Thursday, November 30, 2017

Random Musing Before Shabbat - Vayishlakh 5778 - Who Will Say #MeToo for Dinah?

Not surprised that many are choosing to focus on everything but the rape of Dinah this week. It’s hitting far too close to home in these times.

Exactly a decade ago I wrote for parashat Vayishlakh a musing entitled “No One’s In The Kitchen With Dinah.” Just three years back, I revisited it again, in the midst of the period when many were trying to remind us that #blacklivesmatter. Today, it gets revisited and revised from a different perspective.

I started somewhat frivolously with this set of parody lyrics to “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” because of it’s obvious “Dinah” connection:

I've been reading from the Torah,
all the livelong week
I've been reading from the Torah,
in the hopes I'll get a peek
Of the secret hidden meanings
found between the lines
Yet they somehow still elude me,
I can't see the signs

Torah please reveal,
Torah please reveal
Torah please reveal your secret truths
Torah please reveal,
Torah please reveal
Torah please reveal your truths

Shechem thought that Dinah was lovely
Took as if she were a pri – i – i - ize
Dinah's bro's said "this ain't a problem"
If you goys all circumcise," we're singing

Oy, oy, oyddly doy doy
Oy, oy, cut off your diddly oy doy oy
Oy, oy, oyddly doy doy
So the goys got circumcised

While the Shechemite men were healing
While they all were resting in be – e – e – ed
Some of Dinah's brothers came stealing
Into town and killed them dead, they're singing

Oy, oy, we got our revenge
On those lousy Shechemites
Oy, oy, now us all will dread
Mess with us you'll wind up dead

When the deed was done they told Jacob
And an angry scolding to them he gave
For what they'd done to his reputation
And not their murd'rous acts so grave, he's singing

Oy, oy, look at what they've done
How am I supposed to do business now?
My ferkhakhte sons must be crazy
Their deeds I can't disavow

In the sturm und drang of our story
There is one voice that we've not heard
Didn't anyone ask Dinah?
Of what she thought there's not a word, she's singing

Oy, oy, don't they want to know
What I'm thinking, how it makes me fee – ee – ee - eel?
Oy, Oy, they do not seem to know
That a woman's pain is real!

Well, I could go on...but I won't. It's silly, and almost trivializes what is otherwise a most troubling piece of Torah text-the story of the rape of Dinah, and the revenge done by her brothers. It's no laughing matter. Two wrongs simply never add up to a right, and in this case, we have wrongs compounded upon wrongs compounded upon wrongs, ad nauseaum. Over the years, in writing about this parasha, I've taken all the parties to task: Shechem, for his impetuousness, and for being a rapist. Jacob's sons for the deceit, trickery, and murderous deeds. The good people, the Hivites of shechem, for their casual willingness to be circumcised whether it was truly in repentance for what Shechem had done to Dinah, or simply in order to satisfy their own lust. Jacob, of course, for caring not so much about what had happened, and who had done what, as he did about what it did to his reputation, and his ability to conduct business with the people in the region.

I've never tackled Dinah herself. There are interpreters of Torah who fault Dinah by interpreting the text to imply that Dinah was out where she shouldn't be, or being flirtatious. How typical of the generations of misogynist redactors and interpreters of this sacred text to fall back on a "blame the victim" mentality. Others ask us to place ourselves in the values and ethics of the time when the story is taking place. I reject both of these whitewashings categorically. Historically, we're far too good at apologetics.

As you may know, I am particularly fond of working to redeem so-called irredeemable texts. I've found no footholds at all in this story other than the classic "well, it's a great lesson on how not to behave." I don't find that satisfactory. The only place left for me to turn is to Dinah. Yet she is absent from the text.

As our society explodes in new found disgust for sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior that has plagued us for millennia, perhaps the time is ripe to take the task of being Dinah’s voice on.

Prone as I am to inventing creative midrash, as I have done so often in these musings, I do not feel I can legitimately do so in this case. It's not that I can't imagine what Dinah might have felt and thought--I surely can. It's that I don't feel qualified, as a male, to even try to put words in Dinah's mouth, thoughts in Dinah's head, and feelings in Dinah's heart.

The words above are words I wrote a decade ago. Today, it’s even worse. Though I am fairly well convinced that I have not treated a woman in a way that might be perceived as sexual harassment or sexual discrimination, as all these icons fall about me, I am forced to wonder if I am even deluding myself.

Given my predilection for championing those of lower socio-economic standing, I could rationalize that it is very success of these men that is the cause of their treatment of women. I’m not one of these successful men, perhaps because I don’t have their drive, and thus I’m not prone to abuse my power like they are. However, I know this is horsehockey, plain and simple. Men who mistreat and abuse women come from across the socio-economic spectrum. I imagine some men, unhappy with their perceived lack of success even though they have a big male ego, take their unhappiness with their own lot out on the women in their lives.

Maybe, because I am educated, I am better able to control myself, I wonder. Horsehockey again. It’s not education – clearly – for misogynists, rapists, abusers, and their ilk also come from across the educational spectrum.

I am, for all effects, a religious professional. Maybe that’s it. Horsehockey yet again. It’s not religion – that’s more than obvious. There are plenty of pious and righteous sexual abusers out there – including clergy, and candidates for U.S. Senate, and even Presidents of the United States. Some even argue that the sexually-repressed nature of some forms of practiced religions are responsible for creating abusers.

I can say that I strive, daily, to treat all people equally and with respect. I admit that I sometimes do fail to live up to that desire. I can say that, in all honesty, I have never been tempted to ignore anyone’s “no”or “wait” or “stop” (not that I have found myself in that sort of situation that I can recall. I have, however, been on the receiving end of having a please stop this harassment go unheeded. I have hesitated to say this, because, in this moment of “metoo” I did not want to distract from the moment. Women have endured millennia of systematic abuse and mistreatment, and perhaps, now, the time is finally come when we will be forced to deal with this virus infecting humanity.

I am fortunate that I lived a life in my youth in the 60s (and to this day) in which my circle of family and friends included people of all colors, beliefs, sexual preferences, etc. It has sometimes included men that, at least conversationally, talked about women in a way that always made me uncomfortable. I sometimes spoke up about it, but I did not always do so, and I regret that. Yes, I am sure there were moments of “locker room talk.”  I may have spoken words that could be seen as objectifying women. I will not attempt to justify that simply because “times were different then.” This is not only the opportunity for women to speak out about their abusers, it is time for men to change. It is time for society to change.

I cannot speak for women. I cannot pretend to know what Dinah felt. I remain unworthy to even try, even though I can certainly imagine it. So please, men (and women) let’s find ways to give voice to Dinah this Shabbat, and forever on, until we have learned the hard lessons from this story and millennia of abuse and harassment of women.

Great female scholars and writers, Jewish and not, like Anita Diamant, Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Phyllis Trible, Drorah Setel, professor Renita Weems (from whom I was privileged to learn at Vandy) and so many others are far more qualified and capable to imagine Dinah's viewpoint.

So my challenge to myself and to you (whether you are male or female) this Shabbat is to seek out the feminist and women's commentaries and interpretations of this biblical story (along with others) and see if they help bring any greater insight into why this troubling text is part of the canon. (See below for some references.)

Here's a couple of links to get you started:

And of course, there are many, many books like “The Torah: A Women’s Commentary,” "The Red Tent," and even the older the "Women's Bible Commentary." They're in my library along with many others-and should be in yours, too!

Shabbat Shalom,

©2017 (portions ©2007) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

Vayishlakh 5777 - My Prayer or Me Prayer
Vayishlakh 5775 - No One's In The Kitchen With Dinah (or Eric or Michael)
Vayishlakh 5774 - Biblical Schadenfreude
Vayishlakh 5773 - That Other Devorah's Tale
Vayishlakh 5772 - One and Many, Many and One
Vayishlakh 5771/5763 - The Bigger Man
Vayishlakh 5769 - A Fish Called Wonder
Vayishlakh 5768 - No One's in the Kitchen With Dinah
Vayishlakh 5767-Wrestlemania
Vayishlakh 5766-Like Deity, Like Deity's Child
Vayishlakh 5765-B'li Mirmah
Vayishlakh 5762-Don't Get Mad--Get Even!
Vayishlakh 5761-No Doubt? No Wonder!

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