Fringe Israeli Jewish group wants polygamy restored
JERUSALEM – A fringe religious group has run an advertisement promoting the reinstatement of polygamy into mainstream national orthodox Judaism in Israel, in opposition to the norms of contemporary rabbinic law and state prohibition.
It claims that polygamy allows a great number of single unmarried, Jewish women including divorcees and widows to marry, enables a higher Jewish birthrate to compete with the Arab demographic threat and satisfies the male desire for extramarital relations.
The group called HaBayit Hayehudi Hashalem (the Complete Jewish Household) last week circulated their two-year old idea among synagogues nationwide advertised in a handout Each and Every Sabbath which debates the weekly Torah reading portion and conemporary Jewish issues.
The advert referred to a centuries- old rabbinic argument and quoted a senior Sefardi adjudicator who contended that it was a mistake to observe an excommunication ban by a German Jewish sage influenced by Catholicism prohibiting a man from marrying more than one wife, as commonly practiced in biblical times.
“This is not about secular people who abide by the rules of the state, rather religious people. Whoever wants to take another wife – the Torah does not object to it,” Rabbi Yezekel Sopher the man behind the advert told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. There is no legal problem, he said. “We work according to the Shulhan Aruch (the Jewish code of Ethics).”
Sopher claimed that monogamy is unessential to Judaism. It is a form of state religious coercion “cruelly preventing 15 percent of women in their fertile years from marrying when Beduins are freely allowed to take more wives.”
The group has a self-appointed rabbinic court led by Rabbi Dov Stein examining ways of working around the loopholes which would polygamous marriages contracted outside Israel legal under Israeli secular law.
Israeli women want the legal change, not men, Stein told the Post, adding that some 100 persons had telephoned him expressing interest following the weekend advert.
A senior spokesman for Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar slammed the group’s ideas as “a perversion and distortion of Judaism … motivated by carnal lust.”
The 700 year ban on polygamy may have expired, he said. But that doesn’t mean polygamy is permitted. “No rabbi would permit such … despicable villainy… and if it is a trend it deserves all possible condemnation.
Polygamy was never widespread in Judaism. Even among Yemenite Jews who never accepted the ban, it was allowed only in extreme cases of infertility,” and in modern Israel would not be sanctioned, Rabbi Ratzon Arusi, head of the Chief Rabbinical Council’s Marriage Committee told the Post.
Privately contracted polygamous marriages registered outside Israel, unregulated and without permission from the Rabbinate, would further undermine its near-exclusive control over marriages and divorce and purity of Jewish pedigree, Arusi said.
“And this creates new problems for Halacha ( Jewish religious law) rather than solving old ones.”