The Sexual Abuse of Dina

Dan Jacobson Tradition Online | November 16, 2021

What was life like for little Dina in the household of Jacob? What exactly was she seeking when she embarked on her excursion? What actually happened to Dina that day? After Dina was saved, what happened to her?

Some time after Jacob’s family arrived in Canaan, Dina went to seek female companionship but was instead sexually assaulted by Shekhem. While this incident appears to be an isolated tragic occurrence, its seeds were actually planted far earlier. A careful analysis of the text reveals that, in the bustling mission-focused household, Dina was lacking attention even from her devoted but weary mother. Moreover, Shekhem was not an unfamiliar rapist in a dark alley; he was someone who likely knew Dina and sought her out. These and other details of the story paint a picture of Dina as a victim of sexual abuse rather than of rape. The crime and its impact are no less serious, but they are different in many ways. This understanding of the Dina story sheds light not only on the Biblical text but also on the experience of sexual abuse victims through the ages. 

Read Dan Jacobson’s “The Sexual Abuse of Dina” (TRADITION, Spring 2021) for this week’s Parashat Vayishlah.

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