If three people are in love and respect, and accept not being in a monogamous relationship, can they have that relationship in Judaism? Would that be accepted by halachah?
Our patriarchs were not monogamous. Why them do we understand only monogamy as the acceptable practice today?
Would not acceptance of non-monogamous relationships help to address and reduce the pain of betrayal, which is unfortunately so common, because we are subjected to the ideology and restrictions of monogamy?
Is it time to return to the idea of a concubine or pilegesh within halachic Judaism?
You are correct that our patriarchs were non-monogamous, and that biblical law allows for multiple wives, as well as concubinage. The official move away from polygamy came in the year 1000 CE, with the takannah (ruling) of Rabbeinu Gershom. As this ruling was issued in France, it was binding only on Ashekenazi Jews. Additionally, as a takannah is a temporary measure, the ruling was binding only for 1000 years, and technically expired 13 years ago.
So your question is a good one.
Most people have assumed that the Jewish community have taken this practice on as binding and expect it to continue even after the takannah expired. I presume the reason for this is that monogamy in marriage has become socially normative, and that polygamous religions are viewed with suspicion by mainstream society, inasmuch as polygamy is often seen as an institution that promotes the subjugation of women under a patriarch. It is certainly worth considering, therefore, both how much of a negative reaction reintroducing polygamy would provoke towards the Jewish community and if it would likely be abused in ways that would subjugate women. Even if you were right that some trios could coexist in mutual respect and partnership, the danger that the system would be abused might be reason enough not to sanction polygamy.
However, my own opposition to halachic polygamy is for another (though related) reason. While halacha has space to allow men to be polygamous, it does not have a corresponding possiblity to license women to have various husbands. This would always be forbidden, as it would violate the prohibition on adultery. So any halachic system which was non-monogamous would always be imbalanced by gender, and therefore be experienced in our day and age as sexist. In a time when men and women are socially equals, it is unwise to promote a system of halachic relationships which grants men options that it does not grant women. As we grapple with the balance between tradition and honoring the full participation of women in modern society, the last thing we need is to bring back a "men-only" standard of polygamous sexuality.
Your question is a good one. You are correct that our ancestors were not monogamous but, in Jewish tradition, it was only the men who were permitted to take multiple wives. Women were never permitted to marry more than one husband at a time in Jewish tradition. It would seem to me that perpetuating such a distinction, which allows men to have multiple wives simultaneously, but limits women to one husband at a time would cause many Jews to disassociate themselves with Judaism as it would be seen as just another instance of gender bias.
Not being a psychologist, I cannot say with any degree of authority whether allowing or institutionalizing a non-monogamous form of relationship would be more likely to eliminate or reduce incidents of betrayal or the pain associated with such situations than continuing to maintain the monogamous framework.
Nevertheless, it seems to me that whatever framework is instituted, whether it is monogamous or not, people may enter into a relationship and subsequently find themselves uncomfortable in that relationship and/or desiring to alter it at a later stage in life. No matter what framework is chosen, boundaries and limits will exist to protect the familial relationship for the long term and people will still need to make efforts to maintain and respect relationships.
We learn in Genesis that it is not good for a human being to live in isolation. Where monogamy was the norm, Jewish tradition encouraged people to enter into monogamous, loving and respectful connections which are seen to encourage mutual responsibility and to preserve the dignity of the partners in a relationship. In communities where polygamy was accepted, Jewish rabbinic tradition still required that the husband can only take on additional wives to the extent that he could provide for them.
Probably as a matter of practicality, since familial relationships were associated not only with rights, but also with responsibilities, it appears that, as a rule, the Ashkenazic Jewish community lived monogamously even before the rabbinic ban on non-monogamous relationships was officially enacted.
Finally, it is important to remember that Judaism also teaches us to take into account the law of the land in which we are living. The principle of “Dina d’malchuta Dina” [the Law of the Land is binding] dictates that if we live in a place that does not recognize non-monogamous relationships, that we would abide by the law of the land.
My learned colleagues have discussed what they conclude, and how they would interpret and apply the Halachah (Jewish Law) in this instance. I have no disagreement with what they have said in that regard, and would say if you are asking about Halachah and non-monogamous relationships, you have the answer: it may have been permissible in past (biblical times), but it is not today.
Parenthetically, that result strikes me as no different than the concept of slavery: accepted in past, outlawed today. I don’t hear too many arguing for a return to slavery; why should biblical non-monogamy be treated any differently?
My belief is that understanding and moral stature grow and change (in persons and in societies), the application of the law evolves (which is shown in changes through the system of precedents despite something being other than what was ‘always done before’), and we adapt – the short, snappy, and somewhat flip response that comes to mind here, is ‘get with the program, get over it, and get real.’
What you describe is an extended ménage a trois, not a marriage. A marriage is an arrangement where the parties have statuses that confer specific defined rights, responsibilities, and privileges in that relationship and in society, and those rights are protected by society. This is true both for civil and Jewish law.
By definition, the parties in the arrangement you describe have different, unequal, and unclear statuses in that relationship, nor are rights that some or all of the parties can have identified or protectable by the mechanism of the society/state (any such rights are questionable: both as to what these would be, as well as what it would mean for other societally recognized matters).
It seems to me, off the top of my head, that recognition of this status could potentially butt up against the category of adultery ( given a FMM group), which would be a fundamental change to Jewish law - and raise a massive number of issues in the areas of divorce, property rights, financial support, child protection and custody, ‘palimony’, and so on. What if one spouse and the new partner decide they are tired of the other spouse -can they just dump that other -legally married- spouse or must there be a divorce? Is that different if the married pair tire of the non-married partner? Can one or two of the partners bring in someone new? Why is it limited to three partners – what happens if one of the partners brings home someone they find attractive – can they introduce them into the relationship as a new spouse? Who has what rights, and how will they be enforced?
This may sound wonderful to someone who wants to have more than one sexual partner, but what kind of relationship or commitment is that, really? If you can have sex with these two, what should limit you from having sex with someone or anyone else? That is not a committed relationship, only a situation for physical gratification, and there is no mechanism to protect the parties.
Frankly, the question arises why you would even want this? In today’s ‘hookup’ culture, with all the couples that swing and swap, why is a formal arrangement of this sort needed? Why must you insist that others in society agree and support your choices regarding sexual behavior? We are talking now about Jewish law, not civil law. It is not Jewish law that criminalizes this behavior, but it does prohibit it, just as it prohibits any form of relationship that is abusive, exploitative, or inherently unfair.
In conclusion, I am against this. I see it as abusive and exploitative. I would say that if you can’t practice monogamy, don’t marry, and don’t seek to force society to support your choices and lifestyle.
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