Naomi Graetz

And Dinah Went Out: Such Pregnant Words

I first discovered the story of Dinah as an adult when I became the Torah reader in our synagogue in the early eighties. I never paid it much attention until my feminist sensibilities were truly awakened in the mid-eighties when I returned from a sabbatical in the U.S. and discovered the power of modern retellings or midrash on the bible. I started to write retellings of biblical stories from what I thought was a feminist perspective, pretty much following the text, until I came to the story of Dinah in Genesis 34. I wanted to write about Dinah, but Dinah was silent; she was an object; her rape was used as an excuse to invade and destroy the town of Shechem. So, I set out to give her a voice, in a midrash that I wrote entitled, “A Daughter in Israel is Raped”. Over the years, I revisited this story and it was included in an anthology. Then I started to look at what our sages said in their midrashim about her. Most of it was not positive. In an academic article I wrote (published in 1993)[1], I pointed out that there were many midrashim which held Dinah responsible for her own rape. But before we look at these, let’s see the three places where Dinah is mentioned in the Bible.


  • The first mention is in Chapter 30:21 of Genesis, when her birth is reported: “Last, she [Leah] bore him [Jacob] a daughter, and named her Dinah.”
  • The second is in Chapter 34:1-2, where we are told about her going out of and being raped: “Now Dinah, the daughter whom Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the daughters of the land. Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, chief of the country, saw her, and took her and lay with her by force.” Here her name appears six
  • The third is in Chapter 46:15, where she is numbered among the descendants of Jacob leaving Canaan: “These are the sons of Leah whom she bore to Jacob in Paddan-Aram, and also Dinah his daughter, every person of his sons and daughters, thirty-three.”


I have highlighted the six mentions of Dinah by name as well as the fact that first she is a maiden, then a daughter, and finally a sister.

Now Dinah, the daughter whom Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the daughters of the land. Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, chief of the country, saw her, and took her and lay with her by force (va-ye-aneha). Being strongly drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob, and in love with the maiden, he spoke to the maiden tenderly. So Shechem said to his father Hamor, “Get me this girl as a wife.” Jacob heard (shamah) that he had defiled his daughter Dinah; but since his sons were in the field with his cattle, Jacob kept silent until they came home……The men were distressed and very angry, because he had committed an outrage in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter—a thing not to be done. And Hamor spoke with them, saying, “My son Shechem longs for your daughter. Please give her to him in marriage…. Ask of me a bride-price ever so high, as well as gifts, and I will pay what you tell me; only give me the maiden for a wife.” Jacob’s sons answered Shechem and his father Hamor—speaking with guile because he had defiled their sister Dinah—and said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to a man who is uncircumcised, for that is a disgrace among us….. But if you will not listen to us and become circumcised, we will take our daughter and go.”…. And the youth lost no time in doing the thing, for he wanted Jacob’s daughter. On the third day, when they were in pain [after being circumcised], Simeon and Levi, two of Jacob’s sons, brothers of Dinah, took each his sword, came upon the city unmolested, and slew all the males. They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword, took Dinah out of Shechem’s house, and went away. The other sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the town, because their sister had been defiled…..Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me, making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites; my men are few in number, so that if they unite against me and attack me, I and my house will be destroyed.” But they answered, “Should our sister be treated like a whore?”

Dinah is foremost a daughter, she is Leah’s daughter and then Jacob’s. Yet despite this outrage committed on his daughter, Jacob the father is silent. She is a maiden, object of Shechem’s love, who after committing his act of violence, wants to marry her, which should be the law of the land. In fact, in Deuteronomy it states that when a man sleeps with a virgin who is not betrothed, he has to pay the father money and takes her as his wife. This is because she has been violated (tahat asher inna). Note the verb inna is the same used with Dinah (Gen 34:2 and Deuteronomy 22:28-29). There are differing opinions among scholars as to what inna means, i.e. if it is rape, dishonoring, or even ritual contamination (see verse 13 which says that Hamor was guilty of making their sister tameh). However, in my blog and teachings I relate to this act as rape.

When Dinah is described as a sister, there is a different scenario. What could have been a peaceful solution, marriage between Israelites and Canaanites, ends in tragedy.  She is Simeon and Levi’s sister as well as the sister of the other sons of Jacob’s. Her brothers are devious and in a rage defend their sister’s honor. When their father finally breaks his silence and admonishes them, they have the last word: should our sister be treated like a whore? Tradition of course has it that Jacob has the last word for on his deathbed he says:

“Simeon and Levi are a pair; Their weapons are tools of lawlessness…. When angry they slay men, And when pleased they maim oxen. Cursed be their anger so fierce…I will divide them in Jacob, Scatter them in Israel” (Gen 49: 5-7)


What is this story doing here? The story of Dinah could have been placed anywhere. In fact, there seems to be no reason to include it at all. The principle of real estate is alive and well: location, location, location! First of all, chapter 34 is a liminal one, it is located between two crucial chapters.

At the end of chapter 33, Jacob bids farewell to Esau, arrives safely וַיָּבֹא יַעֲקֹב שָׁלֵם in Shechem. It is ironic that Jacob is there in a situation of completeness, safety and even shalom, in light of what will happen later. He purchases land from the children of Hamor and sets up an altar, calling it El elohei yisrael. Now we come to chapter 35 which is after the rape of Dinah and the massacre of the people Shechem. God tells Jacob to leave and go to Bet-El, remain there and build an altar to the God who appeared to him when he was fleeing Esau. Jacob uses this as an opportunity to rid his household of all the alien gods they have brought them and then builds another altar to God. Lucky them, for after they left Shechem, “a terror from God fell on the cities round about, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob.” When he gets to Bethel he builds yet another altar and gets a blessing and name change, from Jacob to Israel.


After God leaves them and they leave this holy site, bad things start happening:

  • Rachel dies in childbirth between Bethel and Ephrath. She is buried on the road to Ephrath—now Bethlehem. Jacob continues journeying and then:
  • Reuben went and lay with Bilhah, his father’s pilegesh; and Israel hears (va-yishma yisrael)….. [and there is a blank space here in the Torah text, because although once again Jacob (even with his name change) hears,  says nothing and does nothing].
  • Right after this we have a little bit of genealogy. And look who is missing:
  • Now the sons of Jacob were twelve in number. 23The sons of Leah: Reuben—Jacob’s first-born—Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. 24The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. 25The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid: Dan and Naphtali. 26And the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maid: Gad and Asher. These are the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram.

There are two inaccuracies here. First of all, Benjamin was not born to Jacob in Paddan-aram. Second, Dinah was so important before, and now she has been “disappeared” from the text. It’s true she will be mentioned later in Genesis 46. But now, of all times, to have her name be omitted!  It is glaring to an observant reader (like me). Was she such an embarrassment  that the narrator conveniently forgot that she existed? Was she meant to be written out of history?

  • This is followed by Isaac’s death, where he is buried by Esau and Jacob. It is interesting that Esau’s name is mentioned first. It makes sense for two reasons, first he is the older son, but he is also the son who stayed behind and probably took care of his elderly parents, while Jacob was busy raising his family abroad.
  • The irony is that right after this is a whole chapter with 43 verses about Esau’s progeny. Compare that with the measly number of 12 that constitutes Jacob’s family. So is the narrator trying to point out something having to do with Jacob’s character and his guilt, by showing how prominent Esau was? Whatever, this can certainly be added to the list of “downers” from Jacob’s perspective.
  • Things are clearly falling apart for Jacob. His silence after the rape of Dinah, and his silence after the rape of Bilhah (his concubine) will not go unnoticed by his sons.
  • What follows from this will be the story of Joseph’s sale by his brothers and Jacob’s refusal to be comforted after his sons deceive him with the news of his death.
  • And if we keep on going, the tribes of Israel all go down to Egypt.


Some midrashim seem to point to the cause and effect of the aftermath of Dinah’s rape and those tragedies that beset Jacob.

  • There are various midrashim that blame Jacob for what happened: he was boastful; he tarried too long; he prevented Dinah from marrying Esau, by hiding her (Genesis Rabbah76:9).
  • But most midrashim focus on Dinah’s responsibility for her own rape. Most of them follow this scenario: She wanted to go out, be seen and spend time with the daughters of the land. By flaunting her beauty to Shechem, she brought upon herself what happened. It is dangerous for women to “go out”; even to the marketplace. And despite the fact that God created woman from Adam’s rib (which is a hidden place), women like to go out in public, leaving the protected area of their home (Gen. Rabbah 18).
  • There are other midrashim which give closure to her story, having her marry her brother Simon, or even being Job’s wife. One of the best known is the one in which she gives birth to a daughter Asenath, the daughter of Poti-phera, the priest of On, who later marries Joseph when he is in Egypt (Genesis 41:45). Since our sages had a hard time accepting that Joseph of all people would marry out, and to a daughter of an Egyptian priest no less, they created this far-fetched midrash (Midrash Aggadah, Buber edition on Genesis (parshat miketz) 41:45).


Perhaps the most interesting midrash is that of the Zohar which makes a direct connection between what happened after three days in Shechem. It connects two passages: “On the third day, when they were in pain, Simeon and Levi … slew all the males” (verse 25) and “And [Joseph] confined [the brothers] in the guardhouse for three days. On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you shall live, for I am a God-fearing man” (Genesis 42:17-18).  These were the three days that Joseph forced his brothers to wait in custody when they came looking for food in Egypt.

Rabbi Elazar asked, Why for three days? HE ANSWERS, These three days correspond to the days of Shechem. Come and behold, It is written with regard to this, “And Joseph said to them on the third day, ‘this do, and live’.” This teaches us that he did not act toward them as they did toward Shechem (Zohar on Miketz, verses 161-162).

Of course the Zohar is pointing to a higher morality on the part of Joseph vis a vis his brothers. But it is clear from this that earlier actions have ramifications in the future.

On the one hand, according to the midrash, we have seen that Joseph married Asenath, daughter of Dinah, thus killing two birds with one stone: his wife is not the daughter of the high priest of Egypt, merely an adopted daughter (so he doesn’t marry out). And it gives closure to Dinah. But the Zohar suggests something else: in the future Simeon and Levi are going to be punished for their misdeeds; it will not only be Jacob who has the last word, but Joseph. And we can keep on going with this. So I will leave the final word to the saying and lyrics in the song by Justin Timberlake which state: “what goes around, comes around.”

What goes around, goes around, goes around
Comes all the way back around
What goes around, goes around, goes around
Comes all the way back around
What goes around, goes around, goes around
Comes all the way back around
What goes around, goes around, goes around
Comes all the way back around







[1] For the story and academic article see my two books: Unlocking the Garden: A Feminist Jewish Look at the Bible, Midrash and God (2004) available on and S/He Created Them: Feminist Retellings of Biblical Tales (1993, 2nd edition 2003) available on


About the Author
Naomi Graetz taught English at Ben Gurion University of the Negev for 35 years. She is the author of Unlocking the Garden: A Feminist Jewish Look at the Bible, Midrash and God; The Rabbi’s Wife Plays at Murder ; S/He Created Them: Feminist Retellings of Biblical Stories (Professional Press, 1993; second edition Gorgias Press, 2003), Silence is Deadly: Judaism Confronts Wifebeating and Forty Years of Being a Feminist Jew. Since Covid began, she has been teaching Bible from a feminist perspective on zoom.
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