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.