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Has any rabbi in Talmudic days had more than one wife at a time?

I don't know of any record of this. In fact, the Talmud frequently mentions a rabbi's "wife", meaning he only had one.

The only instance of rabbinic polygamy in the Talmud [Yevamot Y 4:12] was Rabbi Tarfon, who married 300 women when there was a famine in the land, so they could eat. As a kohen, he received the priestly tithes, which he could share only with wives and children. However, this was clearly just a legal fiction, intended to allow the women to eat during the famine. Rabbi Tarfon had only one “real” wife, as the Midrash Rabbah and Talmud Yerushalmi make clear:

When the wife of Rabbi Tarfon died, after the grave had been filled in, he said to her sister during mourning, “Marry me and rear your sister's children.” But although he married her, he did not consummate the marriage until after thirty days. [Ecclesiastes R. 9:8]

and

On festivals and holy days Rabbi Ṭarfon was accustomed to delight his wife and children by preparing for them the finest fruits and dainties [Pesachim Y 37b].

marked as duplicate by DonielF, mbloch, sabbahillel, msh210 Apr 28 at 9:29

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The Ariz"l in his לקוטי ש"ס on יבמות seems to suggest that R' Akiva was married to two women at once (see middle of first column).

דע כי ר"ע הוא דוגמת יעקב אע"ה ולכן עקיבא אותיות יעקב א' וכשם שיעקב רועה צאן חמיו כן ר"ע ג"כ והנה כשם שליעקב הי' ב' נשים כן ר"ע נשא בת כלבא שבוע ואשת טורנוסרופוס הרשע לב' נשים והנה בת כלבא שבוע היתה כנגד רחל ואשת טורנוסרופוס היתה כנגד לאה

My translation would be:

Know that R' Akiva is in the mold of Yaakov and that is why the letters of Akiva are the same as Yaakov. And just as Yaakov was the shepherd for his father-in-law, thus R'Akiva. And just as Yaakov had two wives, so did R' Akiva married the daughter of Kalba Savua and the wife of Tronosofos [as two wives]. The daughter of Kalba Savua was {in place of} Rachel and the wife of Tronosofos was {in place of} Leah.

Granted, he doesn't explicitly say that R' Akiva was married to both at the same time, but the Rachel/Leah metaphor does suggest it and the story in the gemara doesn't preclude the possibility.

  • Rabbi Akiva already had a son when he married the daughter of Kalba Sabua. So he must have had a third wife. All 3 at the same time? We don't know. – Maurice Mizrahi Apr 25 at 18:42
  • Ketubot 63a refers to the daughter of Kalba Sabua as "his wife", implying he only had one. – Maurice Mizrahi Apr 25 at 18:52
  • The gemorah that I saw seemed to imply that he married the widow of Turnus Rufus after his first wife (the daughter of Kalba Savua) died. Also I thought that his son by his first wife was conceived before he left to study at the Yeshivah. – sabbahillel Apr 25 at 20:09
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Yevamos 1:4 brings a disagreement between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel about a case that can only happen when a man is married to two wives (and one of those wives is related to his brother, and he dies with no children).

This is a rare case, but has severe consequences if it does happen. If the brother does yibum with the wife that's not related to him, following Beis Shammai, her kids will be mamzeirim according to Beis Hillel. And if she doesn't do chalitza or yibum, following Beis Hillel, she's not allowed to get married according to Beis Shammai. There are also other permutations where one side or another ends up being more stringent.

The mishnah concludes:

אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁאֵלּוּ אוֹסְרִין וְאֵלּוּ מַתִּירִין, אֵלּוּ פּוֹסְלִין וְאֵלּוּ מַכְשִׁירִין, לֹא נִמְנְעוּ בֵּית שַׁמַּאי מִלִּשָּׂא נָשִׁים מִבֵּית הִלֵּל, וְלֹא בֵית הִלֵּל מִבֵּית שַׁמַּאי.

Even though these forbid her to get married and these allow her, these disqualify her and these permit her, Beis Shammai didn't avoid marrying women from Beis Hillel, and Beis Hillel didn't avoid marrying women from Beis Shammai.

It sounds like these kinds of cases, despite all the complicated factors that had to be met, actually happened occasionally. Otherwise there would be no reason for Batei Shammai and Hillel to even consider not marrying each other. Since it's hard to imagine that these represent more than a few percent of the cases of polygamy at the very most, it seems that polygamy was pretty common among people who were, if not necessarily rabbis, knowledgeable enough to be considered part of Beis Shammai or Beis Hillel (as opposed to amei ha'aretz).

  • Where does it say that the Talmud only discusses cases for which a precedent is known? – Maurice Mizrahi Apr 25 at 18:44
  • It discusses plenty cases for which a precedent isn't known. But this Mishnah is talking about an actual worry that Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel could have had, but didn't because they trusted each other to alert each other about possible issues. The implication is that there were possible issues. – Heshy Apr 25 at 20:43

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