In the last few weeks I have felt the air saturated with violence. Between the now nearly 20 women who are accusing actor/comedian Bill Cosby of sexual abuse and the two separate grand jury decisions not to pursue indictments against the white police officers who killed unarmed African American men Eric Garner and Michael Brown, I feel a certain descent into chaos.
The ease of disbelief of the women's accusations as well as the grand jury's assessment that the deaths of Garner and Brown did not necessitate criminal investigation, remind me that though society might condemn the actions of the alleged perpetrators, victims are not simply victims -- their behavior is scrutinized and questioned in ways that imply that the violence against them was justified.
Of the various narratives in Parashat Vayishlach, the story of the rape of Dinah is not often taught and is perhaps the least well known. While the occurrence of such an event may not have been uncommon for the time, how her family dealt with the events betrays a clear inability to deal with the very real trauma she suffered at the hands of Shechem. In addition, although the biblical text condemns rape in general, and Shechem's actions in particular, there are a number of later rabbinic midrashim (interpretations), that also blame Dinah.
On the way to "see the daughters of the land" -- a journey that could be understood as one of self-discovery -- Dinah is raped. The text says that her father Jacob is initially silent, yet her brothers plot to exact murderous revenge on the perpetrators. Jacob's subsequent reaction to his sons' actions does not bring comfort to Dinah, but is more concerned with his own reputation. The rabbinic idea that Dinah brought on the assault because she went out to see the daughters of the land, while her father and brothers were in the house of study (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 10), is no different from saying that the women accusing Bill Cosby were asking for it since they got in a car / hotel room / or went to a party with him.
Silence is deadly. Dinah does not speak during the entire episode, and notably, neither does God. The same God who wiped out the entire cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because there were no righteous people there, has nothing to say about the rape, the massacre, or the use of brit milah (the ritual of circumcision) to render the men of the town incapacitated and unable to fight back.
What happens to Dina in the aftermath of her ordeal? We do not know, as we never hear from her again. Did Simon and Levi's fury serve their sister or merely fuel the fire of revenge? We don't know this either, and so we are left feeling bereft for Dinah, and uncertain about the actions of her brothers.
Yet the Torah is clear that the rape is wrong and that the perpetrators must be held accountable for their actions. To do anything else would betray the divine attributes of justice and mercy. In our day we would do well to follow this example in New York City, in Ferguson, Missouri, and wherever a man takes advantage of a woman: believe the victims, investigate the details, do not turn a blind eye to what appears criminal, and make sure our actions say loudly that all lives matter.