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This web page is dedicated to an open analysis and review of the Cherem Rabbeinu Gershom and the issue of polygamy for Orthodox Jews. All discussion is based on the following premises:
G-d is the creator
G-d gave to the Jews the entire Torah, both oral and written
Chazal, our sages, accurately passed down to us the correct and binding interpretation of theTorah
The Halachah (traditional Jewish Law) is absolutely binding on us today as at any other time
Only those steeped in Jewish Law and tradition and Torah study can properly interpret the laws of
Just as we must follow the Torah itself, we must follow the enactments made by our Rabbis to guard
or strengthen Torah observance or to protect society.
Therefore, even though the basic purpose and premise of this site is
contrary to common practice, it is
based on the highest level of respect for and obedience to Torah and Tradition and the halachic process.
For instance, an argument that polygamy is good for society would be
a valid argument only if it could be
shown that polygamy were allowed by the Halachah.
Every day in the t'filah "Uva L'tsion" we say "Titen emes l'Yaakov,
chesed l'Avraham" Give truth to
Yaakov, kindness to Avraham.
We are dedicating this page to Yaakov Avinu (Our Patriarch Jacob), and
will try to bring a little truth and
openness to a subject which is shrouded in ignorance.
The Vilna Gaon, whose 200th yahrzeit is this year was the greatest Torah
giant for hundreds of years. He
was also a great Tzaddik. In the course of a year, he didn't waste a total of five minutes from learning
Torah. He said (Ma'aseh Rav Hashalem page 276) "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." In his lifetime he didn't succeed, but his talmidim who came to Eretz Yisroel succeeded to have bircas Cohanim every day in Israel.
Through this page, we hope to bring the G'ulah (redemption) closer and
help to fulfill the spirit of the the
Vilna Gaon's purpose.
Anyone with comments, complaints, criticisms or questions can reach us at: EmesLYaakov@Polygamy.com
In parshas Vayeitzei (Genesis 28:10 et seq), Yaakov (Jacob), fleeing the wrath of his brother Esav, goes to his relatives in Charan. Rivka (Rebecca) gave Yitzhak (Isaak) as a reason for the trip that she didn't want Yaakov to, chas v'shalom (G-d forbid), marry a C'naani.
Yaakov arrived in Charan, and sat down by the well to await developments. Rachel arrived, and in his excitement at seeing her, was able, singlehandedly, to move the rock cover of the well, a task which normally required the combined strength of all the shepherds of the town. Yaakov kissed Rachel and then started crying. Rashi explains that he cried because he came empty handed, whereas when Eliezer came looking for a wife for his father Yitzhak, Yitzhak was rich.
Rachel ran to her father Lavan and told him that her cousin had arrived in town. Lavan jumped up and down with excitement, because he remembered how rich Yitzhak was and all of the great presents that Eliezer had brought when he came looking for a shidduch for Yitzhak.
Lavan had two daughters, Leah and Rachel. Since they were little girls, all of the gossips in town had been saying "ooh how nice, Leah can marry that nice boy Esav and Rachel can marry Yaakov. Leah had been crying her eyes out for years at the prospect of such a miserable shidduch.
Yaakov had immediately seen both the outer beauty and inner spirituality of Rachel, and with that combination, Yaakov had fallen in love with her at first sight. (Don't think that this happens for everyone, but when it does, and it's the right shidduch, it's nice.)
He told Lavan that he would work for seven years and his "salary" would
be that he would be given Rachel as a wife. Knowing that Lavan was a trickster
from way back, Yaakov specified Rachel, your youngest daughter. Not just
any Rachel, not just any daughter, but this specific person. Lavan agreed,
but Yaakov still suspected that a trick might be played on him, so he prepared
secret passwords between him
and Rachel for the wedding night so that even if it were dark and she were heavily veiled, he could make sure that he got the right wife.
Yaakov worked for seven years and finally, the time for his wedding to his beloved arrived. Lavan the trickster prepared for the wedding, and he prepared to trick Yaakov by substituting Leah. Why would he want to make the substitution? Either because he enjoyed manipulating and tricking people just for the fun of it, or because he thought that he could get Yaakov to stay longer by saving Rachel for later. By this time Lavan knew that Yaakov was the best thing to come along in the shepherd line for years.
Rachel didn't want her sister to be embarrassed, so she told Leah the secret passwords, and Yaakov was fooled. In the morning, he complained to Lavan, and Lavan fobbed him off with a flimsy excuse and an implied insult. Yaakov agreed to work for another seven years on condition that he get to marry Rachel. Right after sheva b'rachos (the week of rejoicing with a new wife) with Leah, Yaakov married Rachel.
Life was not all rosy. Rachel had fertility problems. When she complained to Yaakov, he said, "I've got kids, so obviously I'm not the problem." She said, "But when your grandmother had problems, your grandfather davenned (prayed) for her." He said, "Look, are you willing to do what my grandmother did", and she said "You bet. Take Bilhah my servant, maybe I can have children through her" (surrogate motherhood in its original form).
After a while, Leah saw that she wasn't having more children, so she suggested a similar arrangement with her servant, Zilpah. Yaakov at the suggestion of his wives married Bilhah and Zilpah.
From Yaakov and his four wives, the whole Jewish people was built.
The Medrash (traditional commentaries from our sages) tells us that Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov kept the whole Torah even though it was not given yet. The m'forshim (commentaries) ask how could Yaakov Avinu have married sisters, when the Torah forbids marrying a wife's sister while one's wife is alive.
There are several answers to this question. One explanation is that they only kept the Torah inside of Israel, and he married the sisters outside of Israel. This explains why Rachel died as soon as they came to Israel.
What is very significant in light of today's practice and "morals" and
attitude, is that not one single Jewish commentator asks how could Yaakov
have married four wives. The Torah and the m'forshim and the halacha all
take it for granted that polygyny -a man having several wives- is permissible,
normal and in
all ways perfectly all right. (Polyandry a wife having several husbands is totally forbidden both for Jews and nonJews, and is included in the prohibition "And according to the ways of the Land of Egypt you shall not do".) (Technically, both polygyny and polyandry are included in the term polygamy, but from here on out, we will use the term polygamy to refer only to polygyny.)
Homosexuality was a major force in ancient Greece. The warrior class considered themselves to be super masculine, and therefore the highest object of their affections and attention was other males. The preferred relationship was a seasoned soldier with a young boy. They viewed women as "breeders", an unfortunate necessity for continued population, but not ideal partners. In Sparta, each new recruit in the army (age twelve) was given to an older soldier to be his sex slave for two years. Plato and Socrates, the supposedly great Greek philosophers also were homosexuals, and lauded the practice. (See "The Pink Swastika" by Lively and Abrams pages 15-19)
Christianity somewhat discouraged homosexuality, but adopted entirely the Greek attitude towards women and normal relations between men and women. Christianity adopted the view that the normal relationship between a man and a woman is intrinsically sinful, can only be justified for the sake of having children, and that the whole institution of marriage is only a concession to the yetzer hara (evil inclination). Christianity holds that the ideal is for a man to castrate himself (Mathew 19:12), and barring that he should if at all possible be celibate. Even having one wife is a concession to the yetzer hara, and having more than one wife is out of the question.
This is in stark contrast to Jewish ideals. Homosexuality is a capital
crime. Normal marital relations are not just a concession to the yetzer
hara, they are an ideal. A posuk in Mishlei says "In your youth you should
sow your seed, and also in old age you should not let your hand rest."
Chazal (our sages of blessed
memory) interpret this to mean that one should be married and have normal marital relations even when past child bearing years. In many communities, a man would not receive s'micha (rabbinical ordination) until he was married. A person cannot be a teacher of small children unless he is married. We consider the married state to be the ideal state.
The Christian opposition to polygamy is deep rooted and still virulent.
Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion was murdered in an anti
polygamy massacre about 160 years ago. Within this decade U.S. Government
agents murdered a cult leader and 100 of his followers. One of the "charges"
against him in demonizing him to the United States Public was that his
group practiced polygamy. We do not support pseudo religions or cults,
but we can see from these two incidents the background against which the
Cherem Rabbeinu Gershom was made. Similarly, the Christians censored the
siddur (Jewish prayer book) and as a result, several passages which were
interpreted as being against the Christian religion
were taken out of the davenning. It is just in the last few years that the siddurim are being restored and Jews again feel free to go back to the proper prayers. So too, the takonah against polygamy which was done to avoid massacres by the Christians, will probably totally disappear when we realize that we no longer have to worry about what the Christians want from us. And perhaps this is another interpretation of what the Vilna Gaon meant when he said that eliminating the Cherem Rabbeinu Gershom would bring the g'ulah (redemption) closer. When we can worship Hashem and do his commandments without worrying what the gentiles think, we will be much closer to the redemption.
Mipnei chata'einu galinu mei'artzenu, because of our sins we were exile
from our land. We went into exile among Edom, the descendants of Esav.
Rome and the church were our framework for one thousand nine hundred years.
During that period, we defended ourselves as best we could. Among the defenses
was to ban polygamy, something considered by G-d and his Torah to be moral,
fine and normal. Something considered fine and normal in the vast majority
of human societies since the beginning of history (as if we need them for
justification). But because of our exile in Europe, we picked up certain
alien values. We
somehow took polygamy, something practiced by our Patriarchs, by King David, etc. throughout our history, and associated with gilui arayos, the depraved sexual practices which are practiced or condoned by the peoples surrounding us. We must divorce ourselves from this goyish attitude. Polygamy was part of the founding of our people, and was part of Hashem's d-vine plan for us.
The common understanding is that this prohibition applies to all Ashkenazi Jews wherever they may be, for all generations and under all circumstances. More knowledgeable scholars "know" that in certain exceptional circumstances, such as the wife becoming insane, a man can secure the signatures of a hundred rabbis, and then he is allowed to institutionalize his wife and marry another. People think that there is something basically immoral about having more than one wife, and the few situations where it is allowed are considered strange and suspect.
In tribute to Yaakov Avinu whose mida is Emes - truth - we will try to correct this flawed understanding.
The Vilna Gaon, whose 200th yahrzeit is this year was the greatest Torah giant for hundreds of years. He was also a great Tzaddik. In the course of a year, he didn't waste a total of five minutes from learning Torah. He said (Ma'aseh Rav Hashalem page 276) "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 (the priestly blessing) every day." In his lifetime he didn't succeed, but his talmidim (students) who came to Eretz Yisroel succeeded to have bircas Cohanim every day in Israel.
Perhaps the idea of bringing the redemption closer is based on the G'morra which says that Ben David (the Messiah) will not come until all of the souls have come down and entered into bodies.
Most people consider the idea of a man having two wives as somehow immoral. In fact, all of the halachic authorities state without the slightest hesitation or doubt that the reason for the ban was not for moral issues, not to protect the Torah, but for purely social reasons.
Rav Yaakov Emden says that the reason for the ban was danger from the uncircumcised people (that is the Christians) among whom we live. Christianity worked hard over the period from about 600 c.e. to 900 c.e. to eliminate polygamy in Europe. By the year 858, Herard of Tours got so far as to limit people to two wives. Shortly thereafter, the ban among Christians in Europe became almost complete, and they were soon restricted to only one wife.
Since the Christians were now banned from something that had been normal practice for many years, they resented the fact that the Jews could continue to have more than one wife. When goyim resent Jews, Jews get killed. Therefore to prevent massacres of the Jews, Rabbeinu Gershom banned polygamy.
Rav Yaakov Emden writes that the takonah is a result of our living among
goyim. It would be better to eliminate the ban. The ban is only until the
year 5000. Let's not add on to the ban. The only things included in a new
ban are those specified in it. It would have been forbidden to make such
a ban because it imitates goyim. The only reason that Rabbeinu Gershom
could make the ban is that it is fulfilled
passively, and not having the ban might cause massacres of Jews by Christians.
The exact quote is as follows: (Sh'ilas Yaavetz vol 2, siman 15) "In us is fulfilled due to our many sins the verse 'and they will be mixed among the goyim etc.' therefore it is proper to eliminate it (the ban on taking more than one wife). Did they not say that he (Rabbeinu Gershom) only made his ban until the year 5000, but besides that, let us not add on to the ban, and you only have in a new takonah (ban) those things specifically mentioned in it...It would have been proper not to have made such a prohibition in the first place because of the prohibition of following in the ways of the goyim, but because it didn't require a positive action to comply, and also because of the danger to the Jews who live among the uncircumcised when they marry two wives, Rabbeinu Gershom, light of the exile, needed to make this ban which was not right to make (shelo min hadin)"
The ban was limited geographically to Germany and the parts of France that were near by. It spread to Poland and European Russia. It was not accepted in southern France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Africa and Asia.
In the regions where it was accepted, the ban included a cherem (excommunication) for violators. In the areas where it was not accepted, it had no force whatsoever.
According to most poskim, including the Shulchan Aruch and the Rama (Rav Moshe Isserles), the ban was temporary, until the year 5000. It continued afterwards as a custom in many places in Europe, but no longer had the force of a cherem.
Most people assume that this custom applies to an Ashkenazi even if he moves to a place where the ban never was accepted, such as Eretz Yisroel. This is not universally accepted among poskim. In fact the Rashba (Sh'eilos U'Tshuvos HaRashba volume 3, siman 446) the Maharil (Sh'eilos Ut'shuvos HaMaharil HeHadashos ,Machon Yerushalayim, siman 202) and Rav Yosef Karo (the Beis Yosef) (Sh'eilos Ut'shuvos HaBeis Yosef, C'suvos, Sh'eilah 14) as well as Rav Yaakov Emden (op cit) hold that as soon as an Ashkenazi has permanently moved to a place where the ban was not accepted, he is entirely free of the ban and may marry as many women as will have him. In that same t'shuvah, the Beis Yosef writes that in Salonika, Constantinople and Adrianople there were large communities of Ashkenazim and no one ever questioned the fact that an Ashkenazi could and would marry more than one wife. He also cites the case of an Ashkenazi talmid chacham in Jerusalem who had a wife and children and who married a second wife, and renowned Ashkenazi talmidei chachomim attended, coming from as far away as Ts'fas and Egypt. The Ran demurs. It is his opinion that the ban follows the Ashkenazi wherever he goes. The Beis Yosef says that if the Ran had seen the t'shuvah of the Rashba, he would have agreed with the Rashba that the takonah is limited geographically. Rav Yaakov Emden wrote that since the whole reason for the takonah was fear of the Christians, so, of course, as soon as a person is not located in a Christian country, the ban does not apply to him.
Rabbeinu Gershom himself wrote three t'shuvos stating that his takonah does not apply in the case where the wife has no children or has ceased to have children. (See Otzar HaPoskim Even Haezer 1:10 pages 14a and 14b). If the wife consents to the second wife, the Tashbetz says that there never was a ban (Tasbetz sh'eilah 94). The Ran holds that it is likely but not absolutely certain that, in such a case, it does not apply. (Sh'eilos Ut'shuvos HaRan end of siman 48, quoted in the Beis Yosef).
We do not presume to poskin for K'lal Yisroel, but an objective reading
of the halachic literature would indicate that an Ashkenazi living in Israel
today has a sofek (halachic doubt) whether the ban applies to him or not
(sofek whether the takonah goes according to the place or the person) and
since it is now after the year 5000, it probably is permissible since a
sofek d'rabbanan ( a doubt in regard to a rabbinical prohibition) is permitted.
If his wife agrees, it is a s'feik s'feika (double doubt) and would be
permitted even if the prohibition were from the Torah. If there is a fertility
problem (usually considered to be ten
years without children), Rabbeinu Gershom himself said that there was no ban whatsoever, so a man could take a second wife even in Germany itself even before the year 5000 and even more so now, and certainly in Israel, where the takonah never applied.
The G'mora tells us that forty days before the child is formed, a heavenly voice announces "the daughter of so and so is destined for so and so". It doesn't say he is destined for her, and it doesn't say that they are destined for each other. This is because Hashem (G-d) may destine several wives for one man, but the woman has only one bashert.
By encouraging men to have more than one wife, it will be easier for women to find a shidduch, and men will have to be better men.
In conclusion, according to Halacha, in Israel today, a Jew may marry
more than one wife, and not only is it allowed, but in many cases it is
a mitzvah and can help bring the redemption closer.
We will not, as a matter of policy offer any assistance to any man who refuses to give a get (or a woman who refuses to accept a get) to a spouse (under halacha) who wants a divorce when they are living separate and apart. We will not be a party to help anyone who wishes to use the Beis Din, the Halachic system, the secular courts, or any other means to afflict any one else.
Shalom Bayis (reconciliation)
Facilitate the Get (Jewish divorce) where both parties agree
Facilitate the Get where the wife is a moredes (rebellious wife) or an adulterous
Facilitate or advise on cases where according to halacha the husband should be allowed to get married
even according to Cherem Rabbeinu Gershom (for instance the wife is mentally ill)
Heter Meah Rabbonim (extraordinary dispensation from Cherem Rabbeinu Gershom)
Some of this advice may be available free of any charge, and some may require fees for services rendered (such as writing and delivering a Get).
We are in contact with recognized Battei Din in Chutz La'Aretz whose acts will be recognized throughout the Torah world.
For details, email us at EmesLYaakov@Polygamy.com.
This service is only available for Orthodox Jews. Others should avail themselves of the personals found on Polygamy.com.
For purposes of this page we will use the following definition for Orthodox Jew: a person born of a Jewish mother or converted according to Halacha by an Orthodox Beis Din, who believes in and practices the Torah including Kosher Laws, Full Sabbath observance, Laws of Family Purity (Mikveh and T'vila), etcetera. If you do not fit this definition, we can not help you. Sorry, no exceptions.
If someone is seeking to become Orthodox, we can help, but will not
recommend anyone for a shidduch who is not allready a practicing Orthodox
We are therefore offering the following word of caution: The people at Polygamy.com are mainly practitioners of other religions, or no religion, who practice or promote polygamy in the context of their faith. You should only delve deeper if you are capable of sifting out the avodah zara (foreign religious content) and learning only from the practical social information.
The author, Emes L'Yaakovs may be contacted by e mail at: EmesLYaakov@Polygamy.com