This question is an offshoot from the one titled "Questions about Polygamy in Jewish Law and Culture"

Taking under the knowledge that the previous question was well answered with an observation:

It's a lot like eating grasshoppers. Yes, the Bible allowed it, though never said it was a good thing. Nobody does it today except for a few Yemenites.

I am curious where Judaism stands as a whole and as a religion when facing opposition from civil law. In the adjoining questions some parts of Judaism took the ban of the Rabbi and others acknowledged it but merely fell into step with the civil laws of state.

However there is an acknowledgement of the fact that there are a few that still practice a piece of behavior as supported by fair interpretation of religious texts that go against common Western law.

In a country such as the US where legislation is not supposed to interfere in the practice of religious belief; the question I have is:

Does Judaism have a stance (in modern day) on pushing back against civil law where applicable or simply accepting and adapting to the civil decree.

Note: I've tried to ask this in as generic and unpolitically biased way as I can. The specifics are based on a friend who asked me why he couldn't challenge polygamy rules based on his Jewish faith.

  • I adjusted the title to match the question being asked. Please adjust further if you deem it necessary.
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 19, 2012 at 5:38
  • @Double AA - Thanks, I tried to edit the title better to make it more pointed at the topic rather than the motivating question. Then I saw what you'd changed it to. Yours is the best wording. Commented Feb 19, 2012 at 5:39
  • For the record. The polygamy rules are enforced against Muslims and Christians that also wish for polygamy. So since the "religious" argument in the US has already been lost, I don't see the point of it :) It would help if you could re-word this question ignoring the US aspect of it. BTW, this question is much more interesting in Israel, where you don't have goyim making rules, and who are not trying to oppress Jews. (Yet still make laws which conflict with Halacha)
    – avi
    Commented Feb 19, 2012 at 7:50

2 Answers 2



If Jewish law says "permitted", and civil law says "forbidden", we will stop doing that thing to get along well with the civil authorities. (Sefardi Jews, who have no rabbinic ban on polygamy, sticking to monogamous marriages in America, is a good example of this.)


If Jewish law says "REQUIRED", and civil law says "forbidden" - and the civil authorities are like those in the USA, who allow citizens and groups to peacefully disagree, debate, and lobby against government policy - we will certainly do so.

The Orthodox Union* has a political action wing, which lobbies government entities whenever a threat to Orthodox Jewish life and practice is perceived.

Here are a few recent examples of this:




With regard to the same-sex marriage debate - at first glance, it seems like a case of Jewish law saying "forbidden" and civil law saying "permitted". In that case, we typically don't get involved. However - the interest in that political issue is to ensure that rabbis are never "REQUIRED" to perform a same-sex marriage, or possibly face a discrimination lawsuit if they are asked to do so, and refuse.

(You will note in that OU press release, they still say that the OU is against same-sex marriage on religious principle, but that they acknowledge that their most urgent concern, the political coercion of clergy, was addressed in that bill).

*The Orthodox Union does not represent every Torah-observant Jew in America, nor does it claim to do so, but I use it as an example because it is the biggest and best organized institution which lobbies on behalf of Torah observance.

  • And the idea that clergy could be politically coerced into performing any marriage they don't want is, quite simply, a lie. The Orthodox Union is lying to you. How do they square that with their conscience?
    – TRiG
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 22:06

On one hand it's interesting to note that most Western countries don't make this question a pressing matter. They leave us alone when it comes to ritual law and accomodate us when it comes to civil (eg allowing 2 Jews to go to Beis Din instead of civil court in a money matter) law.
However, events in the last few years might increase the relevance of this issue. Imagine, for example, a ban on circumcision except for when deemed essential by a specialist. There is no question that Jews would have to defy the law despite a general commitment towards being good citizens wherever we live. Another issue would be shechita and proposed bans on it in parts of Europe. It therefore remains essential that Jews stay involved in the political process to ensure conflicts like this do not arise.

  • The question was about "pushing back" against civil law, not about secretly defying it. While we might have to secretly circumcise our sons, we wouldn't have to secretly slaughter animals illegally, as we have no absolute requirement to eat meat. Of course, Jewish lobbying groups certainly work to prevent bans on shechitah, but once they're in place, I've never heard of a rabbi who advocates violating the civil law in that country.
    – user1095
    Commented Feb 19, 2012 at 8:14
  • 3
    User1269 welcome to J.SE! Hope to see you around! Commented Feb 19, 2012 at 13:41

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