Thursday, December 03, 2009

How old was Dinah when Shechem abducted her?

Summary: A simple calculation based on when children had to be born within the given time frame would make her about 7 years old. Yet there are difficulties with that. How Rav Shimon Shkop and Ibn Ezra deal with that.

Post: I saw an interesting dvar Torah over at An excerpt, :
Rav Shimon Schwab explains that the Kochos of Tumah receive their power from Kedusha.  Therefore tuma always chases after kedusha.  Shchem ben Chamor the disgusting pervert not only did an act that was vile in the eyes of the entire world but he purposely chased after a pure innocent girl who was younger than 7 years old and the daughter of Yaakov no less.  It was her kedusha that he lusted after and wanted to contaminate. 
The traces of this contamination showed up many years later when Dina's tzaddik husband Iyov held steadfast to his belief in Hashem despite agonizing punishment and Dina spoke negatively. Iyov's answer to her was that her words have their basis in the Nevala, in the tumah of Shchem that he put into her.
This devar Torah works based on the assumption that Dinah was only about 7 years old at the time of the incident. Indeed, Midrash Rabba 80:10 writes that Shimon and Levi were 13 years old at the time:
איש חרבו 

ר' אלעזר אומר:
בן שלוש עשרה שנה היו.

"Ish" implies an adult, but because of time constraints, it would have to be the very minimum definition of adult. So they were bar mitzvah.

What do I mean by time constraints? Well, if a child is born about once a year, then if Levi was 13, Yehuda would be 12. Leah then saw that she stopped giving birth, which might take some time. She gave Zilpah to Yaakov, and Zilpah had Gad. So Gadmight be 11 at this time. And then Zilpah had Asher, who would then be 10. Then Leah became pregnant and had Yissachar, who would be 9. And then she had Zevulun, who would be 8. And then she had Dinah, who would be 7 years old.

When Lavan confronts Yaakov at Har Gilead, Yaakov said that he worked for Lavan for a total of 20 years. And he married Leah after the first seven. And 20 - 7 = 13, and the incident with Dinah happened immediately upon his return from Eretz Yisrael. Of course, there is the year to get pregnant with Reuven and give birth to him. And Shimon should precede Levi by a year. So by rights, they should be ketanim, less than 13 years old. Except we can consider 9 months of pregnancy, or even 7 months of pregnancy, with an immediate turnaround to become pregnant again. So it can work out. (Rabbenu Bachya meanwhile puts her at 8 years and 1 month.)

Now, a seven year old cannot become pregnant. The midrash makes Shaul ben Hakenaanis the son of Dinah, who was niveles to a Canaanite, but subsequently married Shimon. But that does not necessarily mean that this was the son of Shechem. It could be that he was the son of Shimon. The bigger problem would be with the midrash in Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer which makes Osnas the daughter of this union. How could Dinah have gotten pregnant with viable offspring, and live to tell about it, if she was only seven years old? More than that, the pasuk describes her as a naarah, which often is understood in the halachic sense. How can a seven-year old be a naarah? Will we say, along the lines of Gur Aryeh by Rivkah, that she was just big for her age?

More than that, Rav Shimon Shkop is right, at least by modern sensibilities. Would Shechem really have gone for a seven-year old? Was he a pedophile? Would anyone really consider this to be a good marriage, such that they would propose this to Yaakov and Yaakov would seriously accept? Well, perhaps modern sensibilities are not the same as ancient sensibilities. Mohammad married a seven-year old. And midrashically, at least, Yitzchak married a three-year old. We look at this as pedophilia, but perhaps what was socially acceptable back then was different.

I dislike midrashic or peshat-based commentaries based on calculations of how old person X must have been at time Y. This because there are many pesukim which impose constraints, and we try to solve a constraint-satisfaction problem. And while the numbers might end up working out technically, often enough damage is done to the simple implication of the text. I would rather ignore all these calculations, and try to deduce approximate ages from the implication of the text itself. This because all these different constraints come from our interpretations of the texts. But if we interpret incorrectly, or too strictly, then we might have a false constraint. Better to relax a constraint that to do damage to the intended implication of the text. This for a 37 year old Yitzchak at the Akeida; a 3 year old Rivkah; a 30 year old "child" Binyamin (with 10 children) when he goes down to Egypt. And when I dismiss or relax these constraints, I will not feel compelled to identify precisely which constraint I am relaxing, or to give justifications for relaxing it. Because it is such a complicated system, and also because I will get caught up in the numbers game, rather than in the literary game. I rather just assume that a constraint somewhere can be relaxed, as often it can.

For example, Yaakov worked many years for Lavan. He says 20, which he explains as 14 for the wives, and 6 for the flocks. But perhaps once he had enough flocks of his own, he went into his own business in Charan, and let others (Lavan's sons) look after the sheep. If so, more years could have elapsed; Dinah could be older. (And related, there could be more years between Reuven and Yosef.) Or maybe Dinah was born much earlier but was listed last as a footnote, since Dinah was a daughter, rather than the start of a shevet. And maybe Dinah was among other girls and was listed only as an afterthought, but ain mukdam umeuchar baTorah, because of this incident with Shechem in this week's parsha. Or maybe it is as Ibn Ezra writes:
ולפי דעתי יתכן, שהתעכב בעיר שכם שנים רבות כי דינה לא הייתה בת שבע שנים, גם שמעון ולוי קטנים היו.
That is, that after moving to Shechem, they remained there for many years. For otherwise, Dinah would be less than seven years old, and Shimon and Levi would be ketanim, minors. So Ibn Ezra finds a way to relax the particular constraint in order to satisfy the simple implication of the present narrative.

Gur Aryeh is zealous on behalf of Rashi and midrash, and defends Rashi against Ibn Ezra's suggestion:

איש ואינו פחית מבן י״ג וידוע
שלא היה יעקב בבית לבן רק עשריס שנה
שבע שנים עבד קודם שנשא נשארו י״ג תן
להריון ראובן ושמעון ולוי י״ח חדשים ואיזה
ימיס ופחית לא על כל פנים ואם כן איך היה
לוי בן י"ג שנה במעשה דשכם על כרחך י״ח
חדשים היה בסכות אכל אין לומר כי יעקב
היה זמן הרבה בשכם קודם מעשה שכם כאש׳

אמרו רודפי הפשט דקרא כתיב ותצא דינה
בת לאה לראות בבנות הארץ דמשמע שהיה
מעשה זה מיד בבואם לשכם ולא ראתה עדיין
בנות הארץ ועוד הכתיב אך בזאת יאותו לנו
האנשים וישבו אותנו מוכח דלא ישבו עדיין
אתם זמן הרבה דאם כבר ישבו שנים הרבה
אתם איך נאמר עכשיו וישבו אתני

These are some good points. She went out to see the daughters of the land, in curiosity, when this happened. Which means it happened immediately upon arrival. And the people of Shechem are told that this will make them settle there, something which would not be new if they had settled there for a while. Therefore, he endorses Rashi, but gives them 18 months in Sukkot to make both Shimon and Levi at least 13.

But I would guess that Ibn Ezra would either anticipate these objections, or else readily answer them. I have seen at least one commentator say that she had beforehand gone out to see the bnos ha-aretz, and Shechem saw her. Or we could suggest that this was not curiosity, but was a visiting female friends of hers that she had made, and was done on a continuous basis. Or that until this point, she wasn't old enough or did not have sufficient opportunity to go to see the benos ha`aretz. In terms of settling there, since Yaakov was nomadic, and had sort of wandered into the area, perhaps the idea here would be to settle permanently. Or perhaps he would agree to my own relaxing of constraints which has more than 20 years with Lavan. All sorts of answers are possible, and plausible -- more plausible than a seven year old naarah Dinah and a thirteen year old Shimon and Levi.


Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Assuming that the gist of R. Schwab's words are really conveyed in that, I think it's unreal. Chamor is a disgusting pervert for desiring an innocent girl who was younger than 7. Yet one midrash sees Rivka as 3 when Yitzchak married her. The halacha sees 3 as the age of consummation.

joshwaxman said...

indeed, though you and i probably share Rav Schwab's moral compass in this, where meforshim such as Gur Aryeh and Rashi might not. or at least he sees fit to apply his moral compass to Biblical figures.

in terms of the halacha seeing three as the age of consummation, I am not so sure about that. see what I wrote in a comment on this earlier parshablog post, regarding 3-year old Rivkah.

the *halacha* is that it is assur for a father to marry off a daughter until she is a naarah (of 12) and says "I wish to marry Ploni". and kiddushin via bia is not allowed because of pritzus. and intercourse outside of marriage is also forbidden. so how could a 3-year old engage in intercourse permissibly.

I don't know that the halacha sees 3 as the age of consummation, either, in terms of advisable conduct. rather, for some technical reason, the halacha regards intercourse done with a female who is over 3 years of age to be considered intercourse.(and for someone younger, though it is not being *advised*) it would not technically be reckoned as intercourse. and this can have halachic ramifications in terms of whether kiddushin can be chal, and so on.

in terms of rivkah, true, according to that famous midrash. unless they waited 10 years before trying.

but maybe this was not on the radar screen on meforshim like Rashi, and indeed this shows an interesting shift...

kol tuv,


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