Introduction: Was it Rape?

The Biblical story commonly called “The Rape of Dinah” (Genesis, chapter 34) is actually more ambiguous than that title implies. “And Shechem the son of Chamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, and he took her, and he lay with her, vaya’anehai (34:2) . The translation of the word vaya’aneha is critical to the meaning of the entire incident, and will shape the different interpreters’ views of each character involved.

In Biblical Hebrew there is no one word whose primary meaning is “to rape”. Words used instead take on that meaning through context, such as in Deuteronomy 22:25-26 ii , where a sexual liaison referred to is obviously coerced because the woman involved is guaranteed freedom from liability, “Because as a man will rise against his fellow and murder his soul, so is this thing”. Rape is treated as an act of dominance and violence, and the term used there to indicate it is vehechezik ba, “and overpowers her”. There are sources that read vaya’aneha in the same way, as referring to rape. But there are also sources which look to the word’s literal meaning, either “and pained her”, from the root inui, torture, or “and disgraced her”, from the root anava, humbleness.

The Midrash, in Bereishit Rabba 80:5, reads vaya’aneha as a counterpart of the preceding vayashkev imah, and lay with her. The first term means “in a usual way”, and the second means “in an unusual way” , referring to an un-described perverse (and disgraceful) activity. Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo son of Yitzchak of Troyes), in his comment on 34:2, takes this view as welliii . The status of the relationship (rape or not) is not resolved through this word alone, but the Midrash has a tone of condemnation towards Dinah implying that she consented to the ‘unusual’ sexual practices of gentiles, later reflected in Bereishit Rabba 80:11 when the Midrashic sage Rabbi Hunia states, “A woman who has sexual relations with an uncircumcised man finds it hard to leave” iv.

Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi) reads the word vaya’aneha very differently, but to the same end. He says that it is used “because she was a virgin” v, and points to a relationship described in Deuteronomy 22:28-29. There, the word utifasha, “and grasped her”, is used, and stands out in contrast to the clearly coerced activity in the earlier verse 25- vayachazek ba. Apparently, the liaison here is consensual, even though verse 29 states that inah, which Radak reads this as, “he pained her”. That is, any sexual relation with a virgin, consensual or not, is physically painful and is referred to as inui. In this case, because the girl is no longer a virgin, she cannot marry, and the man with whom, as Radak sees it, she eloped, is obligated to marry her, and never divorce her. In the case of Dinah, Radak does not make a clearly stated conclusion as to whether or not she was raped, but he does leave the latter option open. Ibn Ezra (Rabbi Avraham the son of Ezra) too says that vaya’aneha is “because she was a virgin” vi , and rejects the Midrashic view that some particular deviancy was present, saying also that the activity was “in the usual manner” vi.

The modern commentator Tikva Frymer Kempsky vii also reads the incident in Deuteronomy as an elopement, but based on inui meaning “disgrace”. In her view, in ancient Hebrew times a pre-marital relationship, however consensual, would have humiliated a girl and her family, and the obligatory marriage was a way of saving face. She points to the verse’s description of Shechem’s endearment towards Dinah i in Genesis 34:3 (more discussion of his bond to her in chapter 2). There is no chazaka, overpowering, as in the rape in Deuteronomy 22:25, and the rape of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13, where Amnon “overpowers” his sister Tamar viii .

But Ramban (Rabbi Moshe son of Nachman, or Nachmanidies) offers strong, if circumstantial, evidence that “all forced sexual connection is called innuiix . His proof is from Deuteronomy 21:14, where a captive gentile woman must not be sold because she has been inisah x, and Judges 20:5, where a violent band of men have inu the concubine in Givah xi . In both cases the woman was not virginal to begin with, and in the latter case she is obviously forced. According to Ramban, “And Scripture tells us that she was forced…in her praise.” ix. At no point was she promiscuous or to blame. It is notable that in 2 Samuel 13:12-13, a passage with a number of terms recalling Genesis 34, Tamar, as she is about to be raped, screams, “Do not ti’aneini!” viii.

Chapter 1: Dinah, the one who went out

And so, Ramban sees Dinah as a rape victim, where the Midrash sees her as wanton. Especially as she never speaks, much of the discussion of her personality centers on the statement in 34:1 that she “went out”, as well as on her being called (although though her parenthood is already recounted in Genesis 30:21) “the daughter of Leah”, and, less-so, “whom she had borne to Yaakov i.

The Midrash and views derived from it sees this verse as a criticism, even a reason for why she deserved what came to her. Bereishit Rabba (in a passage quoted or alluded to in at least some extent by Rashi and Radak) goes so far as to equate “going out” with prostitution, doubtless an overstatement in the name of homily, and yet still surprising:
He (Rabbie) said to him “There is no cow that gores unless her calf kicks, there is no woman who is a whore unless her daughter is a whore”. They said to him, “If so, was Leah our matriarch a whore?” He said to them, “‘And Leah went out to greet him (Genesis 30:16)’- she went out made up like a whore, and so, ‘And Dinah the daughter of Leah went out’” (80:1). iii
The indication is that verb “to go out”, when applied to a woman, indicates prostitution, or at least an unpardonable moral and sexual looseness. Dinah is later implicated as enjoying her relationship with Shechem, in 80:11, where Rabbi Yudan says that Shimon and Levi “dragged her out” of his house, and Rabbi Hunia, in an abovementioned statement, says that because he was not circumcised, she found it hard to leave. iii

In Bereishit Rabba 80:5 Rabbi Yehoshua of Sichnin determines that to Dinah applies the verse, “But you have treated as nothing all of my good advice” (Proverbs 1:25): When God created Eve, He thought to himself, ‘We should not create her…from Adam’s foot, that she not be a gadabout, but from a covered up place on man (the rib).’ And as he created each part of the woman, he would say to her ‘Woman, modesty! Woman, modesty!’” iii This view is so strong in the Midrash that it makes the following statement three identical times: “And what caused it all? ‘And Dinah, the daughter of Leah went out’” (80:2, 80:3, and 80:12) iii.

The message that the Midrash imparts is that Dinah’s act of leaving her tent was wrong, as it did not conform to typical gender roles of Biblical and Midrashic times. In Genesis 34:3 she is called a na’arah, girl, and the final letter of the word is dropped so that with different vowels it could be read na’ar, boy, recalling the fact that she acted like a boy. And later, when the men of Shechem were to be circumcised, 34:24 says, “And everyone who went out of the gates of his city listened to Chamor and to Shechem his son, and every male was circumcised, everyone who went out of the gate of his city.” The motif of ‘going out’ versus staying in is repeated in the context of male versus female, with the emphasis that men, and only men, were the ones who should be going out of the gate. i

The similarly moralistic Rabbi Samson Refael Hirsh, never one to pass up a lesson applicable to the assimilation he saw in his times, has it
If she was abused, she may well have brought it upon herself by “going out” from the close circle of her family and entering into the midst of strangers…She went forth to look about among the daughters of the land, so that she might meet the foreign girls. She was a young girl, and therefore eager to see new things. xii
He focuses not on female seclusion so much as on the insularity he sees as necessary for Jewish survival. In this way, Dinah’s parenthood is mentioned as a description of what she was leaving. So too Radak comments on 34:1, “She went out of the tent of her father and mother” v.

But the significance ascribed to “went out” is positive to Frymer Kempsky, who ties it to a sexual liberation disgraceful for its time. She recalls passages from the code of Hammurabi and Sumerian myths proving that women in the ancient near east were consistently discouraged from leaving their tents without reason, and points out that in Old Babylonian the word wâsitum, “goer-out”, is closely tied to harimtu, “prostitute”.
With all this cultural background, ‘Dinah went out’ is not an innocent statement. She is ‘out of control’ and something is going to happen. And what happens is a father’s nightmare: Dinah, who went out to see the girls, is seen by a boy. The story tell us, ‘Shechem…the prince of the land, took her and lay with her, and degraded her.’ Usually the story is considered a rape story: girl goes out alone and gets attacked. But the word innah does not mean rape. vii

But to the Ramban the word innah does mean rape. And as to him Dinah is the victim of Canaanite “immersion in immorality” (from his comment on 34:7) ix, he is silent on the issue of her going out, and says that her parenthood is mentioned to tie her to her brothers, who avenged her (Shimon and Levi, two of the sons of her mother, most directly, and the rest of her brothers, the sons of her father, to a lesser extent). The story is then one of Yaakov’s small band besieged by the rest of the world, as seen in chapters 2 and 3.

Chapter 2: Shechem, the Man and the People

It is immediately striking that Shechem bears the same name as his city. And as his attitude towards Dinah is interpreted as either rapacious or tender, so his people are in turns greedy and peace seeking. After he raped/eloped with Dinah (as has been shown, interpretations of the initial incident differ), “And his soul cleaved to Dinah the daughter of Yaakov, and he loved the maiden and he spoke to the heart of the maiden” (Genesis 34:3); he then proceeds to have his father ask Yaakov for her hand in marriage. We see that once “the prince” (34:2) Chamor is involved, the interaction becomes political, with Chamor adding on the request that the Israelites “intermarry with us- give us your daughters and take our daughters for yourselves. And live with us, and the land will be before you, settle it and trade it and acquire property in it” (34:9-10), while Shechem’s only wish remains “give me the maiden for a wife” (34:12).i

However, Radak disagrees with this dichotomy of intention, pointing to the mention of Dinah’s family when “his soul cleaved with Dinah the daughter of Yaakov” (Genesis 34:3). He says that she is referred to as the daughter of Yaakov to give a major reason for Shechem’s love for her, “she was the daughter of a great and respected man” v. Sforno (Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno) agrees, adding that in 34:19 the text says that Shechem wanted “the daughter of Yaacov”, there neglecting even to mention her name at all xiii. That is, Shechem’s motives were political as well.

And, according to a literary-minded comment of Rashi’s, the acquisitiveness with which Radak and Sforno have Shechem pursue Yaakov’s status is the same with which his people pursue Yaakov’s possessions:
You find that in the proposition made by Chamor to Yaakov and the reply of Yaakov’s sons to Chamor that the stress was laid on the privilege of Yaakov’s sons to take to wife of the daughters of Shechem, whomsoever they chose, and to give in marriage their own daughters, as they saw fit, as it is stated “Then we will give our daughters to you” (34:15), as we see fit, “and we will take your daughters to us” (34:15), whomsoever we desire. But when Chamor and his son Shechem addressed their fellow citizens they changed their tone: “let us take their daughters to us for wives and let us give them our daughters” (34:21), in order to placate them that they should consent to circumcise themselves. iv
Nechama Leibowitz adds For good measure he (Hamor) added something (when speaking to his people) which his proposal to Yaakov contained no hint of: “Shall not their cattle and their possessions and all their beasts be ours? (34:23)” xiv
While these opinions condemn the greed of the people of Shechem, but leave open the possibility that Shechem and Chamor had good intentions and were only trying to convince their subjects, Ramban is even less forgiving. He says that the reason Shechem, in such seeming earnestness, offered Dinah’s family an inflated bride price (34:12) is
…in order that they willingly give her to him as a wife, as the maiden did not consent to him, and she steadily protested and cried. This is the sense of the verse “and he spoke to the heart of the girl” (34:3). Therefore Shechem said, “take me this young maiden to wife,” as she was already in his house and in his power, and he feared not her brothers because he was the prince of the country and how could they take her by force out of his house? xii
This conforms to his picture of Dinah as a righteous victim, unceasingly protesting her rape and captivity at the hands of the sinister Shechem.

The Malbim (Meir Loeb son of Jechiel Michael Leibush), in contrast, looks to the plain meaning of 34:3. Even though Shechem hadn’t felt this love for and spiritual connection to Dinah at first, even though he originally did rape her,
There is a difference between emotional love (“and he loved the girl”) and an intellectual attachment (“and his soul cleaved”)… Here there was both. ‘Then he spoke comfortingly to the girl’ (34:3)… he was sorry for having forced her. xv
Shechem is redeemed through his contrition and ensuing tenderness. And Frymer Kempsky sees him even more sympathetically, as the rebellious Dinah’s well-intentioned lover unjustly murdered by her patriarchal brothers vii. She neglects to explain why his vaulted spiritual love for her isn’t mentioned until after their sexual contact.

Chapter 3- The Brothers’ Revenge

The intentions toward Dinah are important because of the eventual end of those who advanced them: murder, not only of Shechem himself, but also of Chamor and every male of the city of Shechem. The exegetes ask whether they deserved that fate, and if so, why?

The Midrash, condemning the entire city of Shechem as well as Dinah, categorically declares in Bereishit Rabba 80:2, “It was for good reason that Shimon and Levi committed murder in Shechem, for, ‘they said, “Shall our sister be treated as a harlot?”’ iii. Shimon and Levi have a scriptural last word, and the reason they give for the carnage they commit is the moral downfall of Dinah’s ‘harlotry’ and the people of Shechem’s involvement in it. In addition, the Midrashic reading of this story has the added element of “us versus them”. Chamor proposes the political and social alliance of “intermarry with us” (Genesis 34:9) i, to which the Midrash in Bereishit Rabba 80:7 vehemently responds with the Biblical command “Neither shall you intermarry with them” (Deuteronomy 7:3) iii. Hirsch xii, in the previously quoted comment on 34:1, gleans essentially the same message.

The Rambam, in Mishneh Torah (his compendium of Jewish law), Hilchot Melachim (“The Laws of Kings”), 9:14 xvi , agrees that the city of Shechem was guilty. There he discusses the Seven Noahide Laws, of which the sixth forbids theft and the seventh commands the establishment of courts to judge, among other things, thieves. He holds that the people of Shechem incurred the death penalty because Shechem committed an act of robbery (kidnapping Dinah) and which they saw but did not prosecute.

But the Ramban differs. In his comment on 34:13 he notes that even though the Noahides are commanded to “appoint judges for each and every city…if they failed to do so they are free of the death penalty because this is a positive precept of theirs” ix, and according to the Gemamra, Sanhedrin 57a failing to fulfill a positive precept does not incur the death penalty xvii. The slaughter recounted in Genesis 34:25- “and they killed every male” i- was not Shimon and Levi’s place to inflict, enraged as they might have been over what Ramban reads as Dinah’s brutal rape and cruel abduction.

But if the people of Shechem were innocent then Shimon and Levi were guilty. And this is in fact the Ramban’s view. He says that if they were not guilty, then Yaakov would not have been so angry with them, both here- in Genesis 34:30, “You have troubled me” i, and on his deathbed- in 49:6, “Come not into their secret my soul, be not united with their assembly my honor” xviii. Hirsh agrees that their action was “deserving of censure”, and goes so far as to say that the people of Shechem were “innocent” xii. This is as opposed to Rashi, who puts a positive spin on Dinah’s brothers’ deception of Shechem from the start. When Genesis 34:13 states that Yaakov’s sons spoke to Shechem and Chamor with mirma, a word whose primary meanings are deceit, fraud, and treachery, Rashi associates the word with chachma, wisdom iv. And according to the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 80:8), the mirma was justified by the ensuing clause, “that had defiled their sister Dinah” ii. Indeed, while they were loyal brothers- the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 80:10), quoted by Rashi, says that that Shimon and Levi were called “the brothers of Dinah” in Genesis 34:25 because of their sacrifice for her iii, iv- a look at the extent of their violence shows a zeal which, even if it was justified, went out of control:
And it was on the third day, when they were in pain, and two sons of Yaakov, Shimon and Levi, the brothers of Dinah- each man took his sword and they came to city surely and they killed every male. And they killed Chamor and Shechem his son with the sword and they took Dinah from the house of Shechem and they went out. The sons of Yaakov came upon the slain and they plundered the city that had defiled their sister. Their sheep and their cattle and their donkeys and everything that was in the city and that was in the field they took. And all of their strength and all their children and their women they took captive and they plundered everything that was in the house. i
One item here stands out- they took the women. (Whether or not they raped them is beside the point; they did abduct them.) Apparently her brother’s outrage did not arise over Dinah’s rape so much as over Dinah’s rape. And since Dinah was their sister, and Shechem was uncircumcised- i.e. ‘other’- it would be an “insult” (Genesis 34:14) for them to marry her to him i. On this xenophobic tone, even the homiletic Midrash and the literary Ramban can agree.


Genesis 34:1-31
Deuteronomy 22:25-29
Bereishit Rabba, 80: 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12
Rashi, 34:2, 13, 16, 25
Radak, 34:1, 2, 3
Ibn Ezra, 34:2
Tikva Frymer Kempsky, “Virginity in the Bible”
2 Samuel 13:11-14
Ramban, 34:2, 7, 12, 13
Deuteronomy 21:10-14
Judges 20:1-6
Rabbi Shimshon Refael Hirsch, 34:1, 34:25
Sforno, 34:14
Nechama Lebowitz, “The Story of Dinah”
Malbim, 34:3
Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim, 9:14
Gemara Sanhedrin 57a
Genesis 49:5-7

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