Does anyone know where I can find the actual text of the Gezeira of Rabbeinu Gershom? It keeps popping up in my learning, but only as being referenced, I would like to read that actual text.

  • AFAIK it is likely that many of the enactments attributed to R. Gershom are thought to be later enactments. AFAIK they were originally oral, and later recorded in writing.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 18:45
  • What I am really interested in finding out is "What historical events prompted these two famous edicts of Rabbainu Gershom (the limit of one wife at any time, and the prohibition of perusing the mail of anyone else). Stories are abound about his having two wives, an angelic one and a shrew who sought to have him killed. But upon what situation did the prohibition of reading the mail of others come about? If I find any information on the above i'll be happy to share with other members of this site. Shmuel Shimshoni Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 10:26

5 Answers 5


The earliest printed sources that mention the bans of Rabbeinu Gershom ben Yehuda, one of which is the ban on polygamy, appear to be the Machzor Vitry (§575) and two teshuvot of the Maharam of Rotenberg (§153 and §1022). A much easier source to find (and read) is the anonymously-authored Sefer Kol Bo, which was probably composed in the 14th century. There you will find a section entitled דין תקנת רבינו גרשום וגזרת קדמונים ז"ל (Sefer Kol Bo §116; in modern editions, Volume III:5). Within that section is the following ruling:

והחרם ששם רבינו גרשון, שלא לישא שתי נשים, אין להתירו, רק במאה אנשים, מג' קהילות, ומג' ארצות, כגון ארגו"ן [ארגו"ב], למברדי"א [נורמנדיא"ה], וצרפת. גם הם לא יסכימו, עד שיראו טעם מבורר להתיר, וגם באותו ענין שתהא מבורר

The sections in parentheses reflect what is found in the mss. My translation is as follows:

And as for the ban that Rabbeinu Gershon [sic] enacted, that one may not marry two women, this may only be undone with one hundred people, from three communities [kehillot] and from three lands - such as Aragon, Normandy and France. Even they may not agree unless they see a clear reason to undo it, and in only those areas where they can so explain it.

According to the biography on Rabbeinu Gershon found in his Responsa, the most complete list of his takanot is found at the end of a hand written manuscript of Talmud Bavli from Munich (Shtark Leiden Collection 1912). It opens with the words, "These are the takanot of Rabbeinu Gershom, Meor HaGolah, N'E".

In those responsa is one letter dealing with a question from an individual who actually married two women. In the notes quoting the Sefer Ohr Zarua, it says that Rabbeinu Gershon's decree was not a blanket ban for all situations.

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    Argonne and Lombardy? Or, accepting the brackets, perhaps Argœuves?? In any event, I don't see how this answers the question, which seeks what Rabenu Gershom issued.
    – msh210
    Commented Jul 15, 2012 at 5:11
  • True, but for that you'll have to look up the Machzor Vitry or the Maharam's responsa - neither of which I have access to, myself. Searching around for information on this led me to suppose that they are the earliest printed references to the takanah. I don't think that there IS anything written by Rabbeinu Gershom himself...
    – Shimon bM
    Commented Jul 15, 2012 at 5:16
  • And good job on Argonne. I don't mind if you want to make that an edit: the only reason I'm not doing so is because I don't see how it's a different "land" to that of France... As for Normandy, I only chose that over Lombardy because I prefer to favour the mss tradition over that of the printed versions.
    – Shimon bM
    Commented Jul 15, 2012 at 5:18
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    On the point about the various lands referred to it must be remembered that at the time that Rabbenu Gershom was holding the synods that "France" was not a single country but was made up of a number of Dukedoms and Principalities which had their own separate identities as countries. So, for example, in 1066 it was William, Duke of Normandy, who invaded and conquered England, and for many years after that the king of England was also the Duke of Normandy and had many claims for other French Lands as well - see The Hundred Years Wars. On the other hand they could be referring to different countr
    – user3012
    Commented Jul 16, 2013 at 10:36
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    It may be Aragon, as in the Spanish land Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 21:49

You mean his ban on polygamy?

I was told that we don't actually have its text today; hence so much debate as to its contents and limitations.

  • Yeah, that's what I am looking for. The Sh"A brings three things that were part of the ban: 1)Ban on Polygamy 2)Ban on divorcing a woman against her will 3)A man must give his wife a divorce if she so demands. I was hoping to find the text so as to be able to read his reasoning and such. Commented Dec 27, 2010 at 17:26
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    The earliest source attesting to the fact that we don't have the text would be interesting too!
    – Yosef
    Commented Dec 27, 2010 at 18:02
  • The Herem itself is referenced by many Rishonim including Sefardim. I am no where near my notes and will not be for the next week, so I hope someone beat me to it.
    – Yahu
    Commented Dec 27, 2010 at 18:21
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    @R'mekubal, there's also the ban on reading another's mail. Was that separate, while the other three were part of one decree?
    – msh210
    Commented Dec 27, 2010 at 19:17
  • I'm not sure. Hence I am looking for the original text. Commented Dec 27, 2010 at 19:41

The following is a source that I am aware of.

Be'er HaGola at the end of Yorah Deah 334




There is no "book" of the rulings of Rabbeinu Gershom. Many items are referenced by later Rishonim in Ashkenaz as takkanot (rulings) of Rabbeinu Gershom, but there is no authoritative list in any one place. There is also no English translation for most of the following, which may be why no one has quoted them:

The earliest attributions to Rabbeinu Gershom are found in the Sefer Ma'asei HaGeonim which you can find edited by Epstein. Sefer HaPardes also has many attributions. Not to be confused with the much later kabbalah book by Cordovero.

In the early law codes, Rabbeinu Gershom is cited in the Sefer Ra'avan, Sefer Ra'aviyah and the 'Or Zarua.

By the time you get to the Sefer Hasidim and the Roke'ach, the quotes are less reliable, and a little more mythological - that is to say "it was a takkanah of Rabbeinu Gershom" becomes a support for many things for which there is no other real support.

At the end of this period comes the Maharam of Rottenberg, and then from him into the Mordechai, the Rosh and on into Tur/Shulchan Arukh, etc., etc., etc.,

Until the Rosh leaves Rottenberg and arrives in Spain, and there meets widespread polygamy and concubinage in the sefardi halakhik community, this is a consistent Ashkenazi stream of tradition which accepts the "gezeira" of Rabbeinu Gershom, and prohibits polygamy.

  • The best source for this stuff, a generally accepted timeline to date the materials, can be found in Avraham Grossman, The Early Sages of Ashkenaz: their Lives, Leadership and Works (900-1096) (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2001),
    – R. Tobin
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 17:00
  • 2
    Welcome to MY, R. Tobin! Thanks for this very impressive answer (+1) :) ....please consider registering your account, which will give you access to more of the site's features. I'd love to see you around the site!
    – MTL
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 17:22

If you can't find the text in either of these books:

  • Rabbenu Gershom; Meor Hagolah, Light of the Exile.: Merkos L'inyonei Chinuch
  • Petuchowski, Aaron M. Inconsistency for Good Reason: The Responsa of Rabbenu Gershom

and this guy (note: i don't agree with this page) doesn't have it either, you are going to have to go by the Rishonym who quote the Cheirim/Gezeira.

Upon further thought, there probably was not a formal document. Probably there was a series of Responsa that together became known as the "Gezeira". I'm pretty sure that not being able to divorce a woman against her will was a psak halacha and not a gezeira per se.

  • @inSeattle Who is the author of the site you linked?
    – WAF
    Commented Dec 28, 2010 at 17:33
  • @WAF it doesn't matter who the (anonymous) author is; the linked page is trying to promote polygyny in the Orthodox world today; that's what @inSeattle is rattling against, I assume.
    – Shalom
    Commented Dec 28, 2010 at 17:47
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    @WAF The website inSeattle linked to is dedicated to using Talmud to demonstrate that Judaism is evil (or something like that). Ironically, to further that goal, they transcribed a great deal of the Soncino translation of the Talmud and made it available on their website, which I've found to be quite a useful resource.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Dec 28, 2010 at 17:56
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    The Gezeira of Rabbeinu Gershom was a series of documents(according to the Rishonim and Historians) released by a council that he convened, as the last of the Gaonim to deal with certain issues. They apparently were in existence as some point, in this question I am looking specifically for the texts themselves in the original Hebrew. Commented Dec 28, 2010 at 19:08
  • One should not use a site that violates copyright - the Soncino Talmud is still under copyright under the Judaica Press Publisher.
    – user18323
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 14:43

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