The Shmooze

Israeli Rabbi Wants To Bring Polygamy Back

By Ben Sales

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One thousand years ago, German Jewish sage Rabbeinu Gershom forbade polygamy in the Jewish community. Now, a rabbi in Israel wants to reinstate the practice.

Rabbi Yehezkel Sopher, who heads the organization Complete Jewish Family, placed an advertisement in a popular pamphlet handed out at synagogue calling for the return of plural marriage, according to the Jerusalem Post. The ad quoted the influential Sephardic Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who wrote in a treatise on Jewish law that non-Ashkenazim should not follow the decree of Rabbeinu Gershom, who was Ashkenazi.

Israel, like most Western countries, prohibits polygamy — though according to a 2008 survey of the practice, hundreds of families in the Israel practice plural marriage, especially within the Bedouin community.

Sopher, however, said he was not concerned with state law, but rather with Jewish law. He claimed that no Jews need follow the 11th-century polygamy ban, as, according to Sopher, it expired at the turn of the millennium in the Jewish year 5000, or 1240. And though the Israeli chief rabbinate also opposes polygamy, Sopher chalked that up to their receiving state salaries. He also noted that plural marriage was common among the Jews of the Bible.

Sopher suggested that Israel should treat marrying a second wife like it treats gay marriage. Although gay marriage is forbidden in Israel, the Israeli government recognizes same-sex marriages performed outside its borders. “You can legally marry a second woman, the same way the secular public figured out how to marry in Cyprus and then have it approved here,” Sopher told the Post.

Although he has one wife, Sopher says that the option to marry a second is open to him. Complete Jewish Family supports polygamy in order to increase Jewish fertility and prevent single Jewish women from marrying non-Jews.

A range of rabbis in Israel, including Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, have come out against Sopher and polygamy.


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