Dina: Yaakov’s Tragic Daughter or Iyov’s Wicked Wife? Chazal’s reaction to Dina’s Rape

Guest Post by Esther Shulkes


For girls learning Chumash, Dina is at first an amazingly exciting personage.  Boys have countless male characters to admire and model themselves after.  But for girls, Dina stands alone.  Dina is the first Biblical character introduced as a young girl, 1 the one daughter, among twelve boys. Sadly, our sense of excitement is short-lived.  Of course, by the time Dina makes her appearances in Vayeitzei and Vayishlach, we are all too familiar with the kidnap-the-pretty-female theme.  But with a difference.   Sarah was taken by Pharaoh, but returned unscathed, taken again by Avimelech, and returned, again, unscathed.  Rivka was almost taken, but not quite, and Yaakov’s wives managed to survive untouched; suddenly BOOM!  Dina: kidnapped, raped, (‘rescued’?!) never heard from again. 2

One might, perhaps, assume that this new, harsher reality could be attributed to a generational decline in hashgacha.   It seems that Hashem was not inclined to get noticeably involved with Yaakov’s children as He had on behalf of the Matriarchs.  Yosef, for instance, certainly suffered greatly, with little (if any) miraculous intervention.  This would certainly bolster the possibility that Dina was not starkly singled out for suffering, she was just in a generation with greater hester Panim.   However, a generalization like this simply does not suffice, for, while Yosef certainly knew his fair share of suffering, his end was glorious enough to make us feel that it was all somewhat worth it.  Moreover, we are offered the comfort of knowing that Yosef got married, had two wonderful boys who were granted tribal status, saw his father again, etc.   For Dina, there is no comfort.   Dina was dragged into Hell, and though she was dragged out of there by Shimon and Levi, it was too late.  And her Torah presence, and probably her life, were basically over.

In an effort to search for some closure, some healthy or righteous way to approach her shocking fate, let us first note the reactions presented in the Chumash.   First we turn to Yaakov.  As Dina’s father, he is expected to have a powerful response, to do some incredible, miraculous, superhero thing, like taking one servant who is as strong as 318, and somehow saving his one beloved daughter.   But, no.  He is silent: ‘vehecherish Yaakov ‘ (Genesis 34:5).  This is not the same as being told Yaakov said nothing.  It is a reflexive word.  He actively made himself stay silent.  3 On the other hand, two of Dina’s brothers, Shimon and Levi, took rather a different tack, slaying every male in the city, including the king and prince, and taking their sister home.  And upon being scolded by their sainted father, they strongly defended their wild vengeance, stating, ‘Shall he deal with our sister as a harlot?!’ (34:31).

Having now established the widely differing reactions of silent acceptance or brutal demand for vengeance and ‘justice’, we may now turn our attention to chazal’s reaction to the horrifying and bewildering Dina episode.  Indeed, beyond distressing comments such as ‘Dina went outside, she was a stray-out- of- bounds-er like her mother, Leah (and hence this was the consequence) ’4 , there is an irritating lack of response.  Indeed, the rabbis seem to focus more on Shimon and Levi’s misdeed in killing out the city than they do on Dina’s tragedy itself!   Do Chazal not care? Instead of written reaction, all they seem to offer is a simple balm for our curiosity: whom did Dina marry? One opinion in the Gemara suggests that she married her brother Shimon, and another says, no, she married the famous Iyov. 5

Now, setting aside the problem that one opinion holds that Iyov never really lived, and others place him in a slew of random generations, 6 one must wonder what basis the rabbis have for making such a statement at all. The unhappy source offered for linking Dina to Iyov is based upon the following:  In Sefer Iyov, Iyov has lost his children, his possessions, and finally, his health.  His nameless wife turns up, and witnessing his torture, cries, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse G-d, and die” (2:9).  Iyov responds to his wife, “You speak as any vile woman would speak.  (Ke’daber Ahat haNevalot Tidabeiri ) Shall we accept the good at the hand of G-d, and not accept the bad?” (2:10).   The Gemara explains that this same word was used concerning the incident of Dina, “Ki Neveila Asa B’Yisrael” (for a vile act was committed among Israel) (Genesis 34:7).

Having thus established a word-link which offers either a vehicle or clue regarding a suggested link in Tanakh, the Gemara has now bolstered its claim that this is a strong interpretation.  However, while we have discovered the roots of this idea, we have yet to establish its goal or purpose.  Indeed, at first glance this is rather an angering equation.  Because the word vile was used to describe what happened to Dina, she should be plugged in to play the part of a vile woman?! 7

Simply put, Chazal are not merely playing a word recognition game, nor marrying Dina off to a probably imaginary person, and certainly not chas veshalom implying that Dina had turned vile, upon emerging from the Shchem episode.   Rather, Chazal are tacitly demonstrating their reaction to the Dina story.  The point is not that this conversation is a hint that Dina was married to Iyov.  Actually, this lone conversation between Iyov and his wife is the crux of the matter, the very reason Chazal ‘marry Dina off’ to Iyov in the first place.  Chazal are purposefully inserting her into this crucial conversation between Iyov and his wife, because Iyov is the ultimate hero of the story in which Bad Things Happen to Good People.  By saying the wife talking with him is Dina, Chazal are giving Dina a chance to vent as they feel a person in her place naturally should.  Dina, as the wife of Iyov, screams out: ‘curse G-d!’  And then Chazal offer Dina an answer:  Iyov’s response.  ‘Are we to accept the good from G-d and not the bad?’ Indeed, this implied rabbinic take on how to deal with such horror is not far off from Yaakov’s reaction.  He stayed silent.  In other words, he accepted the good with the bad.  And, while Iyov’s response is not emotionally satisfying, it is comforting to discover that Chazal recognized Dina’s plight, felt her pain and equated it with the ultimate story of unmerited loss, testing and acceptance.

  1. This is not counting Rivka, who, whatever her age, is introduced as a potential wife, rather than in the role of a young daughter.
  2. Hmmm…apparently she did not have the protection afforded when married to a tzaddik?
  3. Compare to Aharon when his sons were suddenly, horribly, taken from him.
  4. Rashi on Genesis 34:1
  5. Gemara  Bava Basra 15b
  6. Ibid.
  7. Kochos of Tumah receive their power from Kedusha.  Therefore, tuma always chases after kedusha.  It was her kedusha that he lusted after and wanted to contaminate.
  8. Worse, if a source I saw quoting Rav Shimon Shwab is accurate, impurity chases purity, which is why Shchem went after Dina. And then “the traces of this contamination showed up many years later when Dina’s tzaddik husband, Iyov, held steadfast to his belief in Hashem despite agonizing punishment, and Dina spoke negatively. Iyov’s answer to her was that her words have their basis in the Nevala, in the tumah of Shchem that he put into her.”  In other words, not only did Dina go through such a nightmare, but she was apparently spiritually contaminated, according to this reading of Dina being cast as Iyov’s wife.   Ouch!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Filed under Parshah

2 responses to “Dina: Yaakov’s Tragic Daughter or Iyov’s Wicked Wife? Chazal’s reaction to Dina’s Rape

  1. Pam Green

    Thank you, Esther, for writing about this issue. I wasn’t aware that this episode had been so inadequately treated by commentators. It certainly seemed that way to me but, having never studied the Talmud, I appreciate your confirming this fact.

    I’m frankly surprised that feminist scholars have not called more attention to the neglect of this story by Jewish tradition. If the story is taken literally, then doesn’t Jacob’s silence (his active self-censorship, as you point out) set a terrible precedent? Hasn’t society continued to react as Jacob and his sons did to the issue of rape: silence based in shame and condemnation of the victim; revenge not for the victim but for family honor; acceptance of the rape as a fait accompli? Even the early Babylonians dealt more judiciously with the crime of rape, in both their laws and myths.

    And how is the story to be interpreted on other levels? As you point out, it is really a shock that God’s concern about rape of the matriarchs could have changed so dramatically in two generations. After intervening directly on Sarah’s behalf, why did He do nothing to rescue Dina? And it adds insult to injury that the rabbis never thought this question worthy of their attention. The Iyov solution is weak, as you admit, and if it’s the best the rabbis can do, shouldn’t we feel free to go outside the parameters of Jewish thought to find a better explanation?

    Obviously, there are parallels between biblical stories and the myths of surrounding peoples. Most famous perhaps are the similarities between the biblical and the Sumerian versions of the Flood. Shouldn’t we compare Dina to other mythological females? Perhaps we need to ask what purpose was served by Dina’s rape. Did it not eliminate her and her potential offspring from the genetic line?

    I would really appreciate your response to these questions. Thank you.

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