states that Dinah was the first wife of Job implying that there was a second wife. Genesis Rabba (57:4) states that Dinah was Job’s only wife.  What is clear is that with the second set of children someone favored the daughters over the sons. The daughters are given beautiful and exotic names; the sons are anonymous.  The daughters are given the right of inheritance (Job 42:13-15). Dinah married one of God’s favorites but an uncircumcised one.


Another fascinating tradition states that Asnath, Joseph’s wife was the daughter of Dinah and incredibly The Prince of Shechem! (1)


(1) Quoting in Kugel, James, Traditions of the Bible, (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1998) pg. 435.