This semester I’m teaching a course titled “The Abrahamic Traditions: Women and Society.” Because I believe story is one of the best ways to understand a point of view, I use a novel or memoir to accompany each tradition. The novel I use in the Judaism unit is Anita Diamant’s, The Red Tent.
The Red Tent focuses on Dinah, Leah and Jacob’s daughter. Early in the novel, the narrator says, “My name [Dinah] means nothing to you. My memory is dust….The chain connecting mother to daughter was broken and the word passed to the keeping of men who had no way of knowing.”
The biblical account (Genesis 34) tells us that Shechem, King Hamor’s son, “seized her [Dinah] and lay with her by force.” It also says that Shechem’s “soul was drawn to Dinah” and “he loved the girl,” and insisted that his father arrange things so Dinah could be his wife. Nowhere in the biblical account do we hear Dinah’s voice. She’s portrayed as a victim and used as a bartering tool by Jacob and his sons in their attempt to gain power in the region. Jacob and his sons required that Hamor and all the men within his kingdom be circumcised as a condition for the marriage between Dinah and Shechem. King Hamor agreed, but on the third day after the men were circumcised and in pain, Simeon and Levi, two of Jacob’s sons, entered the city “and killed all the males,” for “defiling” their sister. “Should our sister be treated like a whore?” Dinah then disappears from the narrative.
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