Updated: Apr 4, 2021
In case you don’t know, the Jewish people divide the Torah (Pentateuch, first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible) into chapters and these are read in order, aloud, usually at the synagogue, every week of the year, especially on Shabbat (the Sabbath). We’ve actually being doing that for about 2,500 years, ever since we returned from Babylonian exile to Jerusalem sometime in the 5th century B.C.E. Two thousand five hundred years. That’s amazing.
We are now around the beginning of the Hebrew calendar year, and this Shabbat, December 14th, Jews all over the world read the chapter called Vayishlach (meaning ‘And he sent’ from the first few words of the text). This is from the first book of the Bible, Genesis, chapters 32 – 36.
Below is an excerpt from Genesis Chapter 34, somewhere in the middle of the story.
Genesis Chapter 34
א וַתֵּצֵא דִינָה בַּת-לֵאָה, אֲשֶׁר יָלְדָה לְיַעֲקֹב, לִרְאוֹת, בִּבְנוֹת הָאָרֶץ. ב וַיַּרְא אֹתָהּ שְׁכֶם בֶּן-חֲמוֹר, הַחִוִּי--נְשִׂיא הָאָרֶץ; וַיִּקַּח אֹתָהּ וַיִּשְׁכַּב אֹתָהּ, וַיְעַנֶּהָ. ג וַתִּדְבַּק נַפְשׁוֹ, בְּדִינָה בַּת-יַעֲקֹב; וַיֶּאֱהַב, אֶת-הַנַּעֲרָ, וַיְדַבֵּר, עַל-לֵב הַנַּעֲרָ. ד וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁכֶם, אֶל-חֲמוֹר אָבִיו לֵאמֹר: קַח-לִי אֶת-הַיַּלְדָּה הַזֹּאת, לְאִשָּׁה.
1. Dinah, the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to look about among the daughters of the land.
2. And Shechem the son of Hamor, the Hivvite, the prince of the land, saw her, and he took her, lay with her, and violated her.
3. And his soul cleaved to Dinah the daughter of Jacob; he loved the girl and spoke to the girl’s heart.
4. And Shechem spoke to his father Hamor saying, “Take this girl for me as a wife.”
In most synagogues, someone gets up and gives a talk, a short sermon of sorts, about a topic relating to the weekly Torah portion.
Where is this going? I want to tell you about my amazing daughter, Tamar, whose righteous indignation about injustice and discrimination I embrace fully. Mea culpa. But she takes her anger and outrage a few steps further than I ever had the courage to do and for that I admire and love her to pieces.
A few days before Shabbat Vayishlach in 2018, Tamar, then 18 yrs old, asked to give the talk at our synagogue. And she did. In Hebrew. I translated it and bring you her words (and remember she’s talking in front of our congregants in the synagogue):
“Dinah, the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to look about among the daughters of the land.” Dinah, daughter of Jacob and Leah, went for a walk
“And Shechem the son of Hamor, the Hivvite, the prince of the land, saw her, and he took her, lay with her, and violated her.” Shchem sees her, takes her and rapes her
“And Shechem spoke to his father Hamor saying, Take this girl for me as a wife” And Shechem tells his father he wants this girl for a wife
The sons of Jacob hear that Dinah was kidnapped and raped and they go to Shechem to try to save her. But Shechem wants her for his wife, so he offers them a deal: You bring us your daughters and we will bring you our daughters.
The story does not end there, but this is enough for us to get the point. Did anyone ask Dinah how she felt? What she wants? Remember, she was just raped. Did anyone ask if she wanted to marry her rapist? The answer is no. Why? Because she is not considered a human being. She is property, and it is obvious that property, as other inanimate objects, don’t have feelings.
That’s the way it was in Biblical times, and despite what many people believe, this is still reality for millions of women today, millions of women who do not feel they have a voice, that no one listens. This is the reality, that most men in the world do not know what it is like to live as a woman. The fears and hardships that almost every woman has.
The moment I truly and really understood this was during the Open Shabbat weekend at Telem Mechina in south Tel Aviv. It was an amazing and entertaining Shabbat and I had fun. After Friday night dinner, we (the candidates) sat in a circle and chatted with the mechina members. One of them, a young woman, brought up the location of the mechina and that when she finishes to volunteer downtown, she is hesitant to walk back to the mechina alone at night because she fears that she would be assaulted. Another mechina member, a young man, turned to her and said, “What? What are you afraid of? I walk around the streets here at 3 a.m. and nothing happens to me!”
Feminist writer Margaret Atwood, who wrote A Handmaid’s Tale, a book about violence towards women, gender discrimination, rape, etc, has a famous quote and it goes like this: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them”.
Men do not experience the world like we women do. They think that because we live in a modern, democratic country in 2018, there is no need for feminism, no need for conversations about gender discrimination, violence against women, sexual assaults and rape.
But they are wrong. Because there have been 19 women murdered by their partners in Israel since the start of the year; a young girl in Afghanistan was just sold into marriage by her impoverished family; millions of little girls go through genital mutilation every year in Africa and Asia; women in the United States who report being harassed or sexually assaulted or raped and no one believes them, see their assailant reach a prestigious position in society like a Supreme Court Judge or even the President of the United States. Feminism is still important. The fact is that in the State of Israel, one of every three women suffer sexual harassment and one of five get raped.
Men – I turn to you. Think about it. You know someone who has been sexually harassed. You know someone who has been raped. You cannot run from it. But don’t think that because of that statistic, women have to adapt themselves to that dangerous reality. We are not the ones who must change.
Parents – especially parents of small children. Don’t let that statistic make you fear for your daughters. Do you want to protect them? Do you want to assure them a good life? Don’t limit their freedom. Don’t tell them what they can and cannot wear, how to behave and what to do around men. Quite the contrary. Teach your boys to respect women.
Remember, it is not a woman’s responsibility not to get raped or murdered. It is the man’s responsibility not to rape and not to murder.
At the end of her speech, at the synagogue, there was an audible gasp and then, complete silence. For a good 10 seconds. Tamar looked around at the shocked community members and went back to her seat.
It was BRILLIANT!!!!
I am so proud :-)
So yes, we in Israel have issues we must address, aside from the obvious geo-political mess. We have serious social challenges, one of them is gender discrimination and violence against women.
But we also have brilliant young Israelis like my Tamar, who will do their best to confront our challenges and make this a better world.