Time to talk

Time to talk

Sara Rae Perman
Sara Rae Perman

Vayishlach, Genesis 32:4-36:43

This week’s parsha contains a troubling story.  I had been taught that it so bothered the rabbis that the tradition was to read the disturbing part straight through with no commentary on it.  In fact, the disturbing story is read in its entirety in the traditional fifth aliya.

The story is the rape of Dinah.  

Apparently, the rape didn’t bother the rabbis.  There are even commentaries that suggest Dinah was “asking” for it by hanging with the wrong crowd, namely the daughters of the land, the people of Shechem.  Even those who believed this portion should be taught and discussed did not see it as a text to teach that rape is wrong; they see it as a text to teach another message.

Me’Am Loez, a commentary by Rabbi Yaakov Culi (1689-1732) says, “A man should constantly review this chapter with the members of his family.  It teaches us a good lesson about what happens when a woman spends too much time out of the house.  Women should avoid going places where they will be seen by men; they should not even stand by the windows of their own homes where men can see them.”

What seems to be more problematic with this story, even in reading just the plain text, is Dinah’s brothers’ reaction to their sister being raped and even more disturbing is Jacob’s reaction to his sons’ retaliation.  He seems to be more concerned with what the neighbors will think, than that his daughter was raped.

Thankfully, we have made a great deal of progress in acknowledging that rape is a crime — a serious crime — and that women do not “ask” for it, but we still have a long way to go.  As we learned from the recent elections, there are still those politicians who have all kinds of misconceptions about rape. Tragically, there are those who believe rape does not occur in the Jewish community, that Jewish men would never commit such a horrid crime.

Kol HaKavod  (all the honor) to Jewish Women International, and particularly our local group, which has encouraged conversations and interfaith learning experiences.  They realize, and rightfully so, that it is time to talk about rape, not brush over it like the biblical story does.  Having served as a board member of the Blackburn Center, which deals with sexual and domestic violence in Westmoreland County, I can tell you that rape is not just a “women’s issue.”

The Center does educational programs with men, particularly on the local college campuses, to help them understand rape affects them, too, because it could be their mother, their sister, their daughter who could be a victim of this kind of crime.   The Center also has sponsored, and will sponsor again, an educational experience next April, where men walk in women’s shoes (high heels) to bring attention to the fact that rape is not just about women only.  

The Blackburn Center and Jewish Women International are only two of the groups who realize it is time to talk about rape.  Hopefully, this Shabbat, this Torah portion will encourage you to speak out on rape and educate yourself and others as well and not in the way that Me’Am Loez suggested.

(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)