In Defense of Deenah by Dr. Irving Klavan



The Torah tells us that Yaakov Avinu had twelve sons and one daughter. However, we know little or nothing about the lives of most of them, with Yosef, Yehudah, and, to a lesser extent, Reuven, being the most notable exceptions. Yet one entire chapter in Sefer Bereishis )פרק ל"ד( is devoted to a single tragic incident in the life of Yaakov's only daughter Deenah, and it is only through this story that we gain some insight into the characters of her brothers Shimon and Leivi. In brief, the Torah (שם) describes how after Yaakov settles near the city of Shechem, Deenah is abducted and assaulted by its crown prince, and is rescued by her brothers Shimon and Leivi, who avenge her honor by wiping out the entire city.

There is a great deal of discussion in the Midrash and among the Meforshim about the propriety of the brothers' actions, and whether or not the means and the ends were justified. (For a fascinating review with a "modern" viewpoint, see the Sefer הגות בפרשיות התורה by Rabbi Yehudah Nachshoni on this Parsha, section 4.) However, the traditional and near universal approach to Deenah, as mentioned many times in the Midrash (see Bereishis Rabbah, all of פרשה פ', for example), is that she had some character defect or weakness that allowed her to be enticed to leave Yaakov's camp. Prince Shechem then saw her for the first time, fell in love at once (according to some, Deenah had allowed her shoulder to become uncovered), and abducted her. This idea is based on the first Posuk of this Perek, which tells us, "Deenah the daughter of Leah, who was born to Yaakov, went out to see the local girls." The Radak (שם), following Rashi (שם) and the Midrash (םש), calls Deenah a "יצאנית בת יצאנית", "one who went out, the daughter of one who went out," alluding to her mother Leah's having gone out to meet Yaakov after trading with her sister Rochel for the right to be with Yaakov one night (שם ל':ט"ז), and implying a lack of true modesty.

Abarbanel, however, vigorously defends Deenah against this traditional attack. Deenah, he says, was in no way to blame for what happened to her. First of all, Deenah could not have been more than seven when Yaakov moved his family to the neighborhood of Shechem, as noted by Ibn Ezra (לבראשית ל"ד:א'), and they must have lived there for quite a few years until Deenah was old enough to be of kidnapping age. Furthermore, Shechem, together with his brothers, had to have visited Yaakov's camp a number of times during that period, both to negotiate trade agreements (עיין בראשית רבה פרשה ע"ט סימן ו') and to act as their father's agent in selling the field to Yaakov (עיין בראשית ל"ג:י"ט). In Abarbanel's words, "...they saw Deenah there, and without a doubt [Shechem] spoke to her and became enamored of her at that time." Also, "everyone in the neighborhood must have come out to the encampment to see Yaakov erect an altar to Hashem, at which time Shechem must have seen Deenah." Thus, when she left the camp, he seized the opportunity to abduct her.

Deenah's mother Leah, Abarbanel points out, far from acting improperly, was the very paragon of modesty and must certainly have trained her daughter thus, as did Yaakov, the modest ישב אהלים, the dweller in tents. Leah comported herself with such Tzenius that Yaakov couldn't even tell who she was on their wedding night. And Leah certainly acted only לשם שמים, for the sake of Heaven, that evening when she traded with Rochel for the right to be with Yaakov.

Moreover, when Deenah went out on that fateful day, she didn't go to see the "people of the city" and definitely not "the men of the city". Rather, she went, as stated above, to see "בנות הארץ," "the daughters of the land." Don't forget that she was an only daughter; she needed to meet girls her own age, to learn about clothes and jewelry, and how to dress with elegance and style. When were elegance and style ever denied to Jewish women? And, Abarbanel says, "without a doubt Deenah did not leave the camp unescorted, even though the Torah does not mention an escort." He cites proof for this.

The fault lay not in Deenah, therefore, but entirely with Shechem ben Chamor, the "נשיא הארץ", the "prince of the land", who acted arrogantly and contemptibly, without fear of retribution or censure from his own people, brushing aside Deenah's escort, taking whatever he wanted whenever he wanted.

Abarbanel bases his interpretation of Deenah's behavior and character on the same Posuk her detractors use: "ותצא דינה בת לאה אשר ילדה ליעקב," Deenah who went out was the daughter of Leah and of Yaakov as well (שם ל"ד:א'). It is inconceivable that the Torah would have characterized Deenah in this manner unless her behavior was always above reproach, as befits a true בת ישראל, a true daughter of Israel.


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