Pelegish or Not?

Rabbi Tzvi Fishman has written perhaps the most disingenuous column yet on pelegish. But it’s not all his fault – his work is based on the even more disingenuous work of Rabbi Ya’akov Ariel, a leading, perhaps the leading, Religious Zionist rabbi.

In brief, these rabbis argue that pelegishut meant, a) permanence, a relationship that lasted for life and, b) that it had the status of marriage, including a ketuba. This is both absurd and demonstrably false. Both rabbis cite the Vina Gaon as a precedent for this novel idea of permanence and ketuba. Perhaps the Gaon can be excused for this bit of foolishness. he had no access to the historical data we now have. I don’t think for a moment he would make these same assertions today.

What Fishman and Ariel do is argue this way: Pelegish cannot be a relationship where either party can walk away at any time without notice or reason. It cannot be a shot-term arrangement. Therefore it must be that …

But pelegish was exactly that – a relationship with an easy out for both sides, a relationship that could last a lifetime of a few hours, as the case may be.

As for the idea of "turning your daughters into harlots," that was meant to prevent both cultic and non-cultic prostitution, not sex between willing partners.

Pelegish stopped because Christian society frowned on the practice, and because, as it became more rare, rabbis feared Jewish women in a pelegish relationship would stop using the mikva due to scorn heaped on them by unlearned married women who based their views on society around them and not on Torah.

Should pelegish be reinstated? I don’t know. But I do know that, if the answer to that question is no, rabbis like Fishman and Ariel have done far more damage than they realize. What they wrote is akin to lying. People who are, for whatever reasons, involved in non-married sex or thinking about such involvement will not restrain themselves because of these men’s disingenuous arguments. Quite the contrary.


Filed under BTs, History, Jewish Leadership, Modern Orthodoxy

12 responses to “Pelegish or Not?

  1. Garnel Ironheart

    It’s fine to disagree with Rav Fishman but while he provides sources for his position, you didn’t do so for yours. After the whole pilegesh idea came out of Bar Ilan a while back, I went and looked up the issue (my wife wanted to know what the hell I was thinking, I hope she believed my “It’s just harmless research” line). Two themes came out of the primary law codes (Rambam, Shulchan Aruch and various Acharonim): One is that pilegesh is probably not as forbidden as it seems and two, no one recommends it. One gets the sense that the decisors are saying “Listen, do you think you’re adding anything positive to your life through such a relationship? Spend your time giving all your affection to one women instead of spreading it around.” In monogamy, a women becomes (hopefully) the focus of her husband’s love. In polygamy, she’s just another Saturday night choice. as for his other points, they are codified in the sources, including the opinion that only kings could have them and that there was an onbligation to continue the relationship beyond the first few dates. Once again, extreme language like accusing someone you disagree with of lying undermines any valid argument you may have made.

  2. No. Fishman MISREPRESENTS the sources and their arguments. Rabbi Yaakov Emden wrote a long teshuva about pelegish that refutes all of these foolish arguements (except the GRA’s, which were made later). And history is clear on this – no ketuba, no permanence. There is not one extant “pelegish ketuba” or even a reference to same in hlakhic literature. Th eburden of proof here is on the people INVENTING halakhic arguments, not with those of us pointing out their inventions.

  3. Try actually checking the souces Fishman cites, and noting the definative source – Emden – that he does not mention. This violates nomative halakhic discourse and makes Fishman a liar or a fool – or both. I said he was “disingenuous.” I was too kind.

  4. Anonymous

    shmarya WISHES pilegesh was legal. That way he could finally get rid of his pesky virginity.

  5. Garnel Ironheart

    I know that Rav Emden, tzk”l, wrote about the permissibility of teshuvah but my understanding is that he stopped short of permitting it, again for the reason mentioned above. It’s just not something that would work right now and would easily be mis-interpreted by eager younglings as permitting one-night stands. Certainly Rav Fishman is going to only mention those sources that agree with him but ultimately, pilegesh isn’t going to make a comeback based on the research that’s been done.

  6. Anonymous

    >It’s just not something that would work right now and would easily be mis-interpreted by eager younglings as permitting one-night stands.

    That is exactly what pilagshut is and was.

  7. “Certainly Rav Fishman is
    going to only mention those sources that agree with him …”

    That is called dishonest argumentation and is a violation of normal halakhic discourse.

  8. Yochanan Lavie

    If the torah permits it, and it is not used to debase women, than why not?

  9. Neo-Conservaguy

    Because it potentially defeats the protection that the ketubah gives a Jewish woman. There is no taking the milk without buying the cow for Jews over the past 1,950-ish years, sorry.

  10. B”H
    The purpose of instituting ketubah was to protect women.
    This is only possible when Jewish community leadership has legal authority over it’s members.
    In most Jewish communities worldwide this is no longer the case.
    Thus when a woman agrees to be married with ketubah she places herself at her husband’s mercy in case she will ever want a divorce but he refuses to give it.
    check out : for more information.

  11. Isa

    I read the Pilegesh long article. Doing this instead of something that requires a Ketuba (also doing a secular ceremony) would certainly solve the aguna problem. A woman should do Pilegesh if the ‘groom’ had a weird job or dangerous job with the prospect that he might simply disappear.

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