Vayishlach – Is it Right to Murder The Guy Who Raped Your Sister?

Vayishlach – Is it Right to Murder The Guy Who Raped Your Sister?

One day Yaacov’s daughter Dinah went out for a walk to see the ladies of the land. The prince Shechem son of Chamor saw her. He took Dinah then raped and tormented her. (Bereshit 34.)

Shechem was a member of the Chivite Majestic family. He lived in a tribal society where the customs and laws of one society could not be enforced in another. Even if laws were enforceable everyone knows that majesty is, you know, different.

After forcibly having his way with Dinah he decided that he actually loved her and would love to marry her. For this purpose he dispatched his dad Chamor.

In the mean time Yaacov learned that his precious daughter had been defiled. He waited for his sons to come from their work in the field. Needless to say that they were all very angry

Along comes this Chamor dude who just happened to be a king. He made a proposition to Yaacov and his sons that they could all intermarry with Chivites and share the land. Yaacov’s children cunningly answered Chamor that they could only make such a deal if the gentiles who were subservient to Shechem underwent circumcision. Shechem and his constituency agreed. Three days after circumcising themselves infection had weakened them all. In this defenseless state Shimon and Levy slaughtered them all.

Yaacov Avinu was very disturbed by this whole affair. He told his Shimon and Levy that they disturbed him. He feared that all of the gentiles would now gang up on them to kill them. They answered their father whether it was correct for their sister be made into a harlot.

Was it right for Shimon and Levy to commit genocide over the mishandling of their sister? Did they have any other choice?

Ramban – Nachmonidies discusses  this dilemma. He says that it seems Yaacov knew his sons were deceiving Shechem. Additionally it seems that all of the sons were party to the deceit. It is impossible to say that Yaacov agreed to his daughter’s marriage to a gentile who defiled her. Why did he curse Shimon and Levy on his death bed?

Ramban answers that it seems Yaacov and the other sons had planned a different form of deceit which did not involve the killing of innocent people. They figured that Shechem would never accept the Jewish religion and certainly would not circumcise the entire male population. If they did accept such a condition the “deceit” was that on the third day while the Chivites were  ill Yaacov’s sons would walk into the castle and remove Dinah.

However, Shimon and Levy wanted serious revenge. Yaacov was angry at his sons because they murdered innocent people. They should have murdered only Shechem and Chamor.

The question is asked: How is it possible that Yaacov’s sons, who were very righteous, murdered innocent people?

Ramban answers that the Chivites were very violent people. Life was worthless to them. The only way to deal with such people is with a sharp, vengeful knife. The citizenry who were murdered were the Shechem’s slaves and would listen to anything he said. The covenant which they made with Yaacov and his family was viewed as worthless and temporary. They entered the covenant only as a temporary measure until they could confiscate all of Benei Yisrael’s property. (see also Nechama Leibowitz)

As part of this discussion Ramban – Nachmonidies quotes Rambam – Maimonides. Rambam (Melachim 14-9) says that all of the people had incurred upon themselves the death penalty. The seven Noachide Mitzvot include a commandment to set up a justice system. Transgressing any of these Mitzvot incurs the death penalty. A gentile who steals can be put to death in a Bet Din. The people who were subservient to Shechem and Chamor did not try them for the rape of an innocent girl. Therefore, it is a Mitzvah to murder all of these people. I have heard this quoted with regards to our present enemies.

Ramban – Nachmonides feels that Rambam – Maimonides is very mistaken. If Rambam is correct Yaacov should have gone with his sons to kill all of the people. Instead he was angry with Shimon and Levy and cursed them.

Ramban’s approach is as follows:
It is my opinion that the Noachides are not only commanded to set up a justice system but must enact civil laws. These laws include theft, price fixing, racketeering, timely payment of employees, laws regarding borrowed property, rape, seduction, damages, borrowing and banking laws as well as laws of trade. All of this is similar to Jewish civil laws. A gentile who transgresses any of these laws would incur the death penalty…. Part of these Mitzvot is to set up a justice system. However, if they did not set up a justice system they do not incur the death penalty. Only transgression of a negative commandment would incur the death penalty.