Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Husbands and Wives

Shalom Bayit (Peace at Home). You may have noticed by now that Abq Jew is a stickler for correct spelling, impeccable grammar, and proper English usage in strict accordance with the work of Henry Watson Fowler. Or maybe not.

It is thus difficult for Abq Jew to admit that he had a hard time describing his favorite pasuk in Parshat Mishpatim (see Writing Down the Laws).

The first clause of the pasuk was easy:

.אִם-בְּגַפּוֹ יָבֹא, בְּגַפּוֹ יֵצֵא
If a man came with a coat, he should leave with his coat.
The foundation of the entire coat (and hat) check industry.

The second clause, not so much:

.אִם-בַּעַל אִשָּׁה הוּא, וְיָצְאָה אִשְׁתּוֹ עִמּוֹ
If a man is married, his wife should go out with him.
The fundamental law for husbands - go out with you wife after Shabbos!

Here, Abq Jew struggled with
  1. Husbands should go out with their wife ... which some might think suggests polyandry.
  2. Husbands should go out with their wives ... which some might think suggests polygamy.
As shown above, Abq Jew decided to skirt the entire issue and go for an alternative (not alternate; see Word Girl) but still imperfect wording.

Our Torah does not put much stock in polyandry, and doesn't really deal with it. (The case of levirate marriage cannot reasonably be considered polyandry.) But the Torah clearly permits polygamy.

But the Torah does not exactly promote polygamy. In fact, our Torah shows - particularly in the stories of Abraham (Sarah and Hagar) and Jacob (Rachel and Leah and Bilhah and Zilpah) - just how well [not!] polygamy worked for our ancestors.

So why does Judaism not permit polygamy today? Two reasons are traditionally offered.

1. Rabbenu Gershom, Meor HaGolah

Who, Abq Jew hears you ask, was Rabbenu Gershom? Wikipedia tells us:
Gershom ben Judah, (c. 960 -1040? -1028?) best known as Rabbeinu Gershom (Hebrew: רבנו גרשום‎, "Our teacher Gershom") and also commonly known to scholars of Judaism by the title Rabbeinu Gershom Me'Or Hagolah ("Our teacher Gershom the light of the exile"), was a famous Talmudist and Halakhist.  
Rashi [yes, our Rashi] of Troyes (d. 1105) said less than a century after Gershom's death,"all members of the Ashkenazi diaspora are students of his." As early as the 14th century Asher ben Jehiel wrote that Rabbeinu Gershom's writings were "such permanent fixtures that they may well have been handed down on Mount Sinai."  
He is most famous for the synod he called around 1000 CE, in which he instituted various laws and bans, including prohibiting polygamy, requiring the consent of both parties to a divorce, modifying the rules concerning those who became apostates under compulsion, and prohibiting the opening of correspondence addressed to someone else.
There are two very interesting things about Rabbenu Gershom's polygamy ban:
  1. The ban was only intended for and accepted by the Ashkenazic community, and not for and by the Sephardic community.
  2. The ban was only until "the end of the millennium." That is, until the year 5000 - according to our Hebrew calendar. Hint: we are now in the year 5774.
So now, Rabbenu Gershom's polygamy ban is little more than a custom. But then there is

2. Dina D Malkhuta ("Dina")

At one time or another (also at one time and another), Dina D Malkhuta ("Dina") has lived in every Jewish community in the world. Sometimes we recognize her as the cop on the corner or the accountant in the corner office; other times she is invisible, and we belatedly perceive her presence only in the subpoenas and hearings that follow.
OK, this is just the type of thing that Abq Jew finds humorous. Dina d'malkhuta dina (the law of the land is the law) is a Rabbinic / Talmudic statement that states equivocally that Jews must observe the laws of wherever they live. What, you expected unequivocally?
The blog Jewish Treats explains:
“Dina d’malchuta dina,” the law of the land is the law, is a phrase repeated numerous times in the Talmud, and always attributed to the sage Samuel. According to Samuel, there is no question that a Jew must obey the laws of the land in which he/she resides... unless that law directly contradicts halacha (for instance a law ordering everyone to worship idols).  
In certain cases, the rabbis determined that certain rulers and their unfair and harsh laws were dangerous to the Jewish people, and therefore permitted the local Jews to "skirt the laws" or even to ignore them (such as the anti-Semitic decrees of the Russian Czars). In a country like the United States, however, there is no question that dina d’malchuta dina must be strictly observed.  
What does this mean? This means that being a law-abiding citizen is more that just one’s civic duty, it is one’s religious obligation as well. Taxes, civil law, even the “rules of the road” are our responsibility to uphold.

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