The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Lay Lady Lay—Or Lie? An Intersectional Analysis of Shechem’s Debasement of Dinah and the Attempted Seduction of Joseph by Potiphar’s Wife

This paper engages in an intersectional gender analysis of Joseph`s active (and voluble) resistance to the advances of Potiphar’s wife (Gen. 39), in comparison to the silence of Dinah (Gen. 34) and the silencing of Tamar, raped by her half-brother Amnon (2 Sam. 13). Joseph is feminized as the beautiful slave—an object of desire, “othered” as “Hebrew” by the mistress who seemingly holds all the power. Yet, in the rabbinic interpretive tradition, the performance of masculinity hinges on sexual restraint and he emerges as heroic, both sexually and culturally “continent”, despite being framed for rape (Kugel 1994, Levinson 1997). The women, on the other hand, who are debased and raped, remain victims. Their violation, called a nevalah (Gen. 34:7; 2 Sam. 13:12; cf. Judges 20:6, 19), becomes metonymic for a heinous transgression committed upon the collective--the patriarchal family unit, the monarchy, or the geo-political body of Israel—through the woman’s body.

Many modern biblical scholars overlook Dinah’s silence and downplay the question of rape as an anachronism; the key verb ‘inah (Gen. 34:2) means “debasement”, and the question of the woman’s consent is irrelevant (Bechtel 1994; Frymer-Kensky 1998). Others argue that the “right reading”—that is, the ethically minded feminist reading—should honor Dinah’s agency, whether or not we hear her voice of protest (Scholz 2000). The historical-critical readings also sideline Dinah’s rape, where the central issue of the story hinges of endogamy (Zakovtich 1985, Amit 2000, Cohn 2003, Frankel 2017). This paper, by contrast, highlights the silence of Dinah as a deliberate narratalogical strategy—a gap which the readers are summoned to fill in (Fewell and Gunn 1991, Sternberg 1997, Berlin 2007). And so I turn to modern feminist midrash to give Dinah back the agency and voice of which she is deprived by the biblical text (Lubitch, Tzruryah in Dirshuni, ed. Biala 2018). In the wake of the #Metoo movement and #Ibelieveher, we are asked to reread these stories in terms of who is silenced and why.