Comforting Dina

The rape of Dina...and other horrible, contemporary acts of violence.

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What happens next? Dina gets an ultimate act of silencing, the commentaries understand Dina's rape as Jacob's punishment for withholding her from Esau. Dina's rape is Jacob's punishment? What about Dina? What has she done? How does she feel? Out text is silent. We only know what her brothers and father think: that she has been defiled (34:5-7), that she must not be treated as a whore (34:31). No one in the Torah or the midrashic accounts asks her what she wants, what she needs, or how she can be comforted.

Her silence is loud enough to reverberate through the generations. We hear it in the reports of other fathers who perceive their daughter's rape as their dishonor, their punishment. Fortunately for Dinah, in Genesis the blame and punishment fall entirely on the perpetrator and his people, not on her. Other women are not as lucky. In 1998, in Pakistan, Arbab Khatoon was raped by three men in a village in Jacobabad district. She was murdered seven hours later. According to local residents, she was killed by her relatives for bringing dishonour to the family by going to the police. In 1999, Lal Jamilla Mandokhel, a 16-year-old mentally retarded girl, was reportedly raped several times by a junior clerk of the local government department of agriculture in a hotel in Parachinar, Pakistan. The girl's uncle filed a complaint about the incident with police--who took the accused into protective custody but then handed over the girl to her tribe. The elders decided that she had brought shame to her tribe and that the honor could only be restored by her death; she was killed in front of a tribal gathering.

Similar stories are reported not only in Pakistan but also in Bangladesh, Great Britain, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda-as well as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran. No wonder women are silent!

This outrage is only part of a much larger problem of violence against women. For example, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), more than five thousand brides die annually in India because their dowries are considered insufficient. Widney Brown, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, says that "in countries where Islam is practiced, they're called honor killings, but dowry deaths and so-called crimes of passion have a similar dynamic in that the women are killed by male family members and the crimes are perceived as excusable or understandable."

The practice, she said, "goes across cultures and across religions." In the few cases when public outcry around the world and international pressure were used, a woman's life was spared. But stories that capture the headlines do not begin to address the scope and range of the problem.

Another form that violence takes is sexual slavery and human trafficking, which even happens in Israel. According to a recent Knesset report, thousands of women are illegally smuggled into Israel and sold into sexual slavery. These young women--typically in their early twenties--are raped, abused, incarcerated and threatened, "servicing" 15-25 clients over 14-18 hours a day, 7 days a week. The women become indentured slaves with an ever-growing debt to their owners. Israeli men from all walks of life pay approximately a million visits to brothels per month and the profits from this illicit activity are estimated at $750 million annually. Sexual slavery and human trafficking remain a global problem, taking place in nearly every corner of the world. It is estimated that 600,000-800,000 people--mostly women and children--are trafficked across borders worldwide every year. (For ways to get information--and to get involved in this issue--please contact the Task Force on Human Trafficking through its Web site.)

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Rabbi Laura Geller

Rabbi Laura Geller is the Senior Rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, California. She is the first woman to be selected to lead a major metropolitan synagogue. Prior to being chosen for this position in 1994, she served as the Executive Director of the American Jewish Congress, Pacific Southwest Region.