Monday, November 26, 2012

Parashat Vayishlach and Violence Against Women

We’re about to read the disturbing story of Dina, the daughter of Leah and Jacob.  After Jacob and his family settled in Canaan, Dina went out to meet the women of the area. We are told that Shechem, the prince of the people near whom they lived, saw her and “took her, and lay with her by force.” Immediately afterwards -- in fact in the very next verse -- Shechem proclaims his love for Dinah and asks his father to speak to Jacob to arrange a marriage between him and Dinah and thus to establish an alliance between the people of Hamor and the people of Israel. Jacob’s sons demand that before the marriage can occur, every adult male in the city be circumcised. So much does Shechem desire Dinah, that he and his father agree to this condition. When the men of Shechem are in pain and unable to defend themselves, Dinah’s brothers Simeon and Levi, go to the city and kill all the adult males. They bring Dinah home from the house of Shechem and the other brothers then follow and plunder the city. The brothers rationalize their action as just revenge, “should our sister be treated like a whore?” they ask.
 This crime was a mark on the family and the community in many ways, and Dinah’s brothers were outraged, even though their father’s reaction was one of silence. He seemed to be more concerned with the way things looked on the surface, instead of the damage that was done to his daughter. And following the slaughter of the male inhabitants of Shechem and the plunder of the city, Jacob again is silent, concerned only that his sons may have created enemies among the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and other people. Where is Jacob’s concern for justice? Does he not feel outrage at the acts of his sons against Shechem? He says nothing about the deception of his sons in falsely entering into marriage negotiations with Hamor, father of Shechem. Perhaps this is too reminiscent of his own deceptive actions against Esau.  Perhaps, then, its no coincidence that the parsha opens with the meeting of Jacob and Esau, but a reminder of the patterns of deception, and their consequences.

Abuse is about gaining control. Power and control are at the heart of Domestic Violence, Abuse, Rape. To remain silent is to allow this abuse to gain control. Shechem used his honor and his power to violate Dina and hurt her family. But, Jacob, Dina’s father, remained silent. It’s possible that Jacob failed to protect his daughter because of fear. But, for whatever reason, the Torah seems to disrespect Jacob for his lack of action. It says in Proverbs 21:13: “The one who shuts their ear to the cry of the poor will cry out and not be heard.”

Today, violence against women is one of the most widespread of human rights abuses. During times of war and conflict, sexual violence is used to terrorize and humiliate women and girls. Survivors often suffer further victimization by their family and their community. We must continue to raise public awareness about violence against women and girls, and we must commit ourselves to never be silent. We have a long way to go, but if we make an effort to commit ourselves to bringing change, perhaps one day we will start to get rid of the nightmare of violence, aggression and gender inequality. 

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