An Epic Tragedy: Dinah’s Story

It is difficult for me to read this section of Parashah Va-Yishlach without a recurring sense of outrage and injustice. Though the parashah relates the story of Dinah, Jacob and Leah’s only daughter among twelve sons and her ill-fated liaison with the Prince of Shechem, it gives short shrift to this epic tragedy. In barely more than a footnote, we learn of the dishonoring of a daughter of Israel and the subsequent pathologically violent response led by Simon and Levi, two of her brothers.

Despite the horrific mass circumcision and murder of the men of Shechem, the only remorse is expressed by Jacob, their father who seems more concerned about his political relations with that city than with the welfare of his daughter. Curiously, no mention of Leah, her mother is made either, adding insult to injury in my mind. While the text presumes Dinah was raped when it tells us that ‘he took her by force’, it then adds that Shechem claimed to be in love with her as he requests her hand in marriage afterwards. Nowhere do we hear Dinah’s side of the story, a fact that invites much speculation. In her bestselling novel, The Red Tent, writer Anita Diamant suggests that Dinah may have felt reciprocal love for Shechem; a view which I found quite intriguing. Accordingly, I’ve shown Dinah’s two brothers, Simeon and Levi plotting against the Prince of Shechem in revenge for ‘defiling’ their sister. She appears at their mercy while her bound wrists indicate her status as the possession of her father, rendering her wishes insignificant. In my portrayal of Dinah, I wondered; how I might have reacted to the unjust pillaging of an entire city allegedly on my behalf and to the horrifying post-circumcision slaughter of my lover and his male subjects? It took quite a while to channel these thoughts into a cohesive illustration. Yet, I wasn’t sure I’d interpreted the story correctly until I read a story last week in the New York Times (nyti.ms/vYddMp) about Gulnaz, an Afghan woman and her extreme punishment for being the victim of rape. For me, these events opened an old wound in the history of women that in some quarters has never been allowed to completely heal. Despite my dramatic treatment of Dinah’s story, it seems that neither words nor pictures are enough…

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One Response to “An Epic Tragedy: Dinah’s Story”

  1. animalartist Says:

    Yes, Dinah’s story is truly shocking in so many ways. I learned more from The Red Tent than any other source, and of course Dinah’s actions were the authors fiction, but I wondered at the rage of the reaction.

    Like

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