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Is polygamy still allowed today?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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Although the Torah does not forbid polygamy (as we see that Abraham, Jacob, Saul, David, Solomon, etc., had more than one wife), around 1000 years ago a great German rabbi, Rabbi Gershom "the Light of the Diaspora", banned polygamy. This ban was accepted as law by all Ashkenazi Jews but never was recognized by the Sephardic communities.1

[In fact, a half a century ago when the Yemenite Jews immigrated to Israel, many of them had more than one wife (the Israeli government, which forbids polygamy, made an exception for those Jews who arrived with more than one wife). However, polygamy today is almost non-existent because most Sephardic Jews live in societies where polygamy is not socially (and/or legally) acceptable.]

Rabbi Gershom "the Light of the Diaspora", a great German rabbi around 1000 years ago, banned polygamy. This ban was accepted as law by Ashkenazi Jews but was not recognized by the Sephardic communities
Different reasons are given for this ban:

Some explain that this ban was instituted to prevent people from taking advantage of their wives.2 Others add, that perhaps Rabbi Gershom was concerned lest the husband be unable to provide properly for all wives (especially in difficult times of Exile);3 or lest he marry another wife in a different place which may lead to forbidden relationships between offspring (Mishkanot Yaakov there), or maybe he simply wanted to avoid the inherent rivalry, fighting and "hatred" between rival wives which may lead to a number of violations.4

R. Yaakov Emden suggests that it was adopted from the Christian practice and laws to avoid Christian attacks against Jews who act otherwise,5 but this argument has been attacked by many other Halachic authorities.

Footnotes

  • 1. See also Editor's Comment to "Polygamy is not Ideal" User Comment beneath article.
  • 2. Maharik beshem Rashbo, cited in Darkei Mosheh, Even Ha'ezer 1, note 10.
  • 3. Maharam M'Padua #14; Mishkanot Yaakov #1.
  • 4. Maharam Shick EH #4; Mordechai Ketuvot #291, cited in Darkei Moshe there note 12.
  • 5. Sheilat Yaavetz II:15.
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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Halachic
Pertaining to Jewish Law.
Ashkenazi
(pl. Ashkenazim). A Jew of Northern or Eastern European ancestry.
Abraham
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
Sephardic
(adj.) A Jew whose ancestors stem from Southern Italy, Spain, Portugal, North Africa or the Arabian countries.
Jacob
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Saul
First king of Israel, anointed by the prophet Samuel in 878 BCE. Was dethroned because he failed to carry out G-d's command, and the royal crown was transferred to King David and his descendents.
David
King of Israel who succeeded Saul, becoming king of Israel in 876 BCE. Originally a shepherd, he became popular after he killed the Philistine strongman, Goliath. He is the progenitor of the Davidic royal dynasty -- which will return to the throne with the arrival of King Messiah.
Solomon
Son of King David, and succeeded him on the throne of Israel in the year 836 BCE. he was the wisest man to ever live. He built the first Holy Temple and authored several books of the Bible.