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Moderator's note: As with all discussions of Jewish law on this site, any information included in this question or its answers is presented only for the purpose of understanding the relevant ideas, not as practical rabbinic advice. Especially with respect to marriage and divorce, consult your Rabbi about your situation for practical guidance.

(A pilegesh (commonly translated as "concubine") is a woman who has a halachically sanctioned relationship with a man but is not married to him. The relationship has many (but not all) of the same qualities as a full marriage.)

  • May a man take a woman as a pilegesh today, according to halacha?

  • Why (or why not) is pilegesh permitted today?

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Hey folks - who downvoted and who voted to close? Your answer may be "yes" or "no" to this question, but the question itself seems to be consistent with the standards of this forum. –  user1095 Feb 7 '12 at 9:32
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The propriety of this question is questioned on Meta at meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/774/…. I posted an answer there, including explanation for the special notice I inserted at the top here. –  Isaac Moses Feb 7 '12 at 15:50
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@Menachem thanks for the link, but it seems horribly lopsided towards the Rambam, who seems to be the minority opinion. So far, it seems the biggest problem with taking a woman as a pilegesh, is that no one knows how to do it halachically. –  user1095 Feb 7 '12 at 15:54
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CYLOR!!!!!!!!!!! –  Hacham Gabriel Feb 29 '12 at 4:21
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Moderator's note: This question attracted many comments; those that have been acted upon have been cleared. The recent edit was in light of comments and not unilateral. –  msh210 Jul 19 '12 at 20:36
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3 Answers 3

up vote 16 down vote accepted

As Rabbi Yissochar Frand concludes on his shiur on the subject, "as we say in the kashrut world ... it's not recommended."

As Rabbi Rakeffet points out, just using the term in your native language makes a difference here. He mentions that when he first moved to Israel if someone called him a chamor ("donkey") he thought it was cute, but to a native speaker it's quite the insult! Similarly he had an American woman argue for non-marital relations, saying "it's no worse than pilegesh", to which he replied -- "oh so you want to be some man's concubine?" That made her pause.

More from Rabbi Frand: Probably the most serious proposal for reinstituting the Pilegesh in (relatively) modern times was Rabbi Yaakov Emden's. He was concerned with the case of Jewish men who would move to America to work, leaving a wife behind in Europe (with plans that eventually he'd make enough money to bring her over, or he'd return home, or something) ... and years pass and he's still living on his own in America -- and as the Rambam concludes his Laws of Prohibitions on Relations, well -- celibacy is hard! Such a man can't "marry" a woman in America, as doing so would violate the ban on polygamy. Instead Rabbi Emden suggested "concubinage", which would have been a marriage in every way but name. It would involve kiddushin and would require a Get to terminate; the only thing it would be missing is it would not require a ketubah contract -- and even that, Rabbi Emden advises that they draw up a similar contract for her financial protection.

Earlier in history, it was debated whether a pilegesh requires kiddushin to enter and a Get to absolve, but that was Rabbi Emden's conclusion. The medieval rabbis debated whether the Biblical commandment to have children necessarily required full marriage (with ketubah and all the obligations thereof), or if concubinage would have theoretically been an alternative. Some (Rambam if I'm not mistaken) were of the opinion this was only a legal allowance for anointed kings -- as the Torah makes clear, kings have some special rules. Ramban counters by observing that the Book of Judges ends with a story involving a man and his concubine -- and quite clearly, "in those days there was no king in Israel"! The closest this man could have been was a "judge", who had some king-like authority, but still, if so, where do you draw the line, asks Ramban? So a commoner can't have a concubine, but a judge can? What about, say, a president of a major jewish organization? A millionaire CEO? The president of the local synagogue? (Note: If you are a synagogue president and reading this, I am not condoning non-monogamy. This is a thought experiment contained within a theoretical discussion!)

Between all the halachic questions about how Pilegesh works, and for whom; the reluctance to mess with the way things have been done for 2000 years easily; and the general understanding that Judaism values traditional marriage (according to many, even if Pilegesh is an option, real marriage is a bigger mitzva), it's just not recommended today.

As I like to quote, in Spain in the early 1400s they did one better -- "well if the bachelors and idiots are going to do their business anyway, better that it be without sinning seriously" -- and some rabbis provided "official grace, and communal funds" towards all-Jewish houses-of-ill-repute. Rabbi Isaac Arama (in an essay on understanding Biblical Sodom) was furious about this practice; it's one thing for individuals to have their struggles, it's another for society to enshrine their shortcomings into official public policy. The "official grace" described by Rabbi Arama was interpreted by R' Chaim Ozer Grozinski as having them all use the mikvah; I've heard Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein say it meant conducting a pilegesh arrangement every time a um, client, showed up -- which points to your question. (I do not know what Rabbi Grunstein's sources are on this interpretation of Arama's essay.)

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There is a difference between prostitution and non-martial physical relationships. The former is taboo even in the greater society in which these older singles live. The latter is ubiquitous. I find it interesting that even a brilliant Charedi-leaning scholar like R' Frand won't allow himself to say the word "assur" in regards to taking a pilegesh. –  user1095 Feb 7 '12 at 9:09
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@will re R Frand: more power to him for distinguishing between public policy and technical halacha. –  yitznewton Feb 7 '12 at 11:00
    
R Rakeffet's point is a straw man IMO: we're talking about invoking dinei pilegesh to implement an altogether different style of relationship. At least potentially. –  yitznewton Feb 7 '12 at 11:01
    
R. Rakeffet's point seems like it could apply equally to marriage: ask a woman if she wants to become acquired legally in "exclusive conjugal servitude" (in the words of R. J. David Bleich) to a man, and she might think it no worse than concubinage. –  Curiouser Feb 7 '12 at 11:56
    
A link to R' Arama's statement can be found in this answer: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/8481/603 –  Menachem Feb 7 '12 at 14:11
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A very relevant question in the present day!

I think you are mistaken in saying that the pilegesh relationship is any more lightweight or temporary than traditional marriage. A pilegesh has all the restrictions and rights of a wife (such as adultery for other men and maintenance by her husband), and for a man and woman to casually enter into a concubine relationship is similar to a quickie wedding with no serious intention.

While Wikipedia is not always dependable, their article mentions all the ideas I have heard about concubines.

I remain unsure why a man would take a woman as a concubine rather than straight out marrying her, since practically speaking there are only tiny differences between the two arrangements [no ketubah if (or more likely when) they divorce or he dies]. The attitude to taking a concubine should be no different to getting properly married, and we don't treat marraige as a casual arrangement.

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In that Wikipedia article you cite, it seems like most authorities disagree with the Rambam, and one could take a pilegesh today. –  user1095 Feb 7 '12 at 8:08
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From what I remember (hopefully someone on here will find the source), a ketubah isn't issued for a pilegesh, and although all restrictions of adultery are in effect, it's less difficult to enter and exit a pilgesh relationship than a marriage. Additionally - "marriage" in Western society implies a lifelong commitment, a major wedding, merging of two households, etc. - and these older singles are afraid to jump into that commitment so quickly, after living alone for so long. So, that's why they would prefer pilegesh over marriage, at least at first. –  user1095 Feb 7 '12 at 8:11
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@Will -- then perhaps all that's needed is a smaller wedding, less stuff, and a prenup agreeing that each side will come out with what they brought in, other than the minimum ketubah payment. –  Shalom Feb 7 '12 at 9:00
    
@Shalom but you just wrote in your own answer above that a ketubah payment isn't required. Even though R' Emden "recommended" some similar alternative arrangement "for her financial protection" - again, we're discussing 21st century career women, many of whom make as much as (or more than) their Orthodx male counterparts. –  user1095 Feb 7 '12 at 9:06
    
@Will, no ketubah means "pilegesh." A proper Jewish marriage requires a minimum ketubah payment (though no "tosefet ketubah", and certainly not the equitable distribution typical in most divorce settlements today). –  Shalom Feb 7 '12 at 9:19
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There is actually a halachic source that permits a concubine and does not carry a halachic stigma. This assumes two conditions

  1. A wife who can't or won't have children with her husband.
  2. A wife that won't give her husband a divorce (get).
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A wife can't give her husband a Get. This is a case of a wife refusing to accept one. (Although there seems to be no indication that the husband needs to try, meaning that it could be a case in which the couple want to stay married. –  Seth J Jul 18 '12 at 21:46
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