Shabbat Vayishlah 5776
One of the most troubling narratives in the entire Bible is the story of the rape of Dinah, which appears in this week’s portion,Vayishlah. Yes, I’m aware of the school of interpretation that Dinah did indeed consent to relations with Shechem. For more on this line of interpretation, you can read this entry from the Jewish Women’s Archive. But I prefer to read the story in the traditional way, if only in order to emphasize that violence against women is not merely an ancient phenomenon, and our reaction to it hasn’t necessarily changed for the better since antiquity.
Consider these elements of the story: what does Dinah feel? In the text, she is kept entirely silent. And speaking of silence, what is her father Ya’akov’s reaction, both before and after the violent response of her brothers Shimon and Levi? And speaking of violent brothers, what is the upshot of their vengeful response to their sister’s assailant?
It’s been several months since my fellowship at AJWS, which focused significantly on advocacy for the adoption of IVAWA, the International Violence Against Women Act. You might be amazed the know that something that seems so elementary, a bill that should in theory be embraced by all of our elected officials without hesitancy, has stalled in bureaucratic procedure.
So on Shabbat morning, I want to revisit this conversation. We’ll explore the ongoing obstacles to eliminating violence against women by looking at the Dinah story through the eyes of actress Michaela Watkins, in her modern retelling of the story as it appears in the book Unscrolled. And, since our college students are home for Thanksgiving, we’ll see how college campuses are trying to deal with this serious societal ill.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise