The episode of Dinah is not one we learn in Hebrew school, and rightly so.
Dinah is Jacob’s only daughter. One day she goes out to ‘visit the daughters of the land,’ and is seized and raped by Shechem, son of Hamor, the chieftain of the resident Hivites. Jacob hears of the rape but keeps silent until his sons are back from the field. Hamor pleads that Shechem longs for Dinah and wants to marry her. Jacob remains silent, but his sons agree to the marriage provided that all of the Hivite males agree to be circumcised. This the Hivites do. But on the third day thereafter, while they are still in pain, Dinah’s brothers Simeon and Levi invade their city, killing every male and taking their wives and children as prisoners and their wealth as booty.
But the violence does not come out of nowhere.
Consider the background. Isaac, Dinah’s grandfather, was held at knifepoint by his own father, Abraham. Betrayed by his wife, hating his daughters-in-law, he is a traumatized, lonely figure.
Jacob, Dinah’s father, is always doing deals. He steals his brother’s birthright, he claims God’s authority for his schemes, he even refuses to let an angel go without giving him something. He is both crafty and emotion-driven.
Leah, Dinah’s mother, tries over and over again to get her husband’s love, but to no avail. Regardless of the hope-filled names she gives her sons – ‘Look, a son!’, ‘God heard I was unloved,’ ‘Now my husband will become attached to me,’ we have no evidence from the Torah that Jacob loved her, or even cared about her. Indeed, he is ready to sacrifice her and her children, if need be, in order to get away from Esau should things go wrong.
And so, the themes that underlie Dinah’s story are set, and all of them appear in her narrative. Violence, betrayal, impotence, intrigue, over-reaction, loneliness and pain finally explode. Dinah’s body becomes the battleground for the accumulated disasters of her parents’ marriage, her father’s feuds, her grandfather’s betrayal.
It’s hard not to read the story of Dinah in light of the present-day violence perpetrated against the women of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Warring parties rape women – some of them pitifully young – in order to terrorize whole populations, to gain control of resources and to impose their authority. Injustice, unrest and violence become focused on the bodies of women who, as Margot Wallstrom of the UN has put it, are today’s ‘front soldiers’. Like Dinah, these women are flashpoints for multiple negative forces at work in their society. And like Dinah, they suffer terribly.
Dinah’s father is silent at her birth, her rape and her disappearance. While midrashists ancient and modern have written a middle and an end to Dinah’s story, the Torah is also silent. We never know the reason for her name, we never hear her speak and we never know what happens to her. She simply vanishes.
Let us not be silent too.
Adat Ari El