Are we about to witness a new phenomenon in Israel in the coming years – one man married to several women? Tens of thousands of leaflets were distributed in synagogues across the country recently, promoting the ancient custom and presenting it as a solution for the single daughters of Israel.
The phenomenon of a man married to several women (polygamy) was common among the people of Israel in ancient times. King Solomon was married to 1,000 women, King Rehoboam had 78 wives, and King David had "only" 18.
About 1,000 years ago, however, Rabbi Gershom issued a ban on bigamy, forbidding the custom among Ashkenazi Jews. Sephardic men abandoned the tradition as well in the past centuries, settling for only one woman.
The ads distributed in the synagogues appeared in the "Shabbat B'Shabbato" weekly bulletin. They encourage Jewish Sephardic men to return to the ancient custom, and include a quote from a halachic paper written by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
several years ago, which does not rule out the polygamy phenomenon: "Courts imposing aggravated punishments on Sephardim over this matter are wrong."
It's unclear whether Rabbi Ovadia would still support polygamy these days, but the leaflet authors argue that according to Halacha, it is not longer forbidden among Sephardic circles today.
The flyers direct their readers to the website of the "Jewish Home" organization, which includes quotes from a series of rabbinical religious authorities throughout history, implying that the rule forbidding polygamy has expired. The website also includes personal stories of men and women with experience in polygamy.
The Srugim website revealed that the ads were funded by a group of single religious women who have given up on finding a match.
One of the women, 39, said: "I am a single religious woman who is afraid of losing the ability to become a mother." She added that there were 27 other women like her who would be happy to marry a married man.
"Shabbat B'Shabbato" editor, Rabbi Israel Rosen, expressed his reservations over the ad, explaining that ads published in the bulletin are not checked beforehand. He estimated that it was simply a joke.
One of the people behind the new initiative is Rabbi Yechezkel Sofer. I telephoned him and introduced myself as a man who has had enough of living alongside just one woman. This is what the conversation sounded like:
Hello rabbi, married life is not what it used to be. May I take another wife?
"Of course. You can see in Rabbi Ovadia's writings that it's fully permitted."
And what about the law?
"The State laws forbid it, but from a rabbinical perspective – if the woman agrees and you are able to provide for another home – it's permissible.
Aren’t you afraid of promoting a legal offense?
"If you follow the State's law – fine, but you should know that the Torah law allows it."
Can the process be done secretly?
Is it permissible for Ashkenazim too?
"I don't think it’s forbidden."
Are there such couples in Israel already?
And what about you?
"I'm about to take another wife, with the first one's consent."
Aren't you afraid that what was once right isn’t right these days?
"Why, is our Torah wrong? God forbid."
Can I schedule a consultation meeting?
"Sure, send me an email and we'll set a date."