The Jewish and cinematic musings of the Rabbi of The Reform Temple of Rockland in Upper Nyack, New York.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
The Rape of Dinah
This past week we read from parashat Vayishlach. Vayishlach can be found in Genesis 32:4-36:43. Vayishlach contains one of most refereed to passages in Genesis where Jacob finds himself alone, about to meet his brother after 20 years. Jacob doesn't know if he is going to live or die, and he wrestles with a being all night long. Perhaps this 'being' was God. Perhaps it was an angel. Perhaps it was Jacob's conscience. The text is not entirely clear. What we do know is that during this encounter, Jacob's name was changed to Israel. Following this wrestling match, Jacob and his brother Esau reconcile, and then they go their separate ways.
What happens next is one of the less well know sections of the Torah, the rape of Dinah. Dinah, Jacob's daughter, was raped by Schechem the Hivite. But Schechem falls in love with Dinah and he asks his father Hamor to arrange a marriage for him. Jacob agrees, but Jacob's sons put a stipulation that Hamor, Shechem, and all their men need first circumcise themselves. On the third day, Simeon and Levi (Dinah's brothers), slaughter all the Hivite men and plunder their possessions. This action anger's Jacob and leaves Dinah in an even more precarious situation.
It is a deeply troubling passage. A person recently commented, that is something Jews simply do not do. Thus we should not even study this section. But the truth is, our Torah is very much reflective of the times of which it was written. And we should be troubled by the acts of violence. But does that mean we should not be engaged with the story?
One of the challenges to Torah and/or Bible study is that we expect the text to reflect our current conditions. We expect it to be egalitarian, fair, thoughtful, and representative of who we are. This approach leads many to great frustration, for the Torah simply is not that way.
Torah is much more complex and complicated, just like our ancestors, and just like us. For example, one lesson to derive from the rape of Dinah, was that, unlike in many other cultures then and now, Dinah was not blamed by her brothers nor executed for bringing shame upon her family. This is quite revolutionary development for world cultures, not to blame the victim. But we are so caught up in our anger about the brothers' response, that we fail to see this point our tradition is trying to make.
Likewise, there are so many other aspects of the Torah we overlook because they do not 'jive' with our perception of how the world should be, failing to see that the Torah is helping us to make the world as it should be. Life is complex, so too is the Torah. And this is a blessing for which I am very grateful.
Rabbi Sharff is the Senior Rabbi for The Reform Temple of Rockland in Upper Nyack, New York. He was raised in Houston, Texas where he discovered the acoustic and electric guitar while sitting in his dorm room one day. Rabbi Sharff graduated from the University of Texas and was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.
Rabbi Sharff is the rhythm guitarist for RTR's in House Band, and he also served as the editor for Howard Salmon's z"l Comic Book Siddur.