In Hebrew, Dina means ‘justice’. Dina (also spelt 'Dinah') was the only daughter of Jacob, one of the forefathers of the Jewish people. Dina grew up with 12 brothers who later became the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel.
Dina’s father was granted permission to return to his homeland with her mother, Leah, and her aunt, Rachel. Dina had to leave behind the life she knew in Haran to go to the foreign land of Canaan.
Upon the family’s arrival in the town of Shechem, it is said: “Now Dina, Leah’s daughter by Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land” (Gen 34:1). This phrase is often used in Jewish studies to discuss the role and place of women in Judaism. It can be interpreted quite simply to infer that Dina wanted to explore her new town, so she went out to meet the local girls.
Some are of the opinion that Dina’s going out was suggestive of her looking for trouble at the hands of the sons of the land. However, there is no confirmation of this interpretation. It is clear that Dina was used to the strong, independent women of Haran. The women of Canaan were generally submissive. While Dina’s actions were quite acceptable in Haran, they may have provoked the disaster that came to her in Canaan.
It is said: “When Shechem, son of Hamor, the ruler of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her by force” (Gen 34:2). This describes the rape by an Arab neighbor, of Dina the Jewess. Shechem came to her by force, when she was anticipating the companionship of women. Some rabbis comment that Dina’s example is the reason that Jewish women should remain indoors, that her going out meant that she was asking for the trouble she received.
A strange twist in the story tells us that Shechem fell in love with Dina, demanding her hand in marriage. Arab custom, according to the Hebrew Bible, and as the law stands today, allows a rapist’s name to be cleared if he succeeds in marrying his victim. Anger and tension grew within Dina’s household.
Neither Jacob nor Leah implemented their daughter’s revenge. It was Dina’s two brothers Simeon and Levi, who defended her rights. The brothers informed Shechem: “We can agree only on one condition, that you become like us, by having every male circumcised” (Gen 34:15). This part of the story refers to the issue of intermarriage, as Dina’s brothers were fighting to retain their Hebrew lineage. Male circumcision is the covenant that God made with the Jews as an everlasting sign of their devotion to Him.
Dina is silent during her entire tale. Her mother Leah was Jacob’s neglected and unloved wife whom he was tricked into marrying. Perhaps this is the reason for her lack of confidence. Her silence speaks loud, for it is without word or warning that she was found in Shechem’s house when her brothers besieged the Arab town. Despite the Arabs’ agreement to be circumcised, Dina’s brothers killed them all.
Dina’s brothers defended their vicious attack with the question: “Should our sister be treated a whore?” (Gen 34:31). This begs questions about Dina’s place in her family, her uncaring father and her absent mother. Her brothers’ actions may have been in anger and frustration at her overall predicament. It clearly seems that they were the only ones who cared for her, and saw the consequences of her marrying out of their Hebrew community.
Dina’s true feelings for her rapist remain unknown. However, her story tells of the punishment of women who cling to the Divine Feminine. Dina’s going out, whichever way it is understood, was an act of seeking female friendship and embracing the femininity that was scorned in a household of men. She, unlike her 12 brothers, was not given a tribe, an identity, or a sense of purpose. When she tried to recover it herself, she was chastised.
Dina was a woman of passion. Her ways from her homeland in Haran were misunderstood in the land of Canaan, where she found harassment. She is another example of the enduring force of women in the Hebrew Bible.
(For a modern interpretation of Dina’s story, which gives her voice, read The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant.)