In The Red Tent, author Anita Diamant re-creates the popular Biblical story of Jacob by giving a voice to his only daughter, Dinah. Known as simply the object of her brothers’ wrath, Dinah serves only a minor role in the traditional tale. Here, she tells her own story.
Dinah begins her story with that of her mothers—the four daughters of Laban: Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah. One day, Jacob, the man who would be Dinah’s father, comes upon Rachel at a well in Haran. He is arrested by her intense beauty and kisses her. Rachel decides that she will marry him, and after Jacob has worked for Laban for many months, he asks for her hand. But Rachel is afraid of consummating her marriage, and the sisters conspire to have Leah take Rachel’s place during the marriage ceremony. Jacob then demands from Laban dowries for both women, and he is given also Zilpah and Bilhah and a small portion of Laban’s flocks. Leah soon gives birth to her first son, Reuben, and she later gives birth to six more boys; Zilpah delivers twin boys; and Bilhah has one son who survives. Rachel, however, remains barren for many years. After spending so much time with the midwife Inna, she learns the art of midwifery. Leah again becomes pregnant. To the delight of the sisters, Rachel predicts that the baby is a girl. In her happiness, Rachel conceives. Shortly after Leah gives birth to Dinah, Rachel gives birth to Joseph.
Once his sons are old enough, Jacob takes them into the hills and tells the boys stories about his father, Isaac. Joseph shares these stories with Dinah, but soon the two drift apart as Dinah becomes consumed in the lives of the women’s circle and her days become filled with chores and stories. As time goes on, Jacob harbors a growing disgust for Laban, and he decides that he will move his family to Canaan, the land of his birth. After bitter negotiations, Laban allows Jacob to take all the possessions that are used by the four sisters, two of the bondsmen and their wives, and a portion of the flocks. Jacob and his family leave Haran and do not look back.
On the way to Canaan, Jacob is wracked by nightmares concerning his inevitable meeting with his twin brother, Esau. Surprisingly, when the two brothers meet and Jacob submits himself at the feet of his brother, Esau embraces him. The families of the two brothers join camp briefly, but the men decide to not tease past grievances and part ways. Jacob settles his family in a village named Succoth. Here, Dinah’s family prospers: her brothers take wives, the bondswomen birth many children, and the flocks multiply. Jacob’s camp is visited by a messenger requesting their presence at the home of Jacob’s mother, Rebecca. The family visits Rebecca, who interrogates each wife of Jacob and demands that Dinah be left behind for three months after the family departs. Dinah learns why her grandmother is considered an oracle, yet she fails to feel that she has learned much from Rebecca.
Jacob is once again seized by dreams of a new land, and he moves his family from Succoth to the valley of Shechem, where his sons Simon and Levi have bargained with the king Hamor for a parcel of land. Dinah’s mothers are comforted by the physical setting of their new home but they detest the ways of the Canaanite women, who show no regard for custom or tradition. When Dinah returns home, she is consumed by thoughts of her imminent womanhood, and she welcomes...
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