Comforting Dina

The rape of Dina...and other horrible, contemporary acts of violence.

By

Reprinted with permission from The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, edited by Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Andrea L. Weiss (New York: URJ Press and Women of Reform Judaism, 2008).

After twenty years, Jacob is coming home. Anticipating that the reunion with the brother he cheated all those years ago will be disastrous, he sends messengers laden with presents ahead to his brother.

urj women's commentaryBut just to be on the safe side, he divides his camp in order to minimize the losses should he come under attack. The story continues: “That same night, he got up, took his two wives, his two maidservants, and his eleven children, and crossed at a ford of the Jabbok [river]. … Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him” (32:23-25). The nocturnal wrestler wounds and blesses him and gives him a new name–our name: Yisrael, one who wrestles with God. Jacob’s wrestling with God is a powerful image and legacy. We never know with whom Jacob is wrestling: is it himself, his conscience, his brother, God, or all of these parts of himself and of his life? Jacob names the place “Peniel,” meaning “Face of God,” for, as he states, “I have seen God face-to-face” (32:31). Somehow, alone, separated from his “two wives” and his “eleven children,” Jacob discovers the face of God in his adversary–and Jacob is blessed.

Eleven children cross the river? But Jacob already at this point has twelve children. What about Dina, his daughter? What happened to her? Rashi, quoting a midrash, explains: “He placed her in a chest and locked her in.” While many commentaries rape of dinaunderstand that by locking Dina in a box Jacob intends to protect her from marrying his brother Esau, we know the truth of the story. Hiding Dinah–locking her up–is a powerful image about silencing women. And that silence echoes loudly through the rest of the Torah.

What happens next? Dina gets an ultimate act of silencing, the commentaries understand Dina’s rape as Jacob’s punishment for withholding her from Esau. Dina’s rape is Jacob’s punishment? What about Dina? What has she done? How does she feel? Out text is silent. We only know what her brothers and father think: that she has been defiled (34:5-7), that she must not be treated as a whore (34:31). No one in the Torah or the midrashic accounts asks her what she wants, what she needs, or how she can be comforted.

Did you like this article? MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Laura Geller is the Senior Rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, California. She is the first woman to be selected to lead a major metropolitan synagogue. Prior to being chosen for this position in 1994, she served as the Executive Director of the American Jewish Congress, Pacific Southwest Region.

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning.com are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy