The story of Dinah, the youngest child of Leah, and Jacob’s only named daughter, is often glossed over when it is first taught.

When Jacob was camped outside the city of Shechem, Dinah went out on her own to see the local girls. She was seen by the prince of the city, who desired her, kidnapped her, raped her and then asked for her hand in marriage.

In many ways, Dinah can be seen as a prototype for a future group of “fascinating” women. Indeed, was not Dinah the original Helen of Troy, the beautiful woman whose face “launched a thousand ships.” In the case of Dinah, it was swords that were launched, not ships, and only two of them. In the Biblical narrative, two of Dinah’s brothers, not her husband, launched the attack.

Following Dinah’s abduction, the King of Shechem came to Jacob hoping that the family would be eager to accept a marriage proposal. After much haggling, Jacob’s sons agreed to the proposal, but only upon the condition that all the men of Shechem undergo circumcision. Commanded by their king, all the men of Shechem were circumcised. On the third day after the city-wide circumcision, Shimon and Levi went into the city and avenged their sister’s honor by attacking the townsmen who felt that marriage by abduction was perfectly acceptable. Jacob condemned his sons’ violence and rashness.

On the other hand, Dinah could also be seen as the original “Little Red Riding Hood.” Thinking the world a safe place, she went out from her father’s camp and came upon a wolf. He lured her in and raped her. The inclusion of Dinah’s story in the Torah can easily be interpreted as a warning against straying, about the safety of the home and the dangers of strangers.

Calling Dinah either Helen of Troy or “Little Red Riding Hood” are both simplifications. Strangers can be dangerous, but then again, Rebecca and Rachel spoke to strangers at their wells and wound up as matriarchs of the Jewish people. The Trojan War is mythologically portrayed as a battle over a beautiful woman, but there is far more complicated history and politics behind the fighting. So too, when reading the Torah, one must learn to read behind the scenes in order to understand the true motivations of our forefathers.

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