Friday, December 16, 2005

parshat Vayeitzei/Vayishlach: 12 Boys and Only 1 Girl?!

In Vayeitzei, among the 11 sons that are born, Dina is born as well. Is this believable - to have 12 boys and only 1 girl?

First, I would note that one midrash notes that a twin sister was born with each son, for them to marry. (The sources for this perhaps I will examine later.)

Also, there is a derasha on Vayishlach, on Binyamin's birth {Bereishit 35:17}:

יז וַיְהִי בְהַקְשֹׁתָהּ, בְּלִדְתָּהּ; וַתֹּאמֶר לָהּ הַמְיַלֶּדֶת אַל-תִּירְאִי, כִּי-גַם-זֶה לָךְ בֵּן. 17 And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the mid-wife said unto her: 'Fear not; for this also is a son for thee.'
that it was difficult because besides Binyamin's twin sister, there was an extra sister born to her. Perhaps based on the mapik in בְּלִדְתָּהּ = "in the birthing of "her," the extra sister...

We know that when Yaakov and family went down to Egypt, we read {Bereishit 46:7}:
ו וַיִּקְחוּ אֶת-מִקְנֵיהֶם, וְאֶת-רְכוּשָׁם אֲשֶׁר רָכְשׁוּ בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן, וַיָּבֹאוּ, מִצְרָיְמָה: יַעֲקֹב, וְכָל-זַרְעוֹ אִתּוֹ. 6 And they took their cattle, and their goods, which they had gotten in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt, Jacob, and all his seed with him;
ז בָּנָיו וּבְנֵי בָנָיו, אִתּוֹ, בְּנֹתָיו וּבְנוֹת בָּנָיו, וְכָל-זַרְעוֹ--הֵבִיא אִתּוֹ, מִצְרָיְמָה. {ס} 7 his sons, and his sons' sons with him, his daughters, and his sons' daughters, and all his seed brought he with him into Egypt. {S}
such that the plural "his daughters" implies that Dinah was not the only one. One approach is to take "daughters" to mean wives of his sons, even without stating that they married their sisters (but rather that daughters-in-law could be called daughters).

The simplest thing to say, on a peshat level, is that of course daughters were also born, but it is the nature of the Biblical text to only mention the birth of sons. Looking through all the genealogical lists, mention of daughters is exceptional, and for a reason. In large part, this is because the sons are important for tracing lineage in subsequent generations. Especially since each of Yaakov's sons is the beginning of a tribe, there is reason for them to be mentioned. Additionally, it is the sons of Yaakov who take subsequent actions that are mentioned in the patriarchal narrative. If so, there were perhaps many other daughters born to Yaakov.

Speiser notes that by Dinah's birth, no reason is given for her name. He writes, "No explanation of the name is given, which has caused critics to question the originality of the notice."

Yet there is good reason not to list an etymology. Etmologies are described in part because the importance of each of these characters as the start of a tribe. In truth, she should not have been listed here, since other daughters are not listed. However, she merits mention because of the story involving her rape by Shechem in parshat Vayishlach. The nature of the Biblical narrative is to mention in passing details which will be important later on, so that a daughter of Leah does
not suddenly leap out of nowhere and surprise the reader. Other examples of this exist, but I am busy with other items at the moment. One such example might be the mention of the birth of Rivkah...

What caused me to write about this subject? Because there is another possibility, based in peshat - that in fact Dinah was the only daughter, and that similarly, Yitzchak had no daughters, and similarly, Avraham had no daughters (though there is a midrash that he had one, and another midrash that he had another).

According to BBC News, new research has determined that the longer it takes to conceive, the more likelihood that a boy will be born:
The longer a woman takes to get pregnant, the more likely she is to have a boy, scientists suggest.

Dutch researchers analysed data for 5,283 women who gave birth to single babies between 2001 and 2003.

Among the 498 women who took longer than a year to get pregnant, the chance of having a boy was almost 58%, the British Medical Journal study found.

But the proportion of male births among the 4,785 women with shorter times to pregnancy was 51%.

The authors calculate that, for couples conceiving naturally, each additional year of trying to get pregnant is associated with a nearly 4% higher expected probability of delivering a male baby.


Dr Smits and his team say their work supports the theory that conception depends on how viscous, or "sticky", the mucus in a woman's cervix is.

The stickier it is, the harder it is for any sperm to get through. But Y bearing sperm are lighter, and swim faster.

Therefore, if a woman takes longer to get pregnant, it may be that she has thicker than usual mucus.

This would mean it is harder for any sperm to get through, so conception takes longer.

And, when it does happen, it is more likely to have a boy because of male sperm's swimming abilities.

Since the Imahot took many years before conceiving, it is quite possible that the odds of a boy being born far outweighed the odds of a girl being born.


Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

I find it interesting that Yishma‘eil also has exactly 12 sons and 1 daughter (that we are told about). And ‘Eisav has 13 tribes (some are children, some are grandchildren) descended from him... maybe one of those is a daughter as well, although she isn't identified as such...

joshwaxman said...

And don't forget Nachor. He also hade 12 children. See Bereishit 22:20-24:
The bit with Rivkah being born to Betuel is a digression (and perhaps why the entire genealogical list was mentioned), but we see that Nachor has:
from Milkah: Uz his first-born, and Buz his brother, and Kemuel the father of Aram, and Chesed, and Hazo, and Pildash, and Jidlaph, and Bethuel.
from Reuma: Tebah, and Gaham, and Tahash, and Maacah.

It is likely that all these groups of 12 from that generation played a large part in the midrash that Rivkah was to have 12 children, though the explicit deduction is from duplicate parallel language when Rivkah consults Hashem, or from the gematria of "lama *zeh* {=12} anochi"

joshwaxman said...

the + 1 daughter bit, for a total of 13, is interesting.

joshwaxman said...

indeed, Rivkah the granddaughter might well be considered the +1 daughter = 13

Anonymous said...

The study on conception is interesting, but it is certainly not conclusive. You need a larger percentage difference, I think, to really make it significant. I would not connect it to the Imahos b/c, according to Chazal, they were really barren (not just 'sticky') and had to undergo a miraculous change before they were able to conceive at all.
On the pshat level (though not Rashi's pshuto shel mikara), I would think that no duaghters other than Dina were born. In any case sister marriage was assur to a ben Noach, except, possibly to a half sister, so each shevet would have had to marry another one's twin -- not his own. the fact that Yehudah first married a woman of Canaaan and then Tamar would indicate that he did not marry a sister, and perhaps one can extrapolate from that.


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