By EMES L'YAAKOV
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
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
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
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
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, 5750 edition) "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
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@yahoo.com
We have a general principal "Ma'aseh avos siman l'banim". The reason that the Torah tells us stories about the life of the Avos (Patriarchs) is so that we can learn from their lives, and because they tell us about the future history of the Jewish People.
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
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
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
Christian commentators with a perverted perspective following in the Roman Catholic tradition have tremendous difficulty with Yaakov having four wives. This very point shows to what extent the Roman church is not a continuation of Jewish traditions, society and morality, but rather the continuation of Greek and Roman pagan traditions, society and morality.
Homosexuality was a
major force in ancient
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.
galinu mei'artzenu, because
of our sins we were exile from our land. We went into exile among
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.
But what about Yaakov's situation? What about more than one wife?
The clear halacha is that
both min haTorah (on a Torah level) and mid'rabbanan (through rabbinical legislation) a man can
have as many wives as are willing to marry him (as long as he can support
them). No one implies that this is less than moral nor
in the least bit abnormal.
About a thousand years ago, Rabbeinu Gershom, one of the greatest rabbis of his time, made a takonah (prohibition) against marrying more than one wife. Since that time, in many Ashkenazi(European) countries, under most circumstances, men have been limited to one wife.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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'morra in Sanhedrin says that Bat Sheva was bashert (predestined) for David HaMelech (King david) from the six days of creation. His problem was that he was supposed to wait until Uriah was gone, and he didn't. She was his bashert even though he had many other wives who were also his bashert.
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.
Hashem promised Avrahom that his children would be as many as the stars of the sky. Right now it seems as if the Arab constellation has more stars than uors. Maybe we should emulate our forefathers as the Arabs do in this matter, and reject Christian morality in favor of Hashem's morality.
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
approximately 80 page booklet (in Hebrew) giving more fully the halachic arguments for permitting Jews living outside of Ashkenaz to marry a second (or more) wife is available for
$15 including postage and handling. For details, email us at
We can give assistance to men or women who are having difficulty in the divorce and remarriage process.
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@yahoo.com.
For those who are seriously interested in a shidduch, we will be setting up a personals page in the future. In the mean time, you can send your information to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Describe yourself(ves) and what you are looking for. State current marital status and list all current and former marriages including civil marriages, and how former marriages were terminated. State if you are from your parent's first marriage or a subsequent marriage.
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 Jew.
The concept of practical polygamy is unfamiliar to most of us in the Ashkenazi Jewish world. We are unfamiliar with how it works in practice. Because of this, some people might find it interesting or informative to find out how other people manage with the concept. Polygamy was once an accepted norm in most human societies, but now its practice is quite limited.
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@yahoo.com