Parsha Vayishlach: Who’s In the Kitchen with Dinah?

Parsha Vayishlach: Who’s In the Kitchen with Dinah?

“They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from Shechem’s house, and went forth.” (Gen.34:26)

A tragic story of abuse, misplaced affection and revenge explodes onto the scene before us in this portion of scripture.

Dinah, the only named and chronicled daughter of Jacob in the Torah, “went forth” to see “the daughters of the land” (Gen.34:1). Was she looking for trouble? Did she invite the unwarranted advance of Shechem, through her alluring and seductive behavior?

Hardly, according to the sages. Rashi compares Dinah to her mother Leah in this respect, suggesting that her “going out” was of noble intent, with the intended purpose of friendly relations; to make a positive, peaceful connection with others. He refers to her as an “outgoer”. In today’s vernacular, we would call her “social”, and “outgoing”. We would even say she was “self-confident”.

The results of her journey to “see the daughters of the land” were not what she expected. She catches the eye of a young, local prince, who forces her to lay with him.

What follows is a drama of nearly mythical proportions. Hamor makes (what would appear to be) a respectful, sincere plea for Dinah’s hand in marriage to his son, claiming that Shechem truly loves the girl and wishes to marry her, and in like manner suggests a union of his people with Jacob and the rest of his clan.

Sure, the circumstances of the relationship between Dinah and Shechem may not be ideal, he implies, but after all, all is fair in love and war, and if can all come to some mutual agreement, everyone wins. You (Jacob’s family) will have access to their women, and they (Hamor’s clan) will have access to Jacob’s wealth. The question at this point, the text seems to suggest (at least from Hamor’s perspective) is the consent of Dinah and her family.

But the sages don’t view Hamor’s proposition favorably. According to them, she was both lied to, and forced physically to consent, and then mentally/emotionally tortured by Shechem. Far from viewing the young man as being an over-zealous suitor, he is viewed the same way that Levi and Simeon view him: as a violator.

What Shechem did, regardless of his feelings for Dinah, was rape. It was abuse.

There are two streams of thought that I will explore here, in regards to this.

First, the concept of Dinah’s dignity and reputation are a chief focus of the passage. The brothers are as incensed at the violation of family honor, as they are about the feelings of Dinah. What if Dinah really did have an emotional attachment to the young man? Would that be relevant? The answer is no. In the role of advocate and protector, her brothers wanted justice against a man who violated and defiled their sister.

Did Simeon and Levi have the right to take this revenge? The Torah suggests a strong no, they didn’t. At the end of Jacob’s life, when he is giving his prophetic blessings over his sons, he does not recount this event favorably:

“Simeon and Levi are brothers; their swords are implements of violence. Let my soul not enter into their council; let not my glory be united with my assembly; because in their anger they slew men…” (Gen.49:5-6)

However, make no mistake, what Shechem did was rape and abuse. Continue reading

Jesus, the Jews and the path of Salvation

Jesus, the Jews and the path of Salvation

“Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.” (Matt.3:9)

E.P. Sanders, in his seminal 1977 work, “Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion”, submits a theory of “covenantal nomism”, and, in kind, a form of bilateral ecclesiology.

Essentially, and overly simply, the theory is that the Jewish people are in covenant status with God, and that this places them in a different category regarding the message of the gospel presented by the apostles. In effect, according to bilateral ecclesiology, there are two paths to salvation. One for the Gentile (Jesus), and another for the Jew (Jesus and/or covenant faithfulness in Torah).

This theory, further popularized by Mark Kinzer in his 2005 book “Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People”, challenges a traditional Christian understanding of soteriology, as revealed in the New Testament.

82311a_36c1468a9fef4b3388101f6f4f163b6a

This post will not be able to adequately deal with all the implications of this theory, or the positive influence that these author’s works have had on the state of relations between Christians and Jews. Nor will I seek to criticize either author. Particularly Rabbi Kinzer, who, probably more than any other person, is chiefly responsible for the recent move by the Roman Catholic Church to revisit Her relationship with the Jewish people, even going so far as reflecting an official bilateral ecclesial position in a recent document released by the Vatican. See Rabbi David Rosen’s comments on this development here:¬†https://www.rabbidavidrosen.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Jewish-Vatican_Relations_-_-Opportunities_and_Problems_October_2011.pdf

The path to reconciliation between Judaism and Christianity must necessarily include concessions and statements which we may struggle to embraces, as well as huge amounts of respectful dialog. From a Christian standpoint, at least, it can be deeply unnerving to consider the implications of such theories. In light of how the gospel is apparently presented in the apostolic texts, in which only confession of and faith in Jesus Christ is offered as an acceptable path to reconciliation with God, we should take some time to question the validity of “covenental nomism”. Continue reading