December 9, 2011

With all of the recent findings, allegations, at PennStateand Syracuse, I could not help but make the connection to the rape of Dinah this week.  In his renown commentary on the Torah, the former Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, Joseph H. Hertz[i] called the story of Dinah “a tale of dishonor, wild revenge, and indiscriminate slaughter.”

Dinah, the daughter of Leah and Jacob, goes out to socialize, something not countenanced for any woman, and is raped by Shechem, the son of Hamor who is the chief of the region.  Shechem confesses to his father that he is in love with Dinah and wants to marry her.  He asks his father to arrange the marriage with Jacob.  Jacob hears that Dinah has been raped, but he remains silent until his sons return home from the fields.  When they return, they are furious.

Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi, outraged at the humiliation caused to their sister, trick Shechem’s residents unto circumcising themselves under the preconception that would then allow them to intermarry with Jacob’s family.  Simeon and Levi then kill all the towns males, save Dinah, take all the wealth, women and children as captives.

Jacob hears what they have done, and says to Simeon and Levi, “You have made trouble for me by giving me a bad reputation among the people of the land.  I am few in number, and if attacked my house will be destroyed.”  The brothers responded, “Should our sister be treated like a whore?”

The question posed by Simeon and Levi takes us to the heart of the matter.  What should they have done?  Should they have allowed Shechem to rape Dinah their sister, without revenge?  Given the fact that they were fewer and weaker than Hamor’s powerful fighting men, were Simeon and Levi justified in tricking them?  Who was really responsible for this incident—Dinah, who went out socializing without a chaperon, or Shechem, who forced himself upon her?  One answer is obvious that we should never rush to judgment.  As a lawyer once related to me in a divorce proceeding where we were counseling, “There are three sides to these cases, his, hers, and reality.”

These are the questions.  How could have so many people who knew about the alleged abuse sat silently like Jacob did?  The fact that Jacob waited until his sons came back and it was only his sons who dealt with the situation is already troublesome.  For Jacob to be upset that his sons sought revenge is baffling.  One can understand how Jacob would be worried that someone would exact revenge upon his family, but for him to not want Dinah’s honor to be defended is upsetting.

By no means do I feel that the actions by the brothers took the right path.  However, Jacob’s silence is troublesome.  Commentators debate whether the action of Simeon and Levi were justified and whose fault this whole situation was.  Personally, I side with those who believe that Jacob should not have remained silent and that perhaps the brother’s did the only thing they could given the circumstances.  Maimonides says that the inhabitants in the city ofShechemknew that Shechem had raped Dinah but refused to even admonish him for his evil deed.  From Maimonides perspective this was the only action available to Simeon and Levi given the strength of the people of Shechem.

I am not advocating vigilantism to those being accused of sexual abuse, but we should not stand idly by like Jacob.  Instead we need to attempt to be more vigilant and address the abuse quickly.  Jacob’s condemnation of Simeon and Levi for taking the law into their own hands, even to revenge the rape of their sister, seems like a clear message.  However, I believe had Jacob acted and at least forced Shechem before a tirbunal, Simeon and Levi would not have been forced to act as they did.  It was refreshing to see the modern State of Israel act swiftly in the case of Moshe Katzav, a man of power and importance, the Shechem of his day.

The lesson to be learned from this week’s parsha, as well as what is happening in our society is that as soon as we hear about sexual abuse or rape, we need to respond immediately.  The answer to brute force or to violence, however, should not be more violence, but instead it should be the pursuit of justice within the proper framework, expeditiously.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham

[i] It what was probably the Chumash virtually every one of us was raised on with the Etz Hayim not finding its way into Conservative synagogues until 2001 (at the earliest).  The shul where I grew up inAlbuquerque only phased out the Hertz Chumash two years ago in favor of the Etz Hayim.