When did having a pilegesh become unacceptable and why?

  • 2
    – Rish
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 5:02
  • I would bet that as the rights of women increased, the rates of polygamy decreased.
    – Aaron
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 5:21
  • 5
    This seems like two separate questions. It was once permissible to have two wives (neither a pilegesh), and the first question sounds like it's about that. It also was, perhaps, acceptable to have a pilegesh (as one's only wife, perhaps), and the second question sounds like it's about that. Also, the first question sounds like it's about halachic permissibility and the second about social acceptability. I think you should split this into separate question posts.
    – msh210
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 5:50
  • @msh210 The case of Pilegesh B'Givah seems to imply that she was the only "wife" even though she was only a pilegesh. Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 15:00
  • @IsaacKotlicky The talmud learns from Dovid Hamelech that a person should not have 2 wives. He should have either one or three. That way at least one of them will back you. in an argument and you will not be outnumbered. Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 15:02

1 Answer 1


A number of reasons are given ranging from practical to hashkafa. One of the main reasons is that the Torah points out that, while allowed, it is not the ideal (as stated in Bereishis 2:24 with Adam). Rav Hirsch goes into detail about this. The ideal is to have the two join together and recreate the unity that existed before the split into Adam and Chava while also fixing the problem of being "alone" which was "lo tov".

Does Jewish Law Forbid Polygamy?

A number of reasons are given for Rabbi Gershom’s ban:

It was instituted to prevent people from taking advantage of their wives.2

It was intended to avoid potential infighting between rival wives,3 which may also lead to the transgression of a number of biblical violations.4

Rabbi Gershom was concerned lest the husband be unable to provide properly for all his wives (especially during the difficult times of exile).5

The ban is intended to avoid the inherent rivalry and hatred between rival wives

There is a concern that a man may marry two wives in different locations, which may lead to forbidden relationships between offspring.6

While it has been suggested that it was adopted from Christian practice and laws, to avoid Christian attacks against Jews who act otherwise,7 this argument has been assailed by many other halachic authorities.

As far as Jewish thought is concerned, it would seem that polygamy is not, and never was, an ideal state. The mystical works are replete with references to husband and wife being two halves of one whole. Interestingly, I’ve never encountered an episode in the Talmud or Midrash—which predate Rabbi Gershom’s ban on polygamy—which involves a polygamous family. While it is certainly possible that such stories do exist, it is quite apparent that polygamy was never the norm.


2. Maharik in the name of Rashba, cited in Darchei Moshe, Even ha-Ezer 1:10.

3. Mordechai, Ketubot 291, cited in Darchei Moshe ibid. 1:12.

4. Responsa of Maharam Schick, Even ha-Ezer 4.

5. Responsa of Maharam mi-Padua, 14; Responsa Mishkenot Yaakov, 1.

6. Mishkenot Yaakov ibid.

7. Responsa She’eilat Yaavetz 2:15.

  • Another pointer is the "two by two, man and his wife" in Noach. Additionally, in every case of the Avos marrying additional wives there was a specific reason, and it was seen as a sacrifice of the first wife.
    – HaLeiVi
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 13:14
  • @HaLeiVi The citation that I quoted also has the avos reference as well. I did not quote it because that would make the citation too long. I can add it to the post if you like. Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 14:55
  • @HaLeiVi They found some documents in the Cairo Genizah in which the groom explicitly says that he will only marry a second wife with the approval of the first wife. There are some polygamous societies in which (as a rule) any additional wife requires the approval of all the other wives. Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 14:59
  • @sabbahillel Good luck getting the other wives to approve, ha ha!
    – ezra
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 4:23
  • @ezra There were kesuvos in the Cairo geniza that had this Commented Jun 3, 2018 at 23:41

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