Thursday, December 11, 2008

Vayishlach--Tznius II of III: Dina

Dina is the first Bais Yaakov girl.

And the poor child is literally put in a box.

And then, the minute she dares to venture outside the box--literally and figuratively--she gets raped.

The midrashim seem to be of two minds on assessing responsibility. Rashi’s approach blames Dina directly, her assault the result of her tendency to galavant (“yatzanis”). Infuriating? Blaming the victim? In fact, both Ramban—who is more explicit about translating “va-ye’anehah” as rape (ones) as opposed to Rashi’s quoting to midrashic explanation of inui as biah shelo kedarka—and Malbim, who states that the “Vateizei Dina” is meant to exonerate her from the Midrash’s charges—are ahead of the curve here.

The second approach blames Yaakov himself for putting Dina in the box because he was afraid Esav would set his eyes on her and want to marry her. Not that he was afraid he would rape her (although he certainly was not unaware of his brother’s inclinations regarding sexual violence; viz., the drash of “ve-hu ayef” in Toldos); rather, he didn’t want Esav to even THINK of marrying her, even if (and this I where the exegetes take Yaakov to task) she would bring him to tshuva (which, the midrashim generally agree, was a more likely outcome than Esav negatively influencing her.)

Bartenura says that Yaakov's reason for hiding Dina was not the fear of anything negative happening to her, but the fear that she would succeed in reforming Eisav, which would make him worthy of the blessing that he would dominate his brother. This approach might even be more infuriating; Yaakov is ostensibly engaging in some fraternal spiritual power play, and his own daughter suffers in the worst way possible.

However, that may be precisely the point: “punished” or not through his daughter’s rape, Yaakov’s mixing up his own personal spiritual concerns—justified or not (and there are many discussions in the midrashim as to how “lishma” his motivations were in withholding Dina from Esav)—render him responsible for what happens to her. Why?

First, one can look at the box as symbolic of a flawed educational approach. There is no reason to assume that all knowledge and experience is de facto, if not de jure, dangerous. Locking all of it in a box—or, worse, placing the person inside a box—ensures that this is the message conveyed, and it is indisputably the wrong message.

Second, one can see that, even in the case of Yaakov Avinu, there existed the necessity of a parent (and, kal vachomer, an educator) examining his or her own motivations in employing a specific educational approach. Oftentimes, what one thinks is best for the child is really not in the child’s interest at all. Furthermore, if it was as difficult for Yaakov Avinu to at least critically weigh his child’s interests against his own inerests and clal yisrael’s interests—as all the midrashim attest to in one from or other—one can only imagine the near-impossibility of anyone else succeeding in that endeavor.

In this case, the most conservative/restrictive approach had the most disastrous possible result: eventually, people get killed. (Shimon and Levi’s having the last word after the Shechem campaign (“Hachezona yaaseh es achosenu?”) is indicative of what the proximate cause is in Yaakov’s mind.)

As a contemporary analog, I can think of a few very specific current educational programs aimed at women still in practice today, specifically ones which assert that women are not ALLOWED to learn torah she-ba’al peh. Mekoros aside, there is no legitimate reason that this approach should be given quarter in any halachic circles, no matter from whom or where it comes from, and it should be denounced with all the fervor one finds on various Yiddish broadsides (although any proclamation with that sort of tenor would immediately tarnish its credibility).

Too much “tznius”?

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