Rachel, one of the commentators on my previous post, Quality vs. Quantity, asked if any women were behind the move to promote polygamy (more accurately, polygyny – marriage in which a man has two or more wives at one time).
Well, interestingly enough, the other day there appeared on the site srugim, a newsite geared to the observant public in Israel (not to be confused with the successful TV show of the same name), an article stating that the ad which called for polygyny and was published in the Shabbat beShabbato handout a couple of weeks ago was paid for by women nearing their forties, not married and eager to have children.
You can see the article, in Hebrew, here.
Apparently, there is a group of such women who, with the the encouragement of a group promoting polygyny, called הבית היהודי השלם – The Complete Jewish Home – have founded a support group to explore ways of becoming a second wife.
In the words of one of the women interviewed, before paying for the ad:
“… we debated whether or not to do this, since ‘The Complete Jewish Home’ encourages this matter for many additional reasons….”
I’m not going to get into the halakhic shortcomings of any of the arguments made supporting this. In his comment to my previous post, Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey Woolf succinctly dispelled many of both the halachik and historical myths used to promote the practice.
I will however quote him regarding a couple of the more erroneous claims constantly put forth on the subject:
…4) There is absolutely no authoritative tradition limiting the effectiveness of the ban on Polygamy, from Ashkenazic sources. There is a persistent rumor to that effect that is cited by halakhic authorities. It was, however, not accepted by the legal consensus.
5) Even if, originally, there had been a terminus ad quem for this edict (ie, Rabbeinu Gershom), it was rendered irrelevant by the acceptance thereof by halakhic tradition (sugya de-alma).
1) Even though Polygamy may have been technically licit, it was a very rare exception in Muslim countries. This says much about the profoundly monogamous character of Jewish marriage.
2) Polygamy was, albeit, fairly common in Yemen. The reason was that Muslims kidnapped young, unmarried Jewish girls who came of age and forced them to convert to Islam and marry Arabs. As a result, Jews married child brides in order to protect them.
Regarding the claim that the Torah allows it, so why stop it…well, if you look at Guide for the Perplexed III, 41 and Hil. Mamrim II, you understand that there are tons of things that were originally licit but, in changing circumstances (or as a result of spiritual growth on the part of the Jews) were no longer allowed.
If there is one trait one can find through centuries of Jewish life, it is an understanding in very early rabbinic texts, that Jewish marriage is to be one of emotional intimacy and mutual respect. I presume this is what Jeffery Woolf alluding to when he refers to “the profoundly monogamous character of Jewish marriage.”
Apart from considerations of Jewish Law, what is painful to me, given the nature of my work, is the kind of double-speak used by organizations and individuals agitating for polygyny, double-speak that leads women to believe that the institution would solve the problems of unmarried women in the Jewish world.
This view, as I alluded to in my earlier post, ignores socio-demographic findings from around the world. And, it might be nice to think that Jews would do this differently, but as someone who wades in the flotsam and jetsam of Family Law in Israel on a daily basis, I regret to say that I wouldn’t gamble on this.
I don’t know the reality of women who have not had children; I have been blessed with children and therefore cannot contemplate a future without children. So, I certainly don’t mean to impugn their intentions, nor to belittle their pain.
I do however, take issue with the men who basically seek to exploit this same pain and despair.
Whatever pleasant twist organizations such as The Complete Jewish Home wish to put on it, polygyny simply isn’t very good for women.
Moreover, it’s a trait in extremely hierarchical cultures, in which the wealthier, more powerful men are the ones who can afford the extra wives, both as status symbols and objects for their own sexual desires.
Unfortunately for women pinning their hopes on this to have children, polygyny isn’t going to be a solution for women nearing forty, because typically, men who take a second wife choose a younger, sexier, more fecund version of the wife they already have.