Polygamy: A Bad Idea

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Religious reform is again in the air as a group in Israel is calling for the reinstitution of polygamy. The correspondence of this public stance with a pro-polygamy lawsuit filed in the US (link) is timely and informing. This is about contemporary sexual mores, not restoring a non-existent biblical norm. Surprisingly, reports claim that single women are the main forces in this group (link). Their difficulty in finding suitable mates has propelled them to launch a campaign to religiously allow sharing husbands. Like with the “conversion crisis,” well-meaning people are responding to to a social problem by looking for a religious solution (link). In this case, the religious ban on polygamy is neither biblical nor rabbinic. However, it is centuries-old and preserves the dignity and rights of women.

Below is a republication of my June 2004 blog post explaining the authority of the ban of polygamy (link).

On a biblical level, a man is allowed to marry more than one woman. While it has never been a common Jewish practice, at least not in biblical or talmudic times nor in Ashkenazic countries, it was technically permitted. Tradition has it that around the year 1000 CE, Rabbenu Gershom (Me’or ha-Golah) promulgated a ban or a decree prohibiting, among other things, polygamy. Also included in that ban is a prohibition against divorcing a woman without her consent, reading someone else’s mail and a number of other acts.

However, I have seen and heard it claimed that the Cherem of Rabbenu Gershom was only intended to last for one thousand years. Since that time has past, the prohibitions no longer apply. This argument is incorrect for a number of reasons that we will discuss.

I. Time of the Cherem

If there was a single time in which the decree took place, and we will discuss whether that is historically true, we do not know when it was. Rabbenu Gershom passed away in either the year 1028 or 1040. The first record we have of a decree is from the year 1056. Therefore, there is no way to be certain that the thousand years has already passed. It could be that the decree was in the last year of Rabbenu Gershom’s life and the thousandth anniversary of the decree will be in either 2028 or 2040.

II. Incorrect Calculation

Regardless, the tradition that certainly inspired this claim is that of the Rashba, made famous by the Maharik, that Rabbenu Gershom’s decree only applied until the end of the millennium in which he was living, i.e. until the year 1240. If that is true, then there is nothing new in our situation. It is the same situation as that which faced the Maharam, the Rosh, the Rema, the Chasam Sofer, etc. We will soon see how they dealt with this issue.

III. Who Made the Cherem?

There is an historical question as to whether Rabbenu Gershom actually made a Cherem. It seems quite unusual that he would arrogate to himself the position of authority over not only Germany but also all of Northern France. And even if he did, it would be entirely out of character for the French rabbis to unquestioningly accept the authority of a German rabbi, no matter how great he may have been. There is also the point that we have very different reports of which prohibitions were included in the Cherem. Avraham Grossman, in his seminal work Chakhmei Ashkenaz Ha-Rishonim, throughly covers all of the scholarly theories on this issue until the time of his writing. As he describes it, theories range from the decrees actually preceding Rabbenu Gershom and he only giving his added approval, to his leading a gathering of united communities in agreeing to these decrees (possibly in stages), to some being from his time and others being of later origin, etc. Grossman gives substantial evidence that the decrees were from Rabbenu Gershom’s time or before (that he renewed) and that shortly afterwards even leading French rabbis were agreeing with the decrees. But none of this matters.

The real question is what gave Rabbenu Gershom the ability to bind everyone in his region beyond to his decrees. After all, he did not have a Sanhedrin with which to religiously bind others with his interpretations. The answer is given much later by the Rosh in one of his responsa (43:8):

There was a scholar in our land and his name was Rabbenu Gershom. He lived during the time of the Ge’onim and instituted good decrees in the matter of divorce. His decrees are established as if they were given from Sinai because [the people] accepted them upon themselves and transmitted them generation after generation.

The force of Rabbenu Gershom’s (or whomever’s) decrees is not the personality behind them but their acceptance by the community. Because all “Ashkenazim” accepted these decrees in surprising unison, that itself is the reason that they are binding.

Therefore, returning to our original question, the Rosh was writing after the year 1240 but still claimed that the decrees were binding because people accepted them! The same can be said for a number of scholars. Therefore, the decrees must still be in force. It could, however, be suggested that the decrees are no longer in force as decrees but only as custom.

This issue is discussed at length in the commentaries to the Tur, Even Ha-Ezer, 1. The Beis Yosef (in a responsum – Responsa Beis Yosef, dinei kesuvos no. 14) claims that the scholars who stated after 1240 that the decrees were still in effect were only doing so because they were unaware of the condition that they only lasted until the year 1240. Therefore, the Shulchan Arukh (Even Ha-Ezer 1:10) states that the decrees are no longer in effect. The Rema, however, states that the custom is to still adhere to the decrees. The Maharshal (Yam Shel Shlomo, Yevamos 6:41; Responsa Maharshal, no. 14), another contemporary of the Beis Yosef and the Rema, argues forcefully that the decrees are still in effect.

The acharonim wrote about this issue at length and all followed either the Rema or the Maharshal, as would be expected of Ashkenazic scholars, that the decrees are still in effect. See the Pischei Teshuvah, Even Ha-Ezer 1:19.

IV. Conclusion

In summary, the prohibitions that are traditionally subsumed under the category of Cherem of Rabbenu Gershom are still in effect. There is no time limit to the prohibitions, regardless of whether Rabbenu Gershom inserted one while issuing the decrees (or even made any actual decrees in the traditional sense).

Bibliography:

Avraham Grossman, Chakhmei Ashkenaz Ha-Rishonim (Jerusalem: 1981 ,2001), pp. 132-149

Encyclopedia Talmudis, vol. 17 cols. 384-386

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

114 comments

  1. “This is about contemporary sexual mores”

    Perhaps you meant to say something else, but if you mean the words in their common meaning — sexually permissive — this is patently false. [I have no interest in debating the point, so this is a one-shot comment].

  2. It’s not about permissive or impermissive but different standards. See the link above about the one man-one woman standard.

  3. You fail to explain how this affects the non-ashkenazi majority of Israeli society.

  4. And, FTR, here is the signature gratutious barb:

    “Like with the “conversion crisis,” well-meaning people are responding to to a social problem by looking for a religious solution”

  5. And here comes IH with his signature uncharitable misreading and knee-jerk defense of any proposal for religious change.

  6. “Surprisingly, reports claim that single women are the main forces in this group (link). Their difficulty in finding suitable mates has propelled them to launch a campaign to religiously allow sharing husbands”

    Don’t they realize that the Torah calls co-wives a “Tzarah” for a reason? (Litzror Aleha be Chayeha)

  7. The post does not really contain an argument (other than naked, brief assertions) to support the titular assertion that polygamy is “a bad idea.” Just that it is assur. Which makes it a bad idea in its own way, but not in the way you seem to mean at the beginning.

    Tal, I would be highly skeptical of reports that the impetus is from women unless/until those reports are actually directly quoting lots of women (and ideally not women who are already “followers” of the propounding rabbi/s). I mean, maybe some women just want to be married (and esp have kids) at any cost. But if the rabbis stayed out of it would they prefer polygamy or single motherhood?

  8. “Hirhurim on July 12, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    And here comes IH with his signature uncharitable misreading and knee-jerk defense of any proposal for religious change.”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    Anyway, this whole episode is a perfect example of why we are not nearly ready to have a Sanhedrin, or to unfreeze Torah SheBe’al Peh from Mishnaic stasis.

  9. Minhag Ashkenaz

    Cherem R. Gershom technically expired at the end of the millenium (the year 5000), not after 1000 years (not that I am advocating changing it).

  10. Israel Fathers Rights Advocacy Council

    Polygamy? Our caseload is overflowing with monogamy. Can’t even conceive of the caseload under polygamy.

  11. Rather then raise arguments against polygamy, the introduction merely reflects your own distaste to that family structure. You used harsher terminology then for the reformers attacking the right to eat many kinds of fish, which has a far greater likelihood of actually succeeding in the near term and is thereby more dangerous. You speculate as to the motivation of people you have not met. You provide a simplified view of the preservation of dignity which, even if correct for most, comes at the expense of some living and dying alone. Perhaps that is not an issue of dignity, though some would say it is. More would say that solitude is an undesirable fate in its own right.

    The issue must be whether the close family structure that is celebrated by the Orthodox community (even if not all families achieve it) is jeopardized by the return of polygamy. These other arguments on their own are simply not strong.

  12. re: expiration, my understanding is that it is historically highly unclear that the original cherem had any expiration date. All sources for the 100 years are, I believe, much later. (If you know otherwise say so…)

  13. Because all “Ashkenazim” accepted these decrees in surprising unison, that itself is the reason that they are binding.

    How do you know Ashkenazym accepted it? Maybe they had already stopped practicing polygamy and the matter was moot anyway.

  14. I would like to see an article from R’ Ankin on the Halachot of Polygamy discuussing such issues as which wife gets to lead the mezumenet etc.

  15. “How do you know Ashkenazym accepted it? Maybe they had already stopped practicing polygamy and the matter was moot anyway.”

    Note the continuous use of “decrees,” in plural. Takkanot Rabbeinu Gershom consist of not one but four separate takkanot. While it’s conceivable that polygamy wasn’t being practiced in this community, there’s certainly no evidence that the terms of the second takkana (that in order to effect a divorce the woman must accept the Get) was kept beforehand.

  16. I would like to add that deoreita and according to some Sephardi poskim up to the last generation if a wife is infertile for 10 years the husband must divorce her and remarry OR TAKE A SECOND WIFE ! in order to perform the deoreita mitvah of pru urevu.
    Maaseh she haya kach haya-Here in Rechovot we absorbed a belated Aliya of olim from Yemen about ten years ago.Among the olim were several polygamous families. Even though according to dina demalchuta this is forbidden, they were not forced to divorce their “extra” wives. From what I hear there have been no divorces in these families vechayyim b’osher ad hayom hazeh.
    bottom line-polygamy is nisht gefairlich

  17. The acharonim wrote about this issue at length and all followed either the Rema or the Maharshal, as would be expected of Ashkenazic scholars

    The acharonim were all Ashkenazic? Which do you really mean:
    (a) All of the acharonim who wrote about the issue were Ashkenazim
    (b) Of the acharonim who wrote about the issue, all the Ashkenazim followed either the Rema or the Maharshal

  18. There’s a long and serious discussion for Israel about what the custom of the land should be. Clearly, prior to the zionist infusion and the modern state, Israel followed sephardi customs and poskim. And Rav Ovadiah Yosef, shlita, argues strongly that according to every standard of yiddishkeit, that should continue to be the case today.

    The reality is that each community follows it’s own customs. Does this mean it should be permitted for the sephardim in town, but not the ashkenazim?

    If we have women who can’t marry and have families because there’s not enough men, then this option for that portion of our society is clearly permitted midorisa and should be considered. BUT if we have people not getting married because of ridiculous expectations, a broken shidduch system, etc, then polygamy is a ridiculous place to go when other solutions are available.

    In the U.S., the barriers are now broken. You can’t legally justify throwing away “some” morality laws without throwing away all of them.

  19. The arguments claiming that Rabbenu Gershom’s decree still applies seem weak. It seems to me that most women nowadays would not be willing to countenance being a second wife, but for those who would be so willing-why oppose it on halachic grounds which do not seem to exist?

  20. Good example of using an historical conciousness and sociological analysis to guide us towards normative halacha. Of course, if someone to your left did the same thing about a topic you care about, the response post would be quite different.

  21. Israel Fathers Rights Advocacy Council

    so what are the Mormon statistics on breakup of marriages and family structures? My impression is they have even better rates than traditional Judaism, and are at least below half the national rate of divorce.
    That may not suggest polygamy assisted, but it would seem to indicate that it does not deter, from a stable core family environment.
    I had a neighbor in Beer Sheva with two wives, from Yemen, the only person I ever knew who actually had two wives. Completely normal guy at minyan, pillar of the community, people forgot there was anything different in the arrangements.
    But no western woman, and I mean NO western woman, would invite or accept and invitation from, for seudot. Absolutely no one. It was a real electric third rail to socialize for the wives.

  22. Once the Askenazim came to Israel and joined up with other groups there is no cogent reason why they need consider this minhag against marrying more than one wife binding. If it is culturally unacceptable in many circles-fine-but that is a separate question.

  23. “While it has never been a common Jewish practice, at least not in biblical or talmudic times nor in Ashkenazic countries, it was technically permitted. ”

    how do we know this historically? the number of families that more than one wife?

  24. “In the U.S., the barriers are now broken. You can’t legally justify throwing away “some” morality laws without throwing away all of them.”

    This 2004 article in The Catholic Lawyer, “Constitutionality of Polygamy Prohibitions”, directly discusses the above: http://www.stjohns.edu/media/3/2a8ac3d3da074712810c0f96de61a1d1.pdf

    It concludes: “Moral reasons, unaccompanied by external justifications, are no longer sufficient to maintain a state’s right to criminalize certain behavior. Nonetheless, legitimate external justifications exist to support polygamy statutes such that the status quo will likely remain.”

  25. Which leaves open a curious situation. The Catholic and Jewish Orthodox Establishments formally aligned to combat same-sex marriages as “immoral”.

    In the unlikely event this did become a political battle in the US (a la single-sex marriage), what would the Orthodox Establishment do?

  26. On a biblical level, a man is allowed to marry more than one woman. While it has never been a common Jewish practice, at least not in biblical or talmudic times nor in Ashkenazic countries, it was technically permitted. Tradition has it that around the year 1000 CE, Rabbenu Gershom (Me’or ha-Golah) promulgated a ban or a decree prohibiting, among other things, polygamy.
    =============================================
    So given it was always technically permitted but not practiced, what changed in the time of Rabbeinu Gershom that he felt a need for a takana (edict to improve?) ?
    KT

  27. R’ Joel — I feel a circle is closing. In one of my early posts on Hirhurim –- that, I recall, led to Gil calling me Conservative -– I posited that Rabbeinu Gershom, following in the footstep of Hillel, understood that social realities sometimes are so great they demand changes in Halacha, even despite overturning a tradition mi’de’oraita (through re-interpretation). The two examples I used were Hillel’s Prozbol and Rabbeinu Gershom’s takanot.

  28. R’IH,
    but if R’ Gil’s assertion is correct, then it would seem that the nature of the takana was more PR as polygamy wasn’t happening anyway (i.e. why the sudden need to legislate against a practice that was [nearly] nonexistent?)
    KT

  29. Shimon S: I’m not certain that non-Ashkenazim are a majority but that is neither here nor there. They have to follow their poskim and secular Israeli law.

    emma: It is a bad idea for both reasons, although this post focuses on halakhic. Re expiration date of the cherem, someone might have discussed that in a blog post somewhere. Worth looking into.

    Minhag Ashkenaz: That is incorrect. Please read the post before commenting.

    HAGTBG: I use harsher language because I believe that protecting women’s rights is more important than protecting the rights of those who eat sardines.

    Mark: I know Ashkenazim accepted the cherem because the poskim constantly refer to it as normative.

    David Tzohar: The issue of the *mitzvah* of polygamy was hotly debated between, I believe, R. Yitzchak Herzog and R. Ovadiah Yosef. The former was the force behind the Israeli Rabbinate’s universal ban on polygamy and a young R. Ovadiah strongly opposed the ban in the case of yibum.

    Chardal: In this case, the poskim have unanimously spoken on this issue so history and sociology are just icing on top.

    Moshe: No, the Ashkenazim must follow their own customs. Your argument that Israeli immigrants become Ashkenazic has been consistently rejected over the past 250 years by poskim. See this post: https://www.torahmusings.com/2007/03/kitniyos/

    Ruvie: Yes, we find almost no mention anywhere of actual cases of polygamy.

    Joel Rich: Historians have speculated which is great fun but never conclusive. I believe Prof. Avraham Grossman attributes the ban on polygamy to a combination of economics and adhering to Christian standards.

    IH: R. Gershom did not reinterpret nor overturn anything.

  30. IH: In the unlikely event this did become a political battle in the US (a la single-sex marriage), what would the Orthodox Establishment do?

    Oppose it on our own terms, like we do for many other issues.

  31. R’ Joel — I feel a circle is closing. In one of my early posts on Hirhurim –- that, I recall, led to Gil calling me Conservative -– I posited that Rabbeinu Gershom, following in the footstep of Hillel, understood that social realities sometimes are so great they demand changes in Halacha, even despite overturning a tradition mi’de’oraita (through re-interpretation). The two examples I used were Hillel’s Prozbol and Rabbeinu Gershom’s takanot.

    I would not have been as polite as Gil. Your two examples just illustrate how a shallow understanding of the gemara can lead one astray.

    (Just a hint. Hefker bais din hefker, upon which prozbol is based, is itself a din deoraysa. The Torah itself authorizes the rabbanan to change the halakha in monetary matters where there is a need.

    Furthermore, the gemara does not say Hillel adapted halakaha to “social realities”, it says that he saw that people were violating another Torah law: not to refrain from loaning in anticipation of shemittah. The Torah calls that particular aveirah exceptionally wicked — “bli’al” — which is only used twice in the Chumash, once for this aveirah, and once for avodah zarah. The reality was that due to a fall in yiras shomayim, two Torah laws came into conflict. Hillel and his beis din clearly felt that avoiding one was preferable over the other.)

  32. Tal — the texts can be interpreted in other ways, as other Orthodox Rabbis do. For the most recent such view, see: R. Telushkin’s 2010 “Hillel: If Not Now, When?”

  33. As an aside, someone once told me that it was (maybe still is) a common practice among Sephardim to write in the ketubah that the husband agrees not to take a second wife without the first wife’s permission. That would put quite a kink in the possibility of polygamy.

  34. So, Tal, if not for adapting halacha to social realities, what is your explanation for Rabbeinu Gershom’s two major takanot related to women: the prohibition of polygamy and the prohibition of divorcing a woman against her will?

    As R’ Joel asks: what changed in the time of Rabbeinu Gershom that he felt a need for a takana (edict to improve?)

  35. “Tal — the texts can be interpreted in other ways”

    Reminds me of a humorous speech I heard my freshman year in Princeton. The speaker was discussing how one has to learn to read things creatively. He noted that a sign had been placed in a water fountain that had recently been built on campus: DANGER NO SWIMMING. Now one might read that as a warning not to swim in the fountain. He, the speaker, said, no there are other ways to read it. He would read it, “Danger? No. Swimming!” and jump right in on a hot day.

  36. R. Telushkin’s interpretations = Graetz’s. See RSRH’s responses in his Collected Writings.

    R. Gershom did NOT adapt halakhah. He could have done that and reinterpreted texts to prohibit polygamy. Instead, he took principled course of leaving halakhah as it stands and adopting a takanah on top of it.

  37. the reactions to this post are so strange. To borrow R Kaganoff’s language for a minute, many people who ordinarilly oppose changes (and polygammy would be a change from the last many centuries), esp changes wrt women and gender, based on past practice, all of a sudden have lots of techinical arguments about why it’s not really that big a change, why the near-universal ashkenazic practice of monogamy is not really technically binding, etc.

    I will leave out for now my speculation as to why some proposed changes generate conservative reactions and some do not.

  38. “Rabbenu Gershom did not overturn anything”
    I would beg to disagree. Forbidding something that the Tora specifically allows is as revolutionary as can be. It is on a par with forbidding Yibbum. As to RJoel’s question there are four reasons given in Halacha for cherem RG(EHE 1:9-10 pitchei tshuva and other acharonim)but none of them have anything to do with the social situation of that particular era;unless for instance we say that wives fought among themselves then more than in other historical eras. It is obvious however that Ashkenazim living among Christians for whom polygamy is a sin would be affected. It seems to me that this could be considered sort of “chukot ha-goyim.
    Also remember that ChRG according to REMA does not apply in cases where the first wife is unable or unwilling to receive a get.

  39. emma:
    The non-charitable explanation is of course that they want women to be second-class citizens.
    The charitable explanation is of course that the people pushing most changes tend to also want to make other changes which are clearly unacceptable, casting suspicion on their motives. In this case, it is hard to find a source for such suspicion.

    In any case it is not so clear that the same people who oppose gender-related changes are supporting this change.

  40. R’DT,
    your “it’s obvious” is my suspicion (i.e. it fits the data points and I haven’t heard a better explanation over the years to my (what seems to me to be a very simple and obvious) question above.)
    KT
    Joel

  41. Shachar Ha'amim

    “Even though according to dina demalchuta this is forbidden, they were not forced to divorce their “extra” wives. From what I hear there have been no divorces in these families vechayyim b’osher ad hayom hazeh.”

    dina demalchuta in Israel allows ploygamists who legally married abroad before immigrating to Israel to keep their wives. An israeli can’t travel abroad to take a second wife, but he can keep the ones he had from before becoming Israeli.

    “David Tzohar: The issue of the *mitzvah* of polygamy was hotly debated between, I believe, R. Yitzchak Herzog and R. Ovadiah Yosef. The former was the force behind the Israeli Rabbinate’s universal ban on polygamy and a young R. Ovadiah strongly opposed the ban in the case of yibum.”

    The debate wasn’t an issue of the “mitzvah” of polygamy. ROY was against the takana that ruled that Yibum is not preferred and that a Yavam should do chalitza – which is the Ashkenazi view. He greatly contested Rav Uziel’s acceptance of this and held that sefardim should do Yibum lechatchilla – in all instances of Yavam

  42. Tal – Last night I was reading R. Freundel’s explanation of why we say חברים כל ישראל in Birkat ha’Chodesh (Chapter 3 of “Why we Pray What we Pray”), in which he reviews the long history of sectarian and internecine splits that occurred from people insisting there way of reading a text is the only correct one. With your Princeton education in hand, no doubt yours is the only correct one of Prozbol.

    David Tzohar — what is the reasoning given for the other major takana related to women? Also, I would consider “Ashkenazim living among Christians for whom polygamy is a sin would be affected” to be adapting to social reality.

  43. Since I didn’t attend Princeton, I typo’ed “there” for “their”.

  44. “so what are the Mormon statistics on breakup of marriages and family structures? My impression is they have even better rates than traditional Judaism, and are at least below half the national rate of divorce.
    That may not suggest polygamy assisted, but it would seem to indicate that it does not deter, from a stable core family environment.”

    Incorrect. The mainstream Mormon church, or LDS, banned polygamy a long time ago. Only the breakaway FLDS still practices it. Read up on it and see why their divorce rates are so low – their model is similar to that of the Muslim world, with women having second class status. Even the Biblical Jewish model of polygamy works similarly, although the Torah does do a fine job of protecting a woman’s rights within the framework.

    Indeed, whenever anyone tries to point out that polygamy can work, they point to a society in which women are ALWAYS subservient to men.

  45. Sounds to me like these are the proverbial Lawyers advocating this nonsense, while the Mesorah would reject it. The Mesorah being how halachah and normative practice has developed as opposed to leap frogging back in history.

  46. The Catholic Lawyer article from 2004 I cited above has further information for those interested in the Mormon issue.

    It also contains this interesting footnoted aside:

    “One academic anthropologic study of Arab-Israeli adolescents born of polygamous marriages documented significant mental health problems associated with polygamous families.223 Granted, Muslim polygamy does not wholly equate with Mormon polygamy, but the results of the study remain disturbing.224 It was documented that “husbands often favor the junior wife and accord her and her children greater levels of economic and social support.”225 This situation, perhaps the epitome of a dysfunctional family, was shown to significantly affect the self-esteem and mental well being of the children.226 These children demonstrated greater levels of depression than children from monogamous families.227 Significant familial tension arose from the inter-family dynamic, and, notably, these children displayed lower levels of academic success.228”

  47. Come to think of it, they seem to have rediscovered some Bible stories.

  48. David Tzohar, where do you derive your understanding that it is a torah requirement to divorce an infertile wife after 10 years of marriage? Avraham, on Sarah’s urging, took her maid, Hagar, to wife after 10 years of their living in Canaan (Gen. 16:3). Yitzchok, on the other hand, was married to Rivkah for 20 years in Canaan before she gave birth (Gen. 25:20,26). At best, you have an example of taking a 2nd wife, with the permission of the 1st, after 10 years of marriage in Israel. You need to provide support for your more general assertion, particularly in view of the fact that some major religious figures of the recent and older past did not divorce their infertile wives.

    I would argue more generally that the torah ideal is monogamy. “Therefore shall man leave his father and mother and bond to his wife so that they shall become as one body” (Gen. 2:24). The torah merely permits polygamy in a patriarchal society. It is never pictured as an ideal.

  49. not polygamy, but polygyny

  50. R’YA,
    Then why was the progenitor of the shivtei kah not mono?
    KT

  51. Gil,

    A few corrections:

    Your essay above is only relevant to the Ashkenazic community, as the Cherem certainly, by all counts, did not apply outside of the Ashkenazic communities. This point you failed to point out, and is a major factor that should have been acknowledged.

    Rabbeinu Gershom himself had more than one wife. That would belie the notion a similar prohibition predated him.

    The Shulchan Aruch itself indicates the Cherem expired at the end of the millennium. The Vilna Gaon (GRA) favored reinstating polygamy. Rav Avigdor Miller indicated he was open to the idea. And Rav Ovadia Yosef too supports contemporary polygamy.

  52. “because [the people] accepted them upon themselves and transmitted them generation after generation.”

    Indeed. Without a Sanhedrin, you cannot really pass a taqana or a gezera. All you can do is excommunicate, i.e. expel from the kehilla, i.e. put into herem. It is akin to a synagogue congregation announcing that it will revoke membership from anyone doing such-and-such. That’s really all the power that Rabbenu Gershom had.

    (Actually, the Sanhedrin’s power is quite limited as well. There too, taqanot and gezerot are limited by the acceptance of the people. Also, minhag ha-maqom is a factor: Rabbi Yossi ha-Galili’s community rejected the prohibition of chicken and milk.)

    So to permit polygamy today, all one has to do is join a kehilla that accepts polygamy. Okay, so one will be excommunicated from the kehillot that reject polygamy. But that is not a problem if one does not even belong to those kehillot in the first place. Being expelled from a synagogue congregation that you do not even belong to in the first place is a pretty pathetic sanction.

  53. Joseph: You are correct that Sephardim must follow their poskim.

    Rabbeinu Gershom did NOT have more than one wife. What is your source for that outrageous claim?

    You are incorrect about the Vilna Gaon and your point about the Shulchan Aruch should be amended with the Rema’s view. What is your source for your claim about R. Ovadiah Yosef’s position?

    Michael: Now you are debating halakhah with the Rosh?

  54. “I believe Prof. Avraham Grossman attributes the ban on polygamy to a combination of economics and adhering to Christian standards.”

    Avraham Grossman, in his book on Jewish women in medieval europe, attributes the ban to cases of men traveling from Ashkenazic countries to Sefardic ones, and the reverse, for business, and argues that there were parallel takanos in sefard, as men were establishing families in two separate places and abandoning one of them. He says at the same time in sefard, there were takanos requiring men from abroad to swear in court before marrying that they had no families elsewhere, I think also to promise not to travel w/o permission of the wife and perhaps some other such details (I am forgetting some of the details). Anyway, his argument, which I remember finding quite persuasive, is that travel abroad for long periods of time is what led to the ban on polygamy in Ashkenaz. In ashkenaz itself, there wasn’t polygamy or need to ban it to be in line w/ Xian mores, but men traveling abroad began taking on second wives and families in an entirely different location, w/ bad results for the first family, and in both locations there were official attempts to deal with it. It was natural to simply ban polygamy in ashkenaz, as within ashkenaz it was not done, and so a simple ban on polygamy prevented men from marrying a second time while abroad. Whereas w/in Sefard, polygamy was not completely non-existant, and the problem was simply those who had two wives in separate locations, so the takanos in Sefard were different.

  55. MiMedinat HaYam

    i’m not advocating two wives, but …

    “So given it was always technically permitted but not practiced, what changed in the time of Rabbeinu Gershom that he felt a need for a takana (edict to improve?) ?
    KT”

    i also heard that rabbbenu gershom had two wives.

    there is very little primary historic material on rabbenu gershom, and even less on the actual cherem.

    2. the chatam sofer disscusses the relevance of was it one or two takanot; i.e., can one force a wife to accept a get against her will (ashkenazi practice) and remarry, or is it two separate takanot, and can one remarry without forcing the ex to accept. there is halachic relevance i wont get into.

    3. there are plenty of documented cases of two wives in the gemara.

    as for swearing upon taking a second wife — see yoma 18 and ketubot 37 (and associated rishonim), where its not done.

    4. i had a business associate who’se stern educated daughter married the grandson of an afghani woth two wives. he solved the
    socializing problem by keeping one in israel, and one in america. (note — american immigration law forbids tourist visas etc to polygamists and homosexuals. if they dont keep the latter, i assume they dont keep the former.)

    5. ROY issue was an iraqi who insisted on yibum; its a matter of honor for them (as well as for taimanim), and all sides agreed. (rav benni lau discusses it)

    6. the syrian ktuba adds the clause that the husband will not take a second wife without her permission. its irrelevant, cause each of the ktuba clauses can be waived by the wife, anyway. (including sh’er, ksus, and onah. supposedly the big ones.)

    7. there are plenty of (not so) young women in my shul who would make very good mothers, but frankly are not marriage material (and they know it). are you forcing them to marry someone below them (which some did; didnt work out), or live a consensual arrangement of separate lives (which they prob want anyway; as i said, they are not marriage material), or be bitter and childless?

    8. california had an overly strict child support law. a few years, it was changed, under political pressure of second wives. and you are denying such wives their marriage rights?

    9. what are the other four parts of the cherem? 1. two wives 2. ex wife’s consent to divorce 3. reading some else’s mail 4. ????

  56. In “Marriage, divorce, and the abandoned wife in Jewish law” (Ktav, 2001) R. Broyde links the two takanot related to women and provides the most cogent explanation yet aired here (p. 21):

    “More significantly, through the efforts of a sage, Rabbenu Gershom, a decree was enacted which significantly changed the whole model of marriage. The view of Rabbenu Gershom was that in order to equalize the rights of the husband and wife to divorce, it was necessary to restrict the rights of the husband and prohibit unilateral no-fault divorce by either husband or wife. Divorce was limited to cases of provable fault or mutual consent. In addition, fault was vastly redefined to exclude cases of soft fault such as repugnancy, and in only a few cases of serious fault could the husband be actually forced to divorce his wife or the reverse.

    Equally significant, this decree prohibited polygamy, thus placing considerable pressure on the man in a marriage that was ending to actually divorce his wife, since not only would she not be allowed to remarry, but neither would he. (Absent the prohibition on polygamy, the decree restricting the right co divorce would not work, as the husband who could not divorce would simply remarry and abandon his first wife.) According to this approach Jewish law permitted divorce only through mutual consent or very significant fault.”

  57. R. Broyde repeats the main point (“absent the prohibition on polygamy…”) in “Marriage, sex, and family in Judaism” (p. 110).

  58. Anon- you are partially correct. It’s one of the reasons according to prof. Grossman. You need to turn the page to page 71 and read zee’ev falk whom he qoutes. Gil is also correct in that it’s partially due to the surrounding Christian society.

    Also, it seems that even after rabbeinu gershon in ashkanaz the practice of yibum ( in this case a second wife in worms and Mainz) – according to one of the students of rashi (r. Yosef Kara- late 11th century)

  59. “4. i had a business associate who’se stern educated daughter married the grandson of an afghani woth two wives. he solved the
    socializing problem by keeping one in israel, and one in america. (note — american immigration law forbids tourist visas etc to polygamists and homosexuals. if they dont keep the latter, i assume they dont keep the former.)”

    Sounds like Stern did a lousy job.

    “7. there are plenty of (not so) young women in my shul who would make very good mothers, but frankly are not marriage material (and they know it). are you forcing them to marry someone below them (which some did; didnt work out), or live a consensual arrangement of separate lives (which they prob want anyway; as i said, they are not marriage material), or be bitter and childless?”

    If they’re not good marriage material then what exactly is marrying someone “below them?” Also, there are potential options for having children without a spouse (and without intercourse).

    “8. california had an overly strict child support law. a few years, it was changed, under political pressure of second wives. and you are denying such wives their marriage rights?”

    In this case, doesn’t “second wife” mean “the wife a man marries after his previous marriage has ended?”

    “9. what are the other four parts of the cherem? 1. two wives 2. ex wife’s consent to divorce 3. reading some else’s mail 4. ????”

    Jews forcibly converted to another religion (I don’t believe Christianity is specified here, though it’s the obvious social context) must be accepted back.

  60. HAGTBG: I use harsher language because I believe that protecting women’s rights is more important than protecting the rights of those who eat sardines.

    Yes Gil we know you are a feminist. What is this discussion of rights within halacha?

    To the degree something is permitted we can say that someone has the “right” to do it. So if polygamy is permitted, then a man has the right to more then one month. Deprive him of that and he is deprived of his right.

    What you are talking about is not a right (since you are arguing polygamy should be prohibited precisely due to this factor) but leverage and about equality. I am not sure it is a right but a more general sense of justice. A first wife in particular can really be messed over. Men can continue to date even after marriage. Divorce negotiations would totally swerve in a man’s favor since he could remarry without the get and without the heter. Rabbinic courts would lose that much more hold over men in such divorces; men would have no need of them to remarry halachically.

    It will totally change the power dynamics of marriage. It will totally change most marriages.

    But if you want to talk about it as a right, where is it when we talk of equality for woman in acknowledging scholarship. If you want to talk about equality as a “right”, then that has not been the discussion you’ve been having for the past few years.

    I’ll not claim a woman getting messed over by polygamy is a lesser concern then whether we can eat sardines and salmon. But don’t pretend its a little issue there either.

  61. right to more then one month should be right to more then one wife

  62. not than anonymous

    Hirhurim on July 13, 2011 at 4:24 pm
    “Rabbeinu Gershom did NOT have more than one wife. What is your source for that outrageous claim.”

    Why, Marcus Lehmen, of course (“Meor HaGolah”)! Any eight year old can tell you that 🙂

  63. “(Absent the prohibition on polygamy, the decree restricting the right co divorce would not work, as the husband who could not divorce would simply remarry and abandon his first wife.)”

    husband abandoning wife is surely significant fault for which divorce could be forced w/in a unified community (such as we don’t have today, but did exist in medieval ashkenaz). this is why it makes sense that the true problem was those traveling abroad and abandoning families

  64. I guess the word “rights” was the wrong choice.

  65. For those interested, the Avraham Grossman text discussed is available at: http://tinyurl.com/69gu336 (English translation).

  66. And the R. Broyde text is available at: http://tinyurl.com/6g688vu

  67. MiMedinat HaYam: “there are plenty of (not so) young women in my shul who would make very good mothers, but frankly are not marriage material (and they know it)”

    can you explain what you mean? i am perplexed.

  68. anon – prof. grossman favors your argument (on my second look at the source – my bad) but doesn’t deny the influences stated by falk of christian spain. the question what was the driving force in a takanah and why did he proclaim it – hence there seems to be more documentation recently on the problem of travelling husbands.

    i recommend everyone to read the pious and rebellious by avraham grossman – fascinating work. see ih’s link above.

  69. joel rich, Ya’akov intended to marry only Rachel. He was tricked into first marrying Leah and then the 2 sisters insisted that he marry their maids when they found that they either appeared to be infertile or that their fertility had seemingly ceased. In other words, it was an adaptation to reality as they perceived it – not an ideal arrangement. The non-ideality is most easily seen in the competition for Ya’akov’s love by 2 sisters, and over sleeping arrangements. All of this is well known to you, I’m sure. I am puzzled, therefore at the question. I, for one, am not swayed by some presumption that the marital life that produced the 12 tribes must, necessarily, have been ideal. Perhaps destined, but hardly ideal.

  70. “Anon- you are partially correct. It’s one of the reasons according to prof. Grossman. You need to turn the page to page 71 and read zee’ev falk whom he qoutes. Gil is also correct in that it’s partially due to the surrounding Christian society.”

    i see it on page 74, where he says that Xian influence is relevant “at least in terms of establishing suitable ground” for the cherem, i.e. in a society where jewish men are monogamous, and surrounding Xians also are, and the xians in addition have outlawed polygamy, the jews are that much more receptive to an outright ban. in sefard, polygamy hadn’t evaporated among jews to the extent it did in ashkenaz, and surrounding arabs also were polygamous, and therefore a ban on polygamy wasn’t the way they dealt with the problem of men traveling abroad. this is pretty much what I said originally and so qualification of the point is not necessary. the main point is that it’s not a chukas hagoyim issue (the original discussion here on the blog was about chukas hagoyim). xian vs arab society was relevant in establishing suitable grounds for one type of edict or another. This is not a matter of rabbis enacting legislation to mimic xian legislation, but rather of people in xian society having different assumptions than in sefard, which paved the way naturally for a formal ban on polygamy when there was a need (as opposed to having used a different mechanism or ban to achieve similar results).

    BTW rereading, i see that the rambam’s takana in egypt required a foreign husband to divorce his wife before traveling abroad, even if the wife gave him permission to travel.

  71. Your conclusion does NOT logically or halachically follow from your arguments. BTW, anyone making aliya from a country where polygamy is allowed, may continue to be a polygamist in Israel. If past is prolog, they are entitled to a separate apartment for each wife. My friends’ dad, a”h, in Tirat Hacarmel had two adjoining apartments. While I am not an advocate of polygamy, I can foresee instances in which it would be advantageous to all parties.

    Ne’um Avraham YM ben YM HaKohen,
    Pnyd”m (Po New York D’ (nahar ha-)Mizrach

  72. i wrote the above comment before seeing ruvie on July 13, 2011 at 10:48 pm
    ….all good.
    i agree = a fascinating work. thank you for prompting me to reread this section.

  73. anon – in haste i wrote the wrong page number – its as you said page 74. whats up with “xians”…took me a few secs to figure out what you were talking about.

  74. Anon – it turns out that Grossman makes the same point as R. Broyde, just adding the historical context of international commerce explaining the social realities that made the takana necessary at that time (p.77):

    “Evidently the other decree of Rabbenu Gershom, that which prohibits divorcing a woman against her will, is also connected with the above-mentioned reality. In practice, a husband who finds himself away on trade could bypass the edict against bigamy, which threatened him with ostracism by the entire community upon his return, by sending a divorce to his first wife. Perhaps this phenomenon was more common when the couple did not yet have any children. In practice, in light of the first edict and the strong position of the woman, it was only natural to complement it by a second edict not allowing a man to divorce his wife without her consent. It is clear that in this case too the edict cannot be dissociated from the socio-economic reality mentioned, which led to a general improvement in the status of the woman in German Jewish society.”

    and here again is R. Broyde (citation as above):

    “More significantly, through the efforts of a sage, Rabbenu Gershom, a decree was enacted which significantly changed the whole model of marriage. The view of Rabbenu Gershom was that in order to equalize the rights of the husband and wife to divorce, it was necessary to restrict the rights of the husband and prohibit unilateral no-fault divorce by either husband or wife. Divorce was limited to cases of provable fault or mutual consent. In addition, fault was vastly redefined to exclude cases of soft fault such as repugnancy, and in only a few cases of serious fault could the husband be actually forced to divorce his wife or the reverse.

    Equally significant, this decree prohibited polygamy, thus placing considerable pressure on the man in a marriage that was ending to actually divorce his wife, since not only would she not be allowed to remarry, but neither would he. (Absent the prohibition on polygamy, the decree restricting the right to divorce would not work, as the husband who could not divorce would simply remarry and abandon his first wife.) According to this approach Jewish law permitted divorce only through mutual consent or very significant fault.”

    Thank to both you and Ruvie for the Grossman reference. Highly edifying.

  75. For the attribution of the takanot, See Grossman p. 72 (the whole page); and for the question of their duration see p.77 (bottom, contiuing into 78).

  76. IH: people insisting there way of reading a text is the only correct one.

    After someone points out an error in your argument, “My way is just a different way of reading the text” is a pretty weak response.

    joel: Then why was the progenitor of the shivtei kah not mono?

    He intended to marry just one wife – Rachel. The others were urged or forced upon him. Adam, Noach, Yitzchak, Yosef, Moshe, Aharon were all apparently monogamous. David and Shlomo were famously polygamous, but in each case it was their fatal flaw (Batsheva, idolatry). All in all, not an encouraging set of precedents for polygamy.

  77. Shachar Ha'amim

    “7. there are plenty of (not so) young women in my shul who would make very good mothers, but frankly are not marriage material (and they know it). are you forcing them to marry someone below them (which some did; didnt work out), or live a consensual arrangement of separate lives (which they prob want anyway; as i said, they are not marriage material), or be bitter and childless?”

    let’s be honest – polygamy today is NOT about having children. as was pointed out by another commentor, there are ways to do that (easily) without a man. it’s also not about sex – there are ways to do that without marriage. it’s also not about economics – there are ways to provide/obtain support without marriage/children/sex coming into the equation.
    I think it’s about having “structure” to life – having the above in a structured format.
    watch the HBO series “Big Love” and then come back to this discussion.
    BTW, it’s very easy to watch that series and transpose nearly every character for some “typical” Orthodox Jew you know. While I watched it I mentally re-wrote the entire script and plot to set it with Orthodox Jews in tri-state NYC area or in Israel. gives one a nice – and sometimes amusing – perspective on Life.

  78. r’ya*r’shlomo,
    of course, yet hkb”h allowed it to happen and be recorded-my point being (as with yaakov and avraham to a lessre extent) that there’s a big difference between prohibiting,ideal and real world exigincies.
    kt

  79. I guess the word “rights” was the wrong choice.

    So what is it then?

  80. There was another takanah about women that has not mentioned. Takanat moredet. Introduced in 651 ce (bavel), it allowed a woman to initiate divorce and even force it upon her husband – against his will- without forfeiting her Ketubah money. It was in effect for over 500 years. Rabbeinu gershon approved of this old takanah. If you add his takanah of prohibiting women from being divorce against her will you have a powerful combo where women had the upper hand- better than equal rights- in deciding the future of the family unit.

    Why does one takanah fall off the Halacha nexus and the other takanah maintained? How does this work? An interesting post on takanot, their legal status and reality would be an interesting topic.

  81. Ruvie – Grossman’s response to your query seems to be:

    “It seems quite likely that Rebbenu Gershom did not enact his edict alone, but did so in concert with several other sages. There was not a single sage in eleventh-century Ashkenaz who considered all of the communities to be obligated by his edicts. Even Rashi, the greatest sage in France, only made edicts for the community of Troyes alone. Only later, when Rabbenu Gershom’s name came to enjoy extraordinary respect and honor in Ashkenaz – to a large extent thanks to Rashi – he is alone mentioned as the author of the edicts. Several of Rabbenu Gershom’s edicts were reaffirmed and accepted as communal edicts at gatherings of Ashkenazic rabbis. Confirmation of this type lent these edicts more strongly binding force that the individual edict of an early sage, however great and important he might have been. This also follows from a responsum written by R. Asher ben Yehiel (The Rosh) after he arrived in Spain:

    ‘There was a certain sage in our land named Rabbenu Gershom, and he introduced good edicts concerning matters of divorce, and he lived in the days of the Geonim, of blessed memory. And his edicts and regulations were firmly established as if they has been given at Sinai, because they were accepted and passed down from generation to generation.’

    That is, only after the communities took upon themselves the edicts of Rabbenu Gershom did they become obligatory ‘like Torah from Sinai’.”

  82. Grossman also points out an important textual issue, btw: “the accepted practice in Ashkenaz of incorporating later sources within early texts in order to update and to adjust them to historical reality”.

  83. HAGTBG: Protect women

  84. Gil — “Protect women” within a new social reality using halachic tools, as Grossman and R. Broyde observe.

    Shlomo – your one-liners continue to elude me, but if you are responding to my Prozbol comment, see the reading from YU Musmach R. Joseph Telushkin at: http://tinyurl.com/6a65u3d.

  85. IH: That halakhic tool was NOT reinterpretation. It was a ban, an additional device like a prenuptial agreement.

    BTW, that book of R. Broyde’s is simply brilliant.

  86. As per David Tzohar on July 13, 2011 at 11:24 am “Forbidding something that the Torah specifically allows is as revolutionary as can be. It is on a par with forbidding Yibbum.”

  87. IH: Perhaps you didn’t read what I wrote so let me repeat it. The halakhic tool utilized by R. Gershom (or whomever) was NOT reinterpretation. It was a ban, an additional device like a prenuptial agreement.

    I did not imply that it was not revolutionary. I just stated what should be obvious — R. Gershom did not say that the Torah forbids polygamy. He created a ban on it (or agreed to a relatively recent pre-existing ban).

  88. Sophistry, but if you want to believe that…

  89. I am compelled to believe it because it is an obvious truth.

  90. Gil – in order to facilitate better communication, what verb do you find preferable to “reinterpret” for describing a situation where Rabbis effectively change halacha originating from the Torah or the Mishna?

  91. ih – i understand that. just trying to understand the whole nature of takanot that are basically communal and region centric become accepted by whole ashkanaz and others just dropped eventually. there are many edicts that grossman shows that where we do not follow today by the rabbis of askanaz – what makes one accepted and others well not after 100 years.
    lets not forgot that this takanah – r. gershon’s – was originally over a small community. most jews did not live in this area at that time.

  92. I prefer to distinguish between different types of halakhos — de-oraisa, de-rabbanan, minhag, etc. Do you consider the Ashkenazic practice of refraining from kitniyos on Pesach a reinterpretation of the laws of chametz? I do not. Nor do I consider the rabbinic prohibition of moving muktzah to be a reinterpretation of the laws of Shabbos.

    A ban is not a reinterpretation. It is a change by addition.

  93. That doesn’t work for me as it misses the essence of the meaning -– the phenomenon in which Rabbis effectively change halacha originating from the Torah or the Mishna (using the rules of the halachic process).

  94. to be clearer: where “change halacha” means making the permissible impermissible; or the impermissible permissible.

  95. MiMedinat HaYam

    1. gil: all (or most) advocates (dont include me there) of polygamy qualify it with permission of the first wife. (informed consent, proper verification, etc.)

    2. ruvie: there are many (ashkenazi) cases of polygamist yibum in times of rishonim (dont know how the above permission fits into this). the maharil’s famous tshuva of the widow’s uncle who wanted to marry the yavam’s aunt is a famous one.

    3. yaakov may have been tricked, but we wouldnt allow such a marriage today.

    4. the good number of non marriage-material women, but capable parents, i refered to, do not want the options of adoption or non marriage procreation. they are happy with non marriage living. unusual, but who are we to tell a couple how to live? (violates first rule of marriage counseling — ppl are diff; dont force your values on a client; unless its a religious issue.)

    she is ?entitled? to a natural child. her bad luck in the shidduch market, etc should not be held against her. maybe.

    you wouldnt tell a married couple to adopt if there are other options. why are you telling the non marriage-material woman to do that?

    and besides, she will experience discrimination / bad feelings from the jewish community as an orthodox unmarried adopter, absent a “permitted” single motherhood. (unless she is a BT, and even there.)

    (besides, ppl wont believe her that the child is adopted. just like ppl dont always believe a married couple’s adopted child is truly 100% adopted. implication, yes.)

    5. shachar haamim: i barely watch tv, so i dont subscribe to cable, or that cable show about polygamists. but the case i am discussing is strictly about having children. the non marriage-material women are not interested in married life as we know it (they lack sharing abilities, intimacy, etc.), its not about economics, etc. its just children, which most non (O) jews cant (necessarily) relate to (let alone a tv pgm, let alone a mormon type group).

    6. SA clearly says anyone with two wives is not an “avaryan”.

  96. MiMedinat HaYam

    gil:

    kitniyot is different. it is a minhag that has attained the status of (strict) halacha.

    muktza is a halacha that the torah (halacha le’moshe mi’sinai) empowered the rabanan to specify the oaramaters of.

    add to your categories — “divrei soferim”. has super-derabbanan status. (muktza supposedly predates diverei soferim. ditto eruvin, but thats a “kulah”.)

  97. IH: That doesn’t work for me as it misses the essence of the meaning -– the phenomenon in which Rabbis effectively change halacha originating from the Torah or the Mishna (using the rules of the halachic process).

    They change the practice but not the laws. They leave the laws as-is. That is what is crucial. I’m not sure why you aren’t getting that.

    MMHY: 1. gil: all (or most) advocates (dont include me there) of polygamy qualify it with permission of the first wife. (informed consent, proper verification, etc.)

    I’m not sure that will protect all women. There is granting permission and then there is really granting permission. Some women can be intimidated into saying yes and they are the vulnerable people who need the community’s protection most.

    kitniyot is different.

    Yes, it is different. But it is still a case of a new prohibition (if you can call it that) without reinterpretation of the law.

  98. “They change the practice but not the laws. They leave the laws as-is. That is what is crucial. I’m not sure why you aren’t getting that.”

    So, the law remains eyin tachat eyin, financial compensation is just our practice. C’mon.

  99. That’s a DIFFERENT example and a different conversation. Let’s stick to the topic at hand.

  100. It is not different. The Torah says X, the Rabbis say that (effecively) means Y not X. The verb used is reinterpretation, pending an alternative.

  101. In the case of polygamy, the Torah says X and the rabbis say that means X but you must still follow Y.

  102. gil – i would say you can’t do x and not you must follow y in this case. like the mitzvah of lulav or shofar on shabbat – takanat r’ yochanan.

    gil/ih – maybe a definition of terms and categories would help your discussion.

    ih – the fact the torah says x and we do y doesn’t necessarily mean reinterpretation (or a takanah). it also doesn’t mean the halacha changed.

  103. MiMedinat HaYam

    gil: actually, to protect women, i would advocate changing (reinterpreting) the ktuba to be more meaningful. english, list the obligations, redefine 200 zuz to $specific$ in dollars (euro’s, shekel, whatever). perhaps have it actually signed, and perhaps have bride sign it too. not faceless eidim the chatan doesnt really know. (i think it should be the chatan’s friends, like i did at my wedding.)

    i know. flies in the face of 2000 (plus) years tradition, etc. (actually not true. customized ktubot terms have been done throughout the ages.)

    the above has nothing to do with polygamy. applies to marriage today.

    2. ktuba is also in the super derabbanan category.

  104. While we’re getting creative with households, perhaps they can so kindly come up with some solution for polyandry. For starters, it would obliterate the agunah problem. And of course, if there are men who are high-maintenance sexually and they need multiple wives for fulfillment, there are women who are high maintenance financially and multiple husbands to support them wouldn’t be half bad.

  105. “ih – the fact the torah says x and we do y doesn’t necessarily mean reinterpretation (or a takanah). it also doesn’t mean the halacha changed.”

    Ruvie — that’s not the case I’m trying for which I am trying to find a more palatable verb to remove the emotion. The case is:

    The Torah says X, the Rabbis say that (effectively) means Y not X; where, the Torah’s permissible is made impermissible; or the Torah’s impermissible is made permissible.

    In this case, polygamy is effectively made impermissible; and in the Prozbol case, the cancellation of personal debt upon sh’mitta is effectively made impermissible. In neither case is the text of the Torah changed, and nor is it for eyin tachat eyin, but in all 3 cases the halacha is effectively changed.

    The verb I use to describe this process is “reinterpretation” which is more anodyne than, say, “overturned”. But, I am open to another verb if it reduces emotion (as previously offered).

  106. IH- instead of reinterpretation – how about “straightens”. The root of takanah is t k n (takken) from Aramaic…which is the translation of the Hebrew “yasher” which means to straighten. A takkanah is a regulation that “corrects” a situation in a positive manner (gezerot corrects in a prohibitive and restrictive manner).

    Takanot initiates something new and thereby corrects an aberration that has developed. Most takanot were adopted in order to straighten out irregularities that developed in Jewish society.

    Eyin tachet eyin is not a takanah to my limited knowledge. And there is no indication that the halacha was literally interpreted.

  107. Ruvie – many thanks for the creative idea. It’s clever, but I can just see the 1st comment of: “so you mean the Torah was crooked?!”. Also, if one Googles “reinterpret halacha” it is in common usage. I can hardly take credit for its euphemistic use.

    In any case, I don’t think Gil’s real issue is the word I’m using. He objects to the concept behind the word that halacha evolves in reaction to the world around it.

    P.S. On the etymology you mention, check out Kohelet 12:9.

  108. IH – “He objects to the concept behind the word that halacha evolves in reaction to the world around it.”

    i would think that it has been shown that in some – maybe many -cases – historically that is a fact (within its own legal reasoning). the question will be when does it and it doesn’t (see jacob katz’s books)

    an excellent source of the development of takanot from moshe to the talmud is yad halacha (the halacha: it sources and development) by e. urbach

  109. Joseph: You are correct that Sephardim must follow their poskim.

    Rabbeinu Gershom did NOT have more than one wife. What is your source for that outrageous claim?

    You are incorrect about the Vilna Gaon and your point about the Shulchan Aruch should be amended with the Rema’s view. What is your source for your claim about R. Ovadiah Yosef’s position?

    I can’t find a source now, but I am going from memory of a famous story where Rabbeinu Gershom was imprisoned as a result of one wife’s jealousy.

    Re: The Vilna Gaon, see Ma’aseh Rav Hashalem (page 276), particularly the following quote of the GRA from there:

    “If I would be successful, in accomplishing two things, I would be idle from Torah and T’fillah and go from city to city [to get them accepted]. One is to eliminate the prohibition of Rabbeinu Gershom against taking two wives for with this the G’ulah (final redemption) will become closer, and the second that they should have bircas Cohanim every day.”

    (BTW, the GRA’s talmidim in Eretz Yisroel did re-establish Bircas Cohanim, leaving only his first goal thus far unfulfilled.)

    Re: Rav Ovadia Yosef, he stated his support for polygamy less than 2 years ago in his regular shiur. (This was well reported.)

  110. Gil: In my opinion, you are also still glossing over that this entire discussion is almost irrelevant to Sephardim and other non-Ashkenazim (most notably Teimanim) who have practiced polygamy into the modern era.

  111. “it also doesn’t mean the halacha changed”

    If something that used to be permitted is now forbidden, it makes no sense to say tha the halachah did not change.

  112. MiMedinat HaYam

    halachically impermissible marriages:
    (no comment on the permissiblity of these marriages; or on advocating polygamous marriages)

    1. to a non jew — well, there are (questionable; unquestionable) ways to convert.

    2. “eishet ish” marrying her paramour — no problem. done all the time today. just move to another time, to avoid bad publicity. sometimes.

    3. cohen / gerusha — done all the time. no pblm finding a mesader kiddushin. just cant duchen anymore. not now, not when mashiach comes.

    4. no get — can be arranged (bigger pblm is finding a man who would marry such a person. women have no pblm marrying a heter meah husband.)

    5. zika le’yibum — heterim are available. per above.

    6. ploygamy — you are objecting to a minhag, as opposed to a halacha? (with proper consent)

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