Dinah’s Missing Voice: More Than Just Silence

Vayishlach, Genesis 32:4-36:43

The tagline for the 1991 film "He Said, She Said," reads: "The story of true love. Both versions."

In this romantic comedy, two characters named Dan and Lorie are journalists working in the same office. Deciding that their frequent opposing views on issues could make for provocative television, a producer gives them their own program called "He Said, She Said." As the pair works together and gets to know one another, the events that occur in their lives are replayed in the movie twice – once from each character's perspective.

A scenario of "He said, She Said" can makes things interesting. More important than whose version is more accurate is the fact that a narrative provides a voice to each character. Different accounts and different voices in a story bring life to the narrative and diversity in perspective.

Several weeks ago in our Torah reading cycle, our elderly patriarch and matriarch – Abraham and Sarah – learn that they will give birth to a son. As Sarah responds in disbelief, she wonders out loud how, at such an advanced age, her husband could give her such enjoyment. When God tells Abraham about Sarah's response to the news, God leaves out her exclamation that Abraham is so old.

God tells the story differently, perhaps, in an effort to protect Abraham's feelings. What, here, is the greater value? Should God have revealed to Abraham the complete truth of Sarah's response, or should God – as Genesis reports – have omitted part of the story, and thereby, perhaps, have preserved shalom bayit, or "peace in the home"?

Debate either side of the issue and you have a fair point.

Yet the answer to this question is secondary. The real issue in Abraham, Sarah and God's communication is the fact that different perspectives of the story are told. With different voices in the narrative, our characters become three-dimensional and a diversity of ideas is possible.

This week, Parashat Vayishlach teaches: "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." In these and the verses that follow, the voice of Dinah is missing. Without her perspective, we have only the possibilities revealed through the voices of the narrator, Dinah's rapist, the rapist's father, and Dinah's father and brothers. There are lots of voices, but without Dinah's, a world of perspective is lost.

In asking what "she said," all we can do is speculate. Many read the story of Dinah as a tale of violation. Others understand the story as an accusation of a woman who "went out" and was too wild, perhaps asking for it. Still others, searching for a romantic heroine, interpret Dinah as a consenting sexual adult.

Classical and contemporary commentators' interpretations often rely on the translation of the last word in Verse 2: va-a-neha. The mainstream translation reads "he lay with her by force." Rashi teaches that the term indicates that Shechem violated her in a manner that was unnatural. Others have less sympathy for Dinah, or imagine that she consented to and desired her experience with Shechem.

What Dinah wanted can't be uncovered in the language of this text. Genesis tells us only what the narrator – and then other characters – believe happened. It does not tell us what Dinah felt or what "she said."

Of course, there are many stories in the Torah that neglect to include a woman's voice; such absence is one of our struggles in understanding our sacred text. Dinah comes to remind us that everyone deserves a voice. Dinah's story inspires us to feel the loss of missing voices, and to cherish the many perspectives in our tradition.

Rabbi Jill L. Maderer is associate rabbi at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia. Parts of this column draw on a study session with the Women's Rabbinic Network, led by Rabbi Stacy Rigler.



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