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The Red Tent
Dinah, the narrator, opens The Red Tent by
introducing herself and explaining that she is reciting the memories
of her life and her mothers’ lives—because without a daughter to
tell the story, a woman’s history does not live on. Dinah focuses
initially on the stories of her mothers, the four wives of Jacob—Leah,
Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah—and how they come to be married to the
same man. Jacob is threatened with death by his twin brother, Esau,
in their home of Canaan and goes to Haran to seek out his uncle
Laban and marry one of his daughters. He meets Rachel and immediately
loves her, for she is uncommonly beautiful. Leah, who is older,
begins to love him. On Rachel and Jacob’s wedding day, Zilpah convinces
Rachel (who is afraid of the wedding night) to let Leah wear the
bridal veil and marry Jacob. She does, and Leah and Jacob spend
a blissful honeymoon week together. Then Rachel realizes she has
been tricked and marries Jacob herself several months later. By
then, Leah is pregnant. Laban offers his two illegitimate daughters,
Zilpah and Bilhah, as part of his other daughters’ dowries to serve
as Jacob’s concubines. One by one, they all bear sons—Leah bears
six sons, and Zilpah and Bilhah bear two each—except Rachel, who
miscarries for years and eventually becomes a midwife. At last,
Leah bears the only daughter, Dinah. Shortly thereafter, Rachel
gives birth to two healthy sons, Benjamin and Joseph.
Dinah recounts her childhood growing up as the only girl
among eleven brothers. She spends most of her time at her mothers’
knees, following them as they cook and run the family’s camp. While Dinah
plays most often with Joseph, she is adored by her mothers and can
frequently be found in one of their tents having her hair braided.
Because of her special status as the only female child, she is allowed
to enter the red tent each month with her mothers as they begin
their menstrual cycles and celebrate the new moon. There Dinah learns
to sing the songs of women, eats their special foods, and hears
the stories of her grandmother and the goddesses of her people.
She is content to be wherever her mothers are.
After many years on Laban’s lands, Jacob decides to return
with his family to the land of his own people. They pack up their
entire camp, and Jacob bargains with Laban for the flocks and possessions he
sees as rightfully his, having been overseer of Laban’s flocks for many
years. Rachel steals Laban’s household gods (which are icons or
figurines), as they are hers by birthright (since she is the being youngest
daughter). They set off for Canaan, and Dinah is awestruck by the
excitement of travel: she sees slaves, jugglers, and strange animals.
When they finally meet her uncle Esau and his family, the reunion
is a happy one. Dinah meets her cousin Tabea, who is the first girl
friend she makes of her own age. Esau offers to share his lands
with Jacob, but he refuses, and the family moves on to find space
enough to support Jacob’s many sons. They make camp at last, and
some of his sons take wives.
Several years later, Jacob moves the family again, to
just outside the city of Shechem. Dinah gets her first period and
is received with ceremony inside the red tent by her mothers. She
begins traveling with Rachel as a midwife’s apprentice and one day
is called into Shechem to deliver the son of the king’s concubine.
There, she meets Shalem, the prince, and falls instantly in love.
The queen takes a liking to Dinah and requests her presence again
several weeks later, scheming to get her together with the prince.
They end up in bed together, and Shalem calls her his wife. The
king goes to Jacob to offer a handsome bride-price but is refused.
Jacob’s sons request that the entire city of Shechem be circumcised.
The king agrees, and circumcisions are performed on all the men
of Shechem. Several days later, two of Dinah’s brothers, Simon and
Levi, slaughter all of these men in their sleep and carry Dinah
back home. Dinah curses her father and brothers and leaves Jacob’s
camp for the last time. She then flees to Egypt with her mother-in-law,
In Egypt, Dinah gives birth to a son, Re-mose, who, against Dinah’s
will, is brought up as Re-nefer’s son. Dinah lives in the gardens
of Re-nefer’s brother’s home for many years, watching her son grow
up and leave for school. She becomes good friends with the midwife
Meryt and begins to practice midwifery again. One day at the market,
she meets Benia, a master carpenter, and feels an instant attraction
to him. Several months later, she and Meryt move to the Valley of
the Kings to live with Meryt’s son, and she is reunited with Benia.
They marry, and Dinah becomes a renowned midwife in the town. Years
later, she is called by a messenger (her son, Re-mose, who has become
a scribe) to deliver the son of his master, the vizier, who turns
out to be her brother Joseph. The brother and sister are reunited,
but when Re-mose learns the story of his father’s murder, he tries
to kill his uncle Joseph. Dinah convinces him to go away for his
own safety and never sees him again.
One day, Joseph calls on Dinah and asks her to accompany
him to bid their dying father farewell. She and Benia go, and she
learns that her father no longer remembers her. She does not see
him. She talks to one of her nieces and learns that the story of
her tragedy and her name is very much alive in the family history,
and she is satisfied. Then her brother Judah speaks to her and gives
her a token left to her by Leah: Rachel’s ring. She returns home,
having accepted her past and feeling satisfied with her present.
She spends the rest of her days happy in the company of Benia and
Meryt. She dreams of her mothers and finds peace in the dream. She