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November 21, 2015 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Vay

This week’s Torah portion contains a rather infamous episode: Shechem (the son of a leader of a village) rapes* Dina (the only daughter of Yakov mentioned in the Torah) and some of Dina’s brothers (especially Levi and Shimon) respond by killing Shechem and all the males in his town, taking their women and children as slaves, and taking their cattle as well. (Gen. 34).

Arama’s comments on this episode are a bit retrograde.  He first admits that secular logic would condemn the acts of Levi and Shimon.  Then he goes on and on about how Jews are different because they “learn the word of G-d”- for example, the Akedah.   He writes that the “standards of ethical conduct for Jews are set on high for the Torah oriented personality.”  In particular, he writes that because “as a result of [not marrying Canaanites] their father had established a family all of whom were true to their heritage.  Rape of their only sister then was a public descecration of G-d’s name, in the face of which ordinary principles of human conduct did not apply any longer.  The brother’s deliberate flouting of all [ethical] rules of conduct was designed to impress the G-dly principles on which their lives were built, on the surrounding country.” (emphasis added).

What is Arama trying to say here?  If he’s saying “we get to be less ethical because we have Torah” that’s obviously deranged.  The Akedah analogy is balderdash because there’s no Divine relevation telling the brothers to exterminate people.  If he’s saying that this impressed the surrounding country, this is obviously wrong because Yaakov tells his children that their conduct is making him “odious among the inhabitants of the land” (34:30).

But here’s what I think Arama might be getting at.  By pulling the chillul Hashem card maybe he’s saying that insulting their sister is an insult to tribal (and by implication Divine) honor.  In a “culture of honor” people get status by not being disrespected by others, and respond violently when they feel humiliated.  Honor cultures tend to be patriarchal and very violent, dominated by blood feuds rather than by law.  Arama is telling us that Yaakov’s world is still a culture of honor – and apparently (judging by his favorable reaction) 15th c. Spain was as well.

It seems to me that Sinai was the first step in throwing out the culture of honor; it didn’t eliminate blood feuds, but puts limits on the idea through concepts such as the city of refuge.  And Chazal, by creating a web of law, wipe the culture of honor out of the mainstream of Judaism.   But what I don’t get is: how is this idea worming its way back into Judaism hundreds of years after the Talmud?




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