I'm an Italian Noahide. The issue in question manifests my purely intellectual interest, concerning the Jews and not the Gentiles.

Thanks to the user Yaacov Deane I identified, at the link.

The Hebrew text concerning the commentary of the Vilna Gaon on the halachic lawfulness of pilegesh. A Jew my compatriot has kindly translated the passage in question into Italian language.

If I have understood correctly, the Vilna Gaon expresses his considerations by referring to the following glosses on Shulchan Aruch Even HaEzer 26:1 by the Rema (Rabbi Moshe Isserles):

“For certainly she would be considered an embarrassment for immersion in a mikveh and he will lie with her in ritual impurity (niddah); however, if she dedicates herself exclusively for him as his wife and she immerses for him, there are those who would say that this is allowed and she would be a Pilegesh as described in the Torah (see note n. six by the Vilna Gaon) and there are those who say that this is forbidden and they should both get whiplashes from the Torah as they have transgressed the precept "don't be a harlot”. (see note n. seven by the Vilna Gaon)”

Reading the notes written by the Gaon confused me a lot.

Here are my doubts:

  • Does Vilna Gaon consider legitimate pilegesh for the Jewish commoner in all circumstances or only in the case of a Hebrew maidservant that he has designated for himself?

In note n. six the Vilna Gaon reports, in support of the lawfulness of the pilegesh (Rema: “there are those who would say that this is allowed and she would be a Pilegesh as described in the Torah”), the well-known passage of Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 21a:

“ The Gemara asks about this verse: What is the meaning of “wives” and what is the meaning of “pilagshim” in that verse? Rav Yehuda says that Rav says: Wives receive a ketubah and kiddushin; pilagshim are taken without a ketubah and without kiddushin”.

The Gaon says that this is the reading of "our books" and also the reading of both Ramban and Rambam.Now, Sanhedrin 21a seems to establish a general eligibility for pilagshim, without particular limitations.

However at note n. seven, with reference to those who support the unlawfulness of pilegesh (Rema: “and there are those who say that this is forbidden”),the Vilna Gaon remembers that Ramban (source: Teshuvot haRashba Meyuchas LehaRamban No. 284) criticizes Rambam's position on the admissibility of the pilegesh for the king alone, citing the cases of Kalev and Gedeon and other great Israelites , who despite not being king have had pilagshim, and also the famous case of Ghiv'à's pilegesh. The Gaon however, at this point, says that Rambam has solved this specific problem by affirming that the ordinary citizen cannot have a pilegesh except in the case of a Jewish maidservant he has destined to himself (direct quotation from Melachim uMilachamot 4:4); from this reference it could therefore be deduced that the Vilna Gaon harmonized the apparent differences in thought between Ramban and Rambam by claiming that the women mentioned in the Tanakh as pilagshim of Jewish men who were not kings were actually all Jewish maidservants so designated by their masters, and therefore not free women who contracted pilagshut with such men, thus adhering,at least so the text would seem to say, to the traditional prohibitionist interpretation of the words expressed by Rambam on the subject, since in this hypothesis we would not find in the Tanakh a single case of pilagshut between two Jews commoners both free.

  • According to the Vilna Gaon, is the pilegesh allowed only by acquisition through kiddushin?

The Vilna Gaon continues his dissertation quoting various sources, from Rashì to the same Rema, the Parashà of Chayè Will, the Talmud Yerushalmì cap. 5 of Kethubbòth Halakhà ecc.ecc., sources according to which the pilegesh undoubtedly contracts the kiddushin, and therefore she needs to receive the get to dissolve the bond with her man, and in fact I have read some articles written by orthodox Jews according to which the Vilna Gaon precisely prohibits pilegesh without kiddushin:however, this seems to me to be in contrast with what the Gaon himself writes in note n. six,where he, as mentioned above, remembers Sanhedrin 21a, in which it is clearly stated that pilagshim have not kiddushin.

I am somewhat confused about the correct meaning of the articulated reasoning expressed by this great master, also because I read the following article written by the orthodox rabbi David E. Eidensohn:

enter link description here

According to which the Vilna Gaon would consider as legitimate the pilegesh in any case and without acquisition through kiddushin

  • This site focuses on questions and answers, not extended Halachic discussions. If you can narrow your question down to a specific question, please.
    – Al Berko
    Commented May 14, 2019 at 12:38
  • 1
    I don't think you can deduce anything about the Vilna Gaon's own opinion from the two notes you have cited. He is merely citing the opinions (quoted anonymously by Rema) who respectively permit and forbid pilegesh without kiddushin.
    – Joel K
    Commented May 14, 2019 at 13:45
  • 2
    @Al I think this is a fine question. It has a specific question, looking for specific answers. We have plenty of questions on here even more extensive than this which are fine, since they’re on-topic and specific.
    – DonielF
    Commented May 14, 2019 at 14:42
  • @JoelK I believe you are right. I have read more carefully the article written by Rabbi David E. Eidensohn, and I have been very perplexed: from where he deduces with this apodictic certainty that the Gra considers licit the pilegesh in general and without necessity of kiddushin? It seems to me a very, very forced reading of the Vilna Gaon's words
    – Amos74
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 20:39
  • @DonielF Thank you for appreciation
    – Amos74
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 20:40

1 Answer 1


Can you source this "in fact I have read some articles written by orthodox Jews according to which the Vilna Gaon precisely prohibits pilegesh without kiddushin" ?

The ביאור הגר"א you cited is quite explicit so from my perspective you are pitting a real source against a ghost source. The יש אומרים in the Rama is based largely on the ראב"ד from what I understand https://www.sefaria.org/Hasagot_HaRa'avad_on_Mishneh_Torah,_Marriage.1.4.1 . Also the גרא is quoting many sources in the larger section of what you quoted but that doesnt mean he agrees with them.

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