‘The Red Tent’: A bloody tale with a timely twist (COMMENTARY)

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A scene from the new Lifetime series "The Red Tent." Photo by Joey L., courtesy of Lifetime

A scene from the new Lifetime series "The Red Tent." Photo by Joey L., courtesy of Lifetime

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(RNS) There is something else that makes “The Red Tent” timely -- tragically timely, in fact. Go from the pages of the ancient text to the pages of today’s newspapers.

  • Garson Abuita

    In Conservative synagogues where all of the Torah is not read every week, one-third of it is read. There’s a “triennial” cycle to this, so that it takes 3 years instead of one to read the entire Torah. So the story of Dinah is read every three years.

  • Laura

    So. What you are saying is that the author and now Hollywood will put words into Dinah’s mouth and presume to know what she did or how she felt. Most people would guess that she was upset. Her brothers did what many brothers today might wish they could do to a man that would rape their sister. Different time. Different days. No one can know because it’s a story within a story, told for a reason. Pointing to sin.

  • Mychal Balazs

    Rape is horrible, however rape at this time meant that the person who owned a woman did not consent to the rape. So she was “raped” by old testament standards but not necessarily by today’s standards. We will never know how Dinah really felt, but it is wonderful to read a fictional story that paints her as a dynamic and strong woman rather than a silent victim.

  • Hilary Dalton-Zander

    IMHO a better candidate rape story for Hollywood depiction would have been the story of Tamar. She was of royal birth, possibly a priestess even, and was raped by her half-brother Amnon. The biblical account vividly relates Amnon’s psychological state prior to the attack. And unlike Dinah, Tamar is not voiceless, but eloquently pleads for herself and speaks as though she is Amnon’s conscience. Unfortunately for all parties, Amnon rapes his half-sister, throws “it” (!) out of his house, thus condemning her to a purposeless life. And where is the father in all this? King David does nothing to punish his first-born son. He is the silent actor in this tragedy. And his silence will bring about a chain of heartbreaking events as Tamar’s brother Absalom flees the capital out of fury at their father’s inaction; kills his half brother; leads an insurrection that removes David from the thrown; and ends up being killed himself.

  • Lucy

    Another buried Bible story is that of the woman (she is not only voiceless, but nameless) in Judges 19, whose husband, in order to save the hide of his houseguest, turns her out of the house to a mob who gang rape her all night, leaving her for dead. In the morning, when the husband finds her lying on the ground with her hands on the doorstep, all he has to say to her is “Get up.”

    If this isn’t the most horrifying story in the whole Bible, I don’t know what is, and a perfect illustration of the status of women at this time period and how many men and boys think of us even today.

  • Garson Abuita

    Looking at it again, perhaps you were speaking metaphorically and saying that the story of Dinah is not often focused on in synagogues. That’s probably true. Recently, however, around this season there have been several blog posts, including from Orthodox feminists, on the story. Ex.: the Sages’ alleged slut-shaming of Dinah: that “she went out to look upon the daughters of the land.” In other words, had she not gone out on the town, she wouldn’t have been raped.

  • Jon

    As others have pointed out, story after story in the various Bibles range from being misogynist to terribly misogynist, consistently treating women (often explicitly, as in the ten commandments) as property, valued only if “pure”.

    Lucy wrote “if this isn’t the most horrifying story in the whole Bible….”

    While indeed horrifying, I don’t think it’s the most horrifying. God’s pleasure at his successful plan to have a hit man behead dozens of children and present their heads in a basket (2Kgs10), or the slaughter of hundreds of children by God for the terrorist purpose of “showing his glory” (Ex 11), or God’s drowning of at least tens of thousands of children (Gen 7) all seem more horrifying to me.

  • Fmr Cath

    @ Jon,
    Yes, the stories are TRUE but instead of jumping to the conclusion that God is cruel, you’d do well to ask WHY? WHY did God do these “horrible” things? Things aren’t always as cut and dry as you make it seem….

  • Jon

    So when you heard this past summer of the ISIL soldiers killing children in Syria, some by beheading them, did you think

    “….instead of jumping to the conclusion that ISIL is cruel, I’d do well to ask WHY? WHY did ISIL do these “horrible” things? Things aren’t always as cut and dry as they may seem……”

    Sorry, but beheading children is not commendable. It’s pretty sad to see that a religion can distort someone’s thinking to the point that they would defend the beheading of children, defend the idea of God asking a parent to kill and dismember their child, or any of a hundred other heinous examples. It’s taken me years to get to the point of being able to call a spade a spade, and I see around me more and more people opening their eyes as well.

  • Rabbi Salkin’s claim that “the biblical text says that Dinah’s rape renders her […] damaged” is unfounded. The biblical commentators who “suggest that Shechem didn’t rape Dinah at all, but that he merely seduced her” only display their ignorance. And as for Diamant —

    In the Biblical version, a young woman is kidnapped and raped, and the patriarchal society her family is living in assumes all will be made well if a marriage offer is made. Her brothers who love her stand up for her—they’re excessive in their zeal to rescue her, but it gets the job done. She is welcomed back to her family, and one of her brothers even adopts her child as his own.

    Anita Diamant and Lifetime prefer to paint her rapist as the good guy, and the family which does not abandon their “dishonored” sister (as many in that era would have done) as the patriarchal bad guys.

    This is supposed to be “feminist” somehow; but I find it reprehensible that in an article complaining about the silencing of women’s voices, the author praises a retelling that not only does NOT “return Dinah’s voice to her” but instead puts words into her mouth, words denying and making excuses for her rape.

  • Garson Abuita

    The text does, in fact, often translate as that Jacob heard that Shechem “defiled” Dinah. The verb used in the Torah is “timeh,” which is related to tumah, ritual impurity. So the author is correct.
    Also, it’s not like the traditional commentators had no basis to question whether Dinah was raped. For example, the verse states that he “took her, he lay with her, and he -” some say violated, some say afflicted. The verb is the same used in the Passover Seder to say that the Egyptians afflicted the Israelites. For modern readers, the bigger question may be why are we, the commentators, and even the Torah itself looking for ways to exonerate Shechem, instead of sympathizing with Dinah?

  • Note that the term “timme” is not used when describing the events, or when the family hears about it, nor in the aftermath. It’s used in one place, and in a sentence with a somewhat unusual grammatical structure, Gen 34:13–14. “The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Chamor with guile, and spoke—to the one who had ‹——› their sister Dinah—and said to them…”

    Perhaps “timme” (the word I’ve left untranslated above) can be rendered “defiled”, but if such was the brothers’ attitude it’s hard to see why the word was only used there, and in such a grammatically-odd manner. But if this was Shechem’s attitude—“Be grateful that the young prince is willing to marry your no-longer-virginal sister”—the text reads quite smoothly. But I’d be willing to concede this point.

    On the other hand “vay‘anneho” (the word variously translated “humbled” or “oppressed”) is about as close as Biblical Hebrew comes to an equivalent of the modern English word “rape”, i.e., “forcible sex”: see e.g. Deuteronomy 22:28–29 and Samuel II 13:14.

    On the gripping hand, your final point makes no sense at all: In what way is the Torah or any commentators—except of course for Diamant & Lifetime—“looking for ways to exonerate Shechem, instead of sympathizing with Dinah?”

    (And no, the Midrash on “Dinah went out” does NOT count: the Midrash consistently points out any way in which anyone left themselves open to any trouble that occurred.)

  • KC

    The problem I’ve always had with the Bible is that you can’t take what it states at face value. Everything has to be interpreted — and I’ll always believe the word of God was filtered through the hands of the men that wrote it. That said — being that Shechem and his tribe agreed to be circumscribed, it seems rather foolish to believe Dinah was raped in the modern sense of the word.

  • Wrong buzzword. “Slut shaming” is the use of a derogatory term to describe someone who has engaged (in the speaker’s view) immoral behavior.

    The term you’re looking for is “victim blaming”, which is standard Midrashic practice: a close reading of the Biblical text often points to some—often quite minor—way in which someone left himself open to the trouble befalling him. But even this is not quite applicable, since the Midrash does not use this fact to lessen in anyway the culprit’s responsibility.

  • why would it be foolish to assume dinah was raped women where property and rape has always been used as a weapon against women . while i do agree the bible has been filtered thru man over and over again . i went to purchase a bible for a gift and didnt realize there are so many choices …wow. hope everyone had wonderful holidays