Jewish Men and the “Rape” of Dinah

Jewish Men and the “Rape” of Dinah

by

Howard Adelman

This week’s parshah, Vayishlach, has even more stories than last week’s Vayeitzei. But the one that has intrigued me the most is the story of the supposed “rape” of Dinah, the one female child among twelve brothers born to her father, Jacob. The reason is not because we read the story just around the time we honour women and rise up against violence committed by men against women. For the 25th of November is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. That is not why I have been particularly attentive to the story, though I read about the two weeks women have devoted themselves in The Campaign entitled, “Leave no one behind – End Violence Against Women”.

Why am I so attentive? I believe my curiosity, my analytic tools, my observations, have been especially acute these days because one famous man after another, in sports and the media, in politics and in business, has been accused of assaulting women. On the latter score, I am ashamed to note how many of those men are Jewish.

Why am I ashamed? I did not do those acts. I did not and do not condone them. My exceptional attention to these stories is not simply because I am especially intrigued by anyone who is both famous (or infamous) who is Jewish, though I confess that I read a number of articles about Meghan Markle, stories I would not normally have read. I looked them up because there were widespread rumours that the young lady newly engaged to Prince Harry of the House of Windsor was Jewish. She was and is not. The rumours are evidently false. They are fake-news. She did have a Black mother, though. That may be even more interesting in helping counter the horrors of racism than her being Jewish.

My intrigue with the men accused of forcing themselves on women without their consent preceded my noting that many of them were Jewish. In fact, I was shocked to discover how many of them were Jewish.  I had always believed, despite any absence of evidence, that Jewish men treated women more gently than gentile men. Of course, it was and is an ignorant prejudice. But it is one of those beliefs you hold onto from your childhood even though it lacks any evidence and seems on the surface to be patently false.

The recent stories might even lead you, erroneously, to the opposite conclusion. After all, in the effort to empower women, in the global campaign, still relatively in its infancy, there has been an outcry – see the hashtag #MeToo – encouraging women to set aside their fears of being shamed, shamed a second time for something for which they undeservedly felt ashamed in the first place. The magnitude of female harassment is astounding. The complicity of society in tolerating if not condoning such behaviour is perhaps even more astounding. But not surprising. After all, most of us know that the habit is widespread. Further, a man could be elected President of the United States even though 16 women have come out in the open and accused Donald Trump of molesting them.

However, I am not a righteous leader in that campaign, but a passive and sedentary follower. As such, I share in that complicity. But it is worse. I even feel the campaign somehow has gone too far when flirting, when catcalling, when joking, are all included as modes of harassing women on an equivalent level to men forcing themselves on women, grabbing their asses or their genitals. I do not think these very different types of behaviour are equivalent even though I understand the calls for zero tolerance, even though women have personally told me how this form of behaviour diminishes them and makes them feel very uncomfortable.

All that said, the fact that so many men are Jewish captures my attention more than the empathy I feel for these women. I am not wearing an orange scarf. Nor do I notice many others wearing orange. In fact, the evidence of witnessing and supporting such a campaign seems disproportionately low compared to the amount of pain and grief caused by such behaviour. One in three, to repeat, one in three women experience at least one incident of such violence in their lifetime. Every woman I have really known, including my two daughters, has had such an experience. I suspect the 1 in 3 is an underestimate. Certainly, among the refugees, among the civilian victims of war, the incidence of rape has been overwhelming. I recall when undertaking research on Indochinese how surprised I was to learn that as many as 50% of women refugees were violently sexually attacked.  I was even more surprised to learn of women’s resilience when, at the time, there was no campaign to empower women and enhance the feeling that they could resist.

In light of this unexpected knowledge, in the 1980s we set up a program to provide therapy for these women after their instincts for survival had subsided and the events were predicted to come back and haunt them. But those therapeutic tools were not for the most part needed. And when and if needed, they were diverted to helping men who suddenly became unemployed when the economic crisis hit in 1989 and experienced severe meltdowns.

In other words, I do not approach this problem with wide-eyed innocence. But I have not used my time and energy to advance reforms that will end impunity, that will prove that a culture of violence against women is not a natural part of our cultural landscape. Yet what do I focus my attention on? Not the pain and suffering of the women, but the number of the accused who are Jewish.

Harvey Weinstein, the most recent and one of the most painful examples, is Jewish. So is Al Franken, even though his apparent mistreatment of women was not nearly as frequent nor associated as much with explicit violence while, at the same time, clearly violating a woman’s space. But look at the much longer list of Jewish men who have been accused:

James Toback, the writer and director with films like Bugsy (1991) and Mississippi Grind (2015) to his credit

Leon Wieseltier, one of my favourite writers and editors

Mark Halperin, a journalist who was obsessed with stories about ambition and power, but evidently himself harassed women when he had such a position at ABC

Brent Ratner, a film producer

Jeffrey Tambor, the actor from The Larry Sanders Show and other sitcoms

Charlie Rose, rumours to the contrary, is not Jewish.

The list goes on. And these are but the tip of the tip of the iceberg, mostly drawn from public figures in entertainment, media and politics. Jews may be disproportionately represented on that list because Jews are disproportionately represented among those with money, power and influence.  Further, though all of the men come from a Jewish heritage, many of them have only a glancing relationship with their Jewish identity.

But that is not my point. I suspect the Jewishness of the perpetrators has little to do with religious or ethnic identity, though I am unsure. Even though the list would include the less famous doctors and lawyers, dentists and rabbis, my focus is not on these men, but on myself. What do I feel and think as I have moved from reading the story of “The Rape of Dinah,” from a tale I once believed was about rape to what I now believe is really a story mainly about men, and not even mainly the man who committed the alleged assault, but the men, Dinah’s brothers, who took it upon themselves to revenge their sister’s supposed “defilement”.

Read the story in the Torah. Reread it. It begins by describing Dinah very briefly as the daughter born to Leah and, by implication, not to Rachel or the two concubines. Is that significant? Is it more than a matter of casual interest that this first verse continues by describing Dinah as having “gone out” to meet the daughters of the land in the same terminology that described Leah going out to meet Jacob after she bought the mandrake root to seduce him into sleeping with her? Leah had intrigued to have sex with her husband. Was Dinah a young adventurous girl exposing herself to great risk by going out and consorting with the daughters of the Hivites when she was unescorted? Rashi writes, “Daughter like mother.”

Whatever the case, though Dinah may be a young virgin, there seems to have been an effort to paint her as compromising her innocence. “Her skirt was too short.” “She showed too much cleavage.” “She must have been stupid to go to his hotel room alone to discuss business.” The story seems less about Dinah’s innocence and the alleged abuse she suffered at the hands of Shechem than about the events following her defilement”.

Was she even raped? Verse 2 in the Plaut translation reads: “Shechem son of Hamor, the Hivite, chief of the country, saw her, took her and lay with her by force.” (my italics) Plaut in his footnote writes: “Literally, lay with her and forced her.” But Rashi puts the emphasis, not on force, but that Shechem seduced her and had anal intercourse with Dinah – he was intimate with her in an unnatural way. That was the real defilement. The majority of commentators translate the verb vaiyeneh וַיְעַנֶּֽהָ as either rape, or violated, or lay with her by force.

Shawna Dolansky from Carleton University wrote an intriguing essay called, “The Debasement of Dinah” in which there is a long discussion about the meaning of the term vaiyeneh וַיְעַנֶּֽהָ or innah to claim that the verb does not and cannot mean “rape” for in many of the uses the verb is conjoined with the consent and not the non-consent of the woman. It is a case of reading into the text based on our own presumptions and sensibilities. Further, the term associated with rape uses a different verb– חזק – which is associated with using force and overpowering a woman. As the commentator suggests, “Thus, it seems clear that the biblical expression for rape is ויחזק וישכב, “to overpower and lie with,” not ‘innah’.

For Dolansky, the issue is debasement and not using force against a woman; it is debasement, not of Dinah, but of the standing of the men in her family. Dinah is debased, not because she had sex with Shechem, whether under duress or through seduction, but because the family has been debased. Why? Because the sexual activity did not take place as a result of the consent of the family. It is the power and status of the men that has been compromised. The story is not really about Dinah and whether she consented or not, but about the status of the family, particularly the men in the family.

In other words, if Shechem did use force against Dinah, then the problem is how this affected the brothers. And there are certainly many suggestions that rape was not involved. For the very next verse says that Shechem was “strongly drawn to Dinah,” that he was in love with her and that “he spoke to her tenderly” and wanted to marry her. This does not sound like rape, for rape is about the demonstration and exertion of power, not about sexual attraction.

The defilement, which Jacob recognized, was not about his daughter having sex with a young man, but having sex, and sex with a non-Israelite, without the father’s consent. The outrage that the brothers felt is not cited as the use of force, but that Shechem’s outrage was even sleeping with Dinah (verse 34:7) However, as usual, Jacob was measured in his response. And also diplomatic. One wonders whether he would really have been open to Hamor’s offer of a huge bride price. However, Jacob’s use of trickery now came back to haunt him as his sons not only tricked the Hivite men into being circumcised, but when they were in pain, slaughtered them. The brothers, all the brothers, took the women, children and animals as booty.

In addition to committing an outrageous crime, they besmirched the meaning of the covenant. Instead of intercourse and interchange between the Israelites and the surrounding tribes on terms very favourable to the Hebrews, Jacob ends the story by noting: “You have troubled me, to discredit me among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and among the Perizzites, and I am few in number, and they will gather against me, and I and my household will be destroyed.”

What was the rejoinder by Simeon and Levi? “Shall he make our sister like a harlot?” The issue was not the supposed rape of Dinah, but the defilement of family honour. For without their consent, the sister was considered a whore even if she had been seduced and fell in love with Shechem. Honour and status were far more important than the safety and security of the Israelites and certainly far more important than any pain that Dinah might possibly have experienced.

What has this to do with a disproportionate number of men in the United States being outed for their harassment and forced attention against women? Because it is the same story – one not of the pain and suffering of women, but the power and status of men. That, unfortunately, is also the story of bystanders like myself who look on and focus on that power and its defilement rather than on what happened to the women. It is a story about national socialism, about the ideology of Bannon and Trump, about ethnic exclusivity, about the power of one’s group set off against another, and about women used as tokens in these conflicts over status and power.

I believe I am complicit in a much larger sense under the masquerade of my liberalism.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

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Parashat Kedoshim – On Homosexuality

Parashat Kedoshim – On Homosexuality

by

Howard Adelman

I will return to my series on corrupt history and the misinterpretation of the history of Israel on Sunday. Today is Friday and I return to my practice of commenting on the weekly portion of the Torah. My commentary on a wayward way of reading Israeli history was instigated by my reading of Gregory Baum’s memoir, The Oil Has Not Run Dry: The Story of My Theological Pathway. So is today’s commentary on the Torah. In reading Gregory’s account of his religious journey, I learned he was gay.

I was surprised. I did not know this, even though others evidently did. Further, when Gregory was forced to leave the priesthood because of his theological position, he eventually married an ex-nun whom I knew reasonably well since she was a member of the so-called Catholic group made up of priests and nuns (soon enough, ex-priests and ex-nuns), and I was the only Jew in the group. I had believed that he had left the priesthood, or was forced out, because he could no longer find an archbishop to be his “sponsor”. The last one in Mexico had been contacted by the Vatican, he told me, and had been ordered to end his formal life in the Church. (I capitalize the word “Church” only when referring to the Catholic Church.) I thought the reason arose because of his theological political writings on liberation theology. In reading the memoir, I learned that the reason was his writing on sexual ethics, a reason which he had offered in a Globe and Mail newspaper piece at the time which I had not read.

In chapter 13 of his theological memoir, Gregory wrote about sexual ethics in general. He had always agreed with the Church’s denunciation of sex separated from love, especially the transformation of sexual relations into a commodity. In 1976, he wrote and published a critique of the Catholic position on human sexuality. As a result, Archbishop Philip Peacock felt obliged to withdraw his permission to preach in churches, the beginning of the cascade of withdrawals of support that would lead to his leaving his role as a priest in the Church and a member of a religious order.

Gregory had disagreed with the Church because he did not accept the rigidity of the Church’s position which applied rules universally without taking into account either cultural attitudes or individual circumstances. (See his volume, Religion and Alienation.) He had been influential at the Second Vatican in changing the attitude of the Church towards Jews, but not its objections to birth control and its insistence that sexual intercourse must always be open to conception since that was its purpose. Sexual satisfaction was simply a means to that end, though Pius XII in 1951 had come to accept the “rhythm method” of birth control, married couples having sex only when the female was infertile in her monthly cycle, thereby introducing a fundamental contradiction into Catholic teaching.

Gregory’s contrarian view was based on his conviction that the essence of the Gospel was the teaching that spousal love had to be love between equals based on mutual respect and tenderness, and a rejection of one individual controlling the other versus the traditional teaching that marriage was based on the husband’s right to his wife’s “body” (jus in corpus). Eventually, he added two other criteria – concern for the good of the partner (did the relationship foster self-realization?)  and critical attention to the impact on the soul. In the Second Vatican Council, the doctrine of mutual love was raised to an aspiration on the same level as procreation. However, as long as procreation remained the prime goal of both sex and marriage, then homosexual love could receive no endorsement. But neither did the Church accept the majority recommendation of its own broadly-based commission that couples should be free to determine the number of children they wanted and the means to control that goal.

Even Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would eventually become Pope Benedict XVI, had accepted that a position based on a conception of “natural law” had to be abandoned because human nature could not be defined metaphysically as a basis for deriving ethical norms. Instead, Gregory had adopted the proposition pioneered by another dissident Catholic that the Church had historically defined sex in negative terms and that the premise had to be acceptance of sexuality as a means of striving for human happiness.

In his 1974 article, in addition to arguing that sexual norms are rooted in culture rather than in any universal understanding of human nature in which homosexual love is branded as “unnatural,” he also argued that the Church treated homosexuals the same way it treated Jews, despising and persecuting them based on a culture of contempt. Instead, homosexuality was no more sinister than being left-handed. Homosexual love is simply a different gift from God. Pope Francis in 2013 embraced that view: “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and his good will, who am I to judge that person.”

In this week’s portion in chapter 18 and 20, we read:

ויקרא יח:כב וְאֶת זָכָר לֹא תִשְׁכַּב מִשְׁכְּבֵי אִשָּׁה תּוֹעֵבָה הִוא. Lev 18:22 Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence.
ויקרא כ:יג  וְאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁכַּב אֶת זָכָר מִשְׁכְּבֵי אִשָּׁה תּוֹעֵבָה עָשׂוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם מוֹת יוּמָתוּ דְּמֵיהֶם בָּם. Lev 20:13 If a man lies with a male as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrent thing; they shall be put to death – their bloodguilt is upon them.

Note, there is no prohibition of lesbian love, only male homosexuality. Only male homosexuality is a toevah, an abhorrence. The passages are not excised. We read them with reverence. Yet the vast majority of Jews, including many ultraorthodox Jews, no longer regard homosexuality as an abhorrence and certainly do not punish gays by killing them. How is the shift justified?

It is not largely done by developing a more comprehensive philosophical ethical framework whereby homosexuality can be embraced and even accepted. The shift is accomplished through hermeneutics, through learning to read the text in a different way. (For two scholarly accounts that undertake this effort, see Rabbi David Frankel, “Male Homosexual Intercourse Is Prohibited – In One Part of the Torah,” and Dr. Shawna Dolansky, “Regarding Azazel and Homosexuals in the same Parasha.”) The principle that Gregory put forth, of cultural relativity, has been an integral part of hermeneutics in the tradition of interpreting Torah. Thus, one method is to read the text as one rooted in a society that had to protect the priority of reproduction, not because of a statement about sexual purposes, but in terms of the survival of the nation in its demographic battles with its enemies.

A second qualification is geographic – the prohibition only applied to those living in the Holy Land lest it be corrupted. This turns out to be a very unsatisfactory reading given that one of the most thriving homosexual communities in the world can be found in Tel Aviv.

A third does so by reading the text in context, in the wider concern still accepted of prohibiting incestual sexual relations. Since lying with a woman who is your sister or your mother is forbidden, so lying with a man who is your brother or your father is forbidden. That is, only those homosexual relations that imitate heterosexual relations that are forbidden are prohibited. It is merely an application of the prohibition against incest. This reading is certainly a stretch, but its importance is that these different methods of reading texts are ways of preserving Torah as a reference point without either surrendering to literalness or, on the other hand, abandoning Torah as a teaching tool.

For example, another way of reading the text in context is not to read it in terms of the circumstances that gave rise to the prohibitions against incest, but in the context of prohibitions against using sex as a vehicle for asserting a power relation, equivalent to Gregory’s insistence on the mutuality that must be inherent in sexual relations. Thus, as Rabbi Steven Greenberg has written, the phrase of a man “lying with a woman” is metaphorical. It means that sexual relations in which one partner is viewed as more powerful than the other and the sex is being used to demonstrate that power, that type of sexual behaviour is prohibited. Thus, homosexual love is only an abomination when it is used to demonstrate the power of one individual over another.

A third variation of reading the text in context that is even a greater stretch is to suggest that the text refers to sex with multiple partners whereby two men are lying with same woman. That is, do not lie with a man when lying with a woman. That is the abomination.

Since the nineteenth century, with the application of the critical reading of the whole Torah in a cultural context that recognized that the text is a compilation of readings developed at different times in the history of the Jewish people, a more critical reading insists that some of the above methods of textual interpretations are abominations in hermeneutics and simply exercises in sophistry. Instead, when it is recognized that biblical text is itself culturally rooted, when it is recognized that different parts of the Torah contradict other parts because they were developed in different historical periods and different contexts, then a search in the rest of the biblical narrative reveals a shocking absence of any other repetitions of this prohibition. Further, if it is accepted that one book, such as Deuteronomy, is more definitive than another, then the Deuteronomic code can be read as setting aside some prohibitions in Leviticus. Unfortunately, within Leviticus there is a similar claim to superiority. (26:46 and 27:34) So how do we adjudicate among competing texts?

One way is to accept what is common to them all – such as prohibitions on sexual congress with animals. Further, when there seems to be an implicit endorsement of homosexual love between, say David and Jonathan (Samuel 1:26), this would seem to acknowledge Gregory’s stress on the positive nature of a homosexual relationship when and only if it is based on mutual love and respect and a striving for self-realization. Any attempt to reconcile such irreconcilable positions, as when the Catholic Church tried to insist that “natural law” was the universal basis for determination, any effort to force the Torah text into a single coherent teaching in conduct, ends up in self-contradiction and stains textual reading rather than enhances it.

If we return to Gregory’s position that such prohibitions must be read as an expression of a culture at a specific time, why would this not lead to relativism and selective reading of Torah text in terms of our dominant culture in the present? On the other hand, why don’t we just say that the teaching in Leviticus is stupid? Both responses demonstrate a disrespect for the past. Instead, the contradictions must be read respectfully and with empathy without avoiding our responsibility to adjudicate among differences and make responsible choices. This is not “anything goes.” Further, text is elevated when it must be studied to ascertain its meaning and relevance and without producing a totally novel framework equivalent to the magic of pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

An Ottawa scholar, Shawna Dolansky, makes that effort by using two texts on different but related matters rather than on the same issue. She reads the texts on scapegoating and prohibitions of homosexuality side-by-side to adjudicate between change and continuity and the conviction that any text is rooted in a specific culture. Thus, the ritual of scapegoating, referred to also in this week’s portion, was used by the Catholic Church for nefarious purposes to degrade Jews. The irony was the very text which used displacement as a healthy method of dealing with problems was used inversely to portray Jews in the imagery of a goat sucking the life out of Christianity.  It is one thing for a community to voluntarily and ritually assume responsibility for the transgressions of an individual. It is a very different matter for one community to transfer responsibility and blame to degrade another group.

The most famous example of this is the antisemitic pig (much more lowly than a goat in biblical terms) on the wall of the very same church in Wittenberg where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door, an action widely accepted as instigating the Protestant Reformation. The reproduction can be seen on: https://stevehickey.wordpress.com/2009/07/24/the-anti-semitic-pig-in-wittenberg/) The relief shows a rabbi looking into the ass of a pig and Jewish children sucking on the pig’s teats. Antisemitism, especially as expressed by Martin Luther, depicted Jews as engaged in an abomination with a pig.

If one reads the prohibitions against bestiality or the positive ritual using two goats as a purification offering alongside those against homosexuality, both negative and positive portrayals presume that sin is like the spot in Act 5, Scene I of Macbeth when Lady Macbeth hysterically tries to wash her hands and insist, “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” Sins either adhere to the sinner mercilessly or are only displaced by being shifted to a scapegoat; sins can never be exorcised. This was and, in part remains, a very deep-seated cultural belief.

This form of purgation (kippur) was excised from Jewish ritual, not the need to engage in purgation and the transfer of impurities, but the specific method. In the new theology, the issue became not simply the removal of contamination from the sanctuary, but the demonstration of remorse through contrition and self-denial, confession and abstinence from food.

If the prohibition of sexual congress between males is both understood in context, then one reading as described above is the injunction against a male treating another male as a female. The injunction opposed treating a superior or an equal as inferior, to “feminizing” another male. Therefore, as Gregory read the commandment, the problem was not sex but power, not mutual respect between two males engaged in sex, but the use of sex by one man to degrade another. In that sense, sexual congress with an inferior male was permitted in that culture, but no homosexual act should be prohibited in our egalitarian culture except when such acts entail exploiting another. Leviticus made the prohibition universal because there was no conception of equality of status between males. All male relationships were then hierarchical.

When relationships change, when, more importantly, the conception of relationship changes, so must the practices, both those encouraged and those that abhorred. The importance is not the discarding of prohibitions against sexual homosexual intercourse – an action I consider obvious – but the differences between the methods used to discard such prohibitions. Gregory proposed doing so by developing a “higher” moral code and conception of human relations rooted in the Gospel of love and revising prohibitions in terms of that, while Jewish commentators do it through hermeneutics, through different methods of reading text out of which new moral codes and practices are developed and reified.

Thus, Christians and Jews can reach the same place, but by following very different paths.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman