Parshah Shows Just How Violence Begets Violence


This week's portion opens with the reconciliation between estranged twin brothers, Jacob and Esau, and continues with Jacob’s wrestling with God.

This week's portion opens with the reconciliation between estranged twin brothers, Jacob and Esau, and continues with Jacob’s wrestling with God.
But the subsequent story in this parshah tells a very different story. “One day, Dinah, Leah’s daughter whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. And Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land saw her; he took her and lay her down and raped her.” Every time I read these words, my heart stops.
Dinah is the only daughter of a patriarch or matriarch who is named in the Torah. She is introduced here as she goes “to see the women of the land.” We do not know her age, her intent or how she was dressed. Is she a 10-year-old girl, an awkward and comely adolescent, or a striking 18-year-old? As readers, we know only that a man, who may have been her age or may have been older, sees her and abuses her. He forces her into an unwanted sexual encounter. This is rape.
One in five American women report that they have been raped or have survived attempted rape, according to a recent CDC study. Rape and sexual violence have long-term effects on victims, including post-traumatic stress disorder and a wide range of health issues that may include chronic headaches, sleep problems, asthma, diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome.
Families of victims are also affected when women are violated, abused and hurt. Rape is a violent crime that often destroys generations of those who love and descend from survivors.
After he rapes her, Shechem becomes “captivated by … Dinah, falling in love with the young woman” and asking his powerful father to “obtain this girl for me as my wife.” Is Dinah, taken by force, now to be “taken” in marriage?
When they learn of this, Dinah’s brothers “were grieved and became extremely angry, for [Shechem] had committed an outrage against Israel.” Jacob’s sons devise a plan to debilitate Shechem and all the men of his city, demanding that they be circumcised.
“On the third day, when they were in the greatest pain,” two of Dinah’s brothers murder every male in the city, including Shechem and his father, Hamor. The sons of Jacob then band together and despoil the city, taking the women and children as captives. The initial violence against Dinah escalates, creating a chain of events that ruins hundreds of lives.
There is significant irony in the brothers’ ruse, for they use circumcision as the prerequisite for Shechem’s acquisition of Dinah as his wife. Rabbi Elyse Goldstein teaches that circumcision among Jews is a sign of two commitments. Circumcision is a physical sign of our covenant with God, and it is a physical sign of our covenant with other human beings: to use our sexuality in love and care, never against another, never in force or against another’s will. In their fury, Dinah’s brothers’ actions mirror the behavior of the man who violated their sister, and they perpetuate, rather than interrupt, this violence. 
Judaism teaches sexual justice. May we distinguish between sexual violence and appropriate sexual conduct, and break the cycle of intimate violence that continues to enslave so many across our world.
Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, Ph.D., serves as rabbi for the East District of the Union for Reform Judaism. Email her at: [email protected]


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