Chavarah- Jewish Community Learning

A blog of Jewish study and traditions. Notes from classes: Torah Study with Rabbi Marder, Toledot and Shabbaton as well as other details found of interest.

IF you want to be part of our Chavarah email group let me know at

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Demand for Circumcision...

Torah Study. Genesis 34:8-12. 13

Shechem begs for Dinah as his wife...
Negotiations, bride price
Hamir. Shechem's father negotiates to merge the people...

V13: how the sons of Jacob respond to the offer
Deception... Bim mem mah ...different translations.  
With cunning, cleverly...

Read in two ways.  
Effects the image... Is it smart or sneaky deceit?

Three other places in the Jacob story.Where the word used in other places...27:35 stolen the birthright.  Not clear if clever or deceitful .
29:25 also use the same word...Leigh rather than Rachael?

Jacob is absent from this is the sons.  Shift in the role of Jacob in the story.  The sons have a plan.  

About circumcision ...they demand circumcision... 
They can't give sister to uncircumcised  man.
Classical Biblical type scene...
Robert Alter on v14. Cannot do this thing..ignore the offer  but note the point of circumcision,, first time circumcision is mentioned in any form of conversion to Judaism.
Conversion ceremony today includes circumcision or a reference to that.

Parallels the story of Saul and David and the bride price of 100 foreskins of the Philistines.

Lack of connection to the covenant and to God in the requirement for circumcision... Strategy to weaken them.   

Type scene - Foreskin connected to sexual impurity and linked to violent actions.   

Even in the Chanukah story is connected ...the big sin of Antiochus was to ban circumcision.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Dinah - What really happened?

Howard's notes:
 1 December 2012 – Rabbi Jon Prosnit
Roots of “Dinah
Din” – judgment
Leah’s last known child – “Dayanu
34:1 - Dinah, the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to look about among the daughters of the land.
34:2 - And Shechem the son of Hamor, the Hivvite, the prince of the land, saw her, and he took her, lay with her, and violated her.
Who/what was “Shechem?”
A foreigner
A prince
The area was named for him, site of modern day Nablus.  According to Sarna [JPS Torah Commentary], aristocrats (Hamorites) inhabited the area and Shechem was a prince among these people.
JPS translation is “chief of the country,” not the city, instead of “prince of the land” above.  Ancient texts showed that the area controlled over 1,000 square miles of the central hill country (now the Palestinian West Bank).  He is also called a “prince,” because he controlled a federation of various ethnic and tribal groups, a situation in which a king with absolute power would be ineffective.
Elie Munk on Shechem the Hivvite – from Aramaic for serpent (citing midrash)– one who breaks a fence will get bitten bite (Ecclesiastes 10:8).  In other words, Leah and Jacob should have kept her indoors.
In 34:2, there is aeries of action verbs: saw, took (sexual actions, but not by force), lay with her.  Each implies increasing severity.  Tone of text suggests that something is wrong; something is off.
Ancient commenters focused on two points.
Actions of Dinah’s going out  - 34:1
Rabbinic texts (Midrash, Talmud) had a blame-the-victim mentality; going out “among the daughters” was frowned upon – Dinah was coquettish.
Texts also blame Jacob as a punishment for him; Dinah did not cross the river to greet Esau; instead she was locked up for fear that Esau wanted to marry her.  God rebuked Jacob for this.  
Dinah went to see pagan gods (Hivvite people) and wore jewelry outside while she danced.
Precise actions of the rape or violation: 
Radak – Dinah was a virgin; final verb (וַיְעַנֶהָ) was her loss of virginity
Abarbanel – Shechem grabbed her by force; took her into her house against her will; and slept with her and destroyed her virginity.
Did Jacob set up this episode? Was Dinah a “precious commodity” [to be exploited] and set up a scenario to wipe out the Hivvites?  Was Jacob a master chess player with Dinah as a political pawn?
Leviticus Rabbah – Jacob’s punishment for procrastinating on erecting an altar at Bet El as he had promised.
Did Jacob have other daughters?
Was Dinah running away from a dysfunctional family?  To a warmer, more loving family?
וַיְעַנֶּהָ –various translations: humbled, lay by force, torture, defiled, violated, rape, degraded; can also mean respond or answer, a softer meaning.  
Sleeping with someone before marriage.
Same root in Deuteronomy 22:24 on punishment for illegal sexual activity, but not for rape
Deuteronomy 22:29 – “violated”, also in the sense before marriage
“Rape” as the meaning is suspect.
Violation of family, not of the person, because of what Jacob sons did later.  From Etz Hayim: “Incidents like the rape of Dinah were probably not uncommon, yet Jacob’s family seems unprepared for such an event and does not know how to react ... The narrative describes the actions of men, but never tells us what Dinah thought [and] how she felt about what happened.”
Yet he was a prince, a ruler of this land.  Perhaps this fact is what set off all the alarming commentary.  
Part of a land grab?  In previous verses, Jacob did buy land in the area.
Entire city was held responsible for the crime; people did not hold their ruler to the standard of the Noachide laws
Source: What Would Dinah Say by Dina Metzger
There are rapes in the bible: lying with people by force.
2 Samuel 13:14 – rape of Tamar by Amnon; similarities to Dinah story – three-verb set -- but ending in male physical force on Tamar.
Amnon is disgusted with Tamar – he banishes her; Tamar begs for marriage to achieve dignity; Amnon is typical rapist, he rejects her (see Jewish Women’s Archive)
But Shechem doesn’t behave this way; he wants to marry Dinah (34:3).
Deuteronomy 22 (see above).
Dinah’s status declines throughout her story.  “She moves from fulfilling the proper role in the proper place (virgin daughter in father’s house) to a socially ambiguous role with no proper corresponding physical place.”– Women’s Commentary, page 190.
Laura Geller in Women’s Commentary, page 204:  “The commentaries understand Dinah’s rape as Jacob’s punishment for withholding her from Esau.  Dinah’s rape is Jacob’s punishment?  What about Dinah?  What has she done? How does she feel? Our text is silent.  We only know what her brothers and fathers think.” [Italics in original].  
“Her silence is loud enough to reverberate throughout he generations.” Geller continues by documenting instances of girls being murdered for being raped because they brought shame to their outraged families.  Such incidents are one aspect of the larger issue of violence against women.  Other examples include honor killings for lack of dowry money; sexual slavery; and reproductive rights (abortions after rapes).
There are impure (טִמֵּא, in 34:5) sexual acts that are not rape; sex is taken too lightly. Marriage mitigates this impurity.  Did Dinah act properly – did she ask for it?
The first two verbs in 34:2 are benign; but וַיְעַנֶּהָ comes at end; in Samuel the first verbs are more serious.
From commentary on The Red Tent by one of Rabbi Jon’s HUC teachers.  Feminist scholars see the incident as an expression of pride and power…