From the Desk - Bigamy
Shalom Friends! We’re coming to the end of a week of wonderful Purim celebrations. The Purim spirit began at our Shabbat service which featured the famous Rabbi Howard Sholzberg, President Anthony Knopf along with other bizarre role reversals! As Howard explained in his wonderful sermon (full disclosure: I wrote the sermon), these changes are expressive of the theme of venahafoch hu – that the dire threats to the Jews in the Purim story were changed around in a way that few had expected. This idea carries an important teaching for our lives. As dark as things may seem, there is always hope that light will prevail. Sadly, this has been a relevant theme for the last week. We mourn the murder of Rabbi Achiad Ettinger (a father of 12) and of Gal Keidan (a 19 year old soldier) in the terrorist attack on Sunday morning. We pray that Hashem brings their families comfort at this terrible time and that He brings peace to our people so we do not need to suffer any further grief and sorrow. We also mourn the horrific murder of 50 Muslims in New Zealand last Friday. Tomorrow (Friday), I plan to attend a show of solidarity with our Muslim neighbours at the Islamic Center of Quebec- El Markaz Islami (2520 Chemin Laval, Saint Laurent, H4L 3A1). We will be forming a Circle of Peace around Quebec’s oldest mosque. This will take place from 12:30 PM – 2:00 PM. We need as many people as possible to create a symbolic protective barrier around the mosque. During these difficult times, it is important that we carry and promote a message of peace and love, in opposition to those who spread messages of hatred and violence. I strongly encourage you to attend this event on Friday. May the strength of our collective voices create an opening for Divine light to infuse our world and bring us closer to the peace for which we all yearn. It seems so incongruous that we celebrate during such times of sadness. But the truth is that rejoicing is what has given the Jewish People strength through the difficult times of our history. As I explained in this video, Purim is the festival in which we reach out for Godliness, even in a world in which darkness prevails. We appreciate the light that surrounds us to which we are all too oblivious, we experience the presence of the Divine even within the maelstrom and we share our joy with others – thus becoming a vehicle through which Hashem’s love and light enter our world. At Beth Ora, we did this in style with Sunday’s hamantaschen bake and Wednesday night’s wonderful Purim program. Well done to Howie Brown, Aron Rosenzweig and all the other volunteers and professionals for pulling off a wonderful celebration which brought in many children and adults from our community and beyond. A special yasher koach to Heshy Benshimon for the excellent megillah readings! Coming Right Up at Beth Ora This Shabbat, I will be discussing in my sermon the inclusion of the extreme right wing Otzma Yehudit Party into a partnership with two other parties and the assistance with the merger by Prime Minister Netanyahu. Is this any of our business as Jews living in the Diaspora? Is it something that should bother us and what are the implications for our Jewish identity? I look forward to engaging with you in what I believe to be a very important discussion. On Monday April 1st, we invite you to the first ever Beth Ora Clergy Pre-Passover Roadshow! We thank three families (the Dym, Harroch and Caron families) for opening their homes to us for this event. This is how it works: You choose one of the homes to attend that evening. Carly, Heshy and myself will rotate the different homes. By the end of the evening, you will have heard from all of us! This is a fun and social way to learn from each of us some beautiful ideas about Passover. To reserve your place at one of the homes, please call the office. Wishing you a Purim Sameach and Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Anthony and Carly Knopf Dovid, Rachelli, Yehuda and Avrami
What’s the Deal with…Bigamy? The old joke goes – who would ever want to marry more than one wife?! More than one wife, more than one mother-in-law!! Nevertheless, Amir Anders was excited to find out that bigamy took place in certain parts of the Jewish community until relatively recently. So, what’s the deal? In preparing this answer, I benefited from articles written by Rabbis Shlomo Brody, Naftali Silberberg and Tzvi Freeman. In Biblical law, polygamy is permitted. Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon are examples of men who married multiple wives. Moreover, Talmudic law rules that a man may marry a second woman, provided he could physically and financially provide for all the wives, typically limited to four. Nevertheless, as far as Jewish thought is concerned, polygamy was not an ideal state. The Torah says of Adam and Eve: “Male and female, He created them – one man and one female.’ Therefore, “a man shall leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife and they will become as one flesh.” The monogamous ideal is further expressed in the law that the High Priest was restricted to a single wife. Moreover, Jewish mystical works are replete with references to husband and wife being two halves of one whole and there is almost no instance of polygamy in the Talmud or Midrash. If all that is the case, why was polygamy permitted? Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch (an important authority in Israel who actually grew up in Sainte-Sophie) explains that the Torah presents us with lofty goals but also understands that they are not attainable during all periods of history. It was necessary for polygamy to be possible during earlier stages of our history. Why would that be? Monarchs routinely used polygamy to cement relationships with different rival factions and families. Some suggest that polygamy was a last resort option for men who were married to barren women who wished to have children without divorcing the wives they loved. In an agrarian society, a man married to a barren woman who could not produce sons to help in the field and defend the fort would find himself ill-put to survive in those times. Moreover, in a society whose male population has been decimated by war, polygamy may have been necessary in order for the population to replenish itself. There is, in fact, only one case of a polygamous rabbi recorded in the Talmud and that case provides an excellent illustration: Rabbi Tarfon married 300 women. Why? Because there was a famine in the land. But Rabbi Tarfon had plenty of food since he was Kohen and received the priestly tithes. The wife of a Kohen is also permitted to eat those tithes. Those 300 women were very happy that the Torah permitted polygamy! Nevertheless, measures were imposed to ensure that people understood that polygamy was not the ideal and that this permit would not be abused. For every extra wife, a man must provide food, clothing and conjugal rights commensurate to her needs and his capacity, and equal to any other wives. Additionally, the husband had to provide separate housing for each wife. We see that these means were in fact effective – polygamy in Jewish circles was historically a rare exception. Values were refined over the course of generations, the sense of sanctity became widespread, and Jewish marriage became a model for the nations. As the values toward which the Torah instructs us became more firmly rooted, it became possible as well to enact additional legislation to raise the lowest threshold to a higher plane. Toward the 11th century, an Ashkenazi rabbinic authority, Rabbenu Gershom, prohibited men from marrying a second wife. This ruling spread throughout Ashkenazi lands and has been constantly reaffirmed by later Ashkenazi authorities. It was, however, not adopted in many Muslim lands. Jewish communities in Yemen or North Africa continued to permit polygamy. Spanish Jewry never accepted a formal ban but common practice in some periods (particularly when under Catholic rulers) was not to allow it. In many Sephardi communities, this understanding was formalized in marriage contracts, which included stipulations that the husband would not marry a second woman. In 1950, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Benzion Uziel and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog jointly issued a ban on polygamy in the State of Israel. Rabbi Uziel did not believe this was an infringement on Sephardi ritual since many communities had historically shunned polygamy voluntarily. Moreover, he believed only monogamy was appropriate in the modern era. This, indeed, is the law in the State of Israel.