When discussing polygamy with someone from Chinese culture, they mentioned how marrying sisters was considered a good idea as they were more likely to get along.

This made me wonder about the specification: "And you shall not take a woman with her sister [in marriage] as rivals, to uncover the nakedness of one upon the other, in her lifetime."

Does this mean you can marry your wife's sister if it isn't as a rival wife?

  • Consider the case of Rachel and Leah, who were sisters. They certainly were rivals when it came to "how many sons they could bear to Jacob", "whose night it was to be withh him", etc.
    – ezra
    Sep 19, 2017 at 14:35
  • 3
    While specific examples might not have the "spirit" of rivalry within them, the term "rival wife" is a category, not a definition. Even if the two sisters are the best of friends, and could manage marrying the same person amicably, they're still classified as "rival wives". Sep 19, 2017 at 14:46
  • do you mean to take her as a concubine? wouldn't that itself cause jealousy between the sisters?
    – Bach
    Sep 19, 2017 at 17:38

1 Answer 1


The Torah clearly states that one may not marry one's wife's sister, as long as one's wife is alive.

This is true whether you are still married to your first wife or not. I.e. whether she is a rival or not. (In the Torah, all one's current wives are labeled "Rival Wives".)

Once she dies, she is no longer a Rival Wife, and you can marry her sister.

This is codified in the Shulchan Aruch in 15:26 - סימן טו - אסור ערוה דאוריתא ודרבנן

כו אֲחוֹת אִשְׁתּוֹ אֲסוּרָה לוֹ מִן הַתּוֹרָה, כָּל זְמַן שֶׁאִשְׁתּוֹ קַיֶּמֶת, לֹא שְׁנָא אִם הִיא אֲחוֹתָהּ מִן הָאָב אוֹ מִן הָאֵם, וַאֲפִלּוּ גֵּרַשׁ אֶת אִשְׁתּוֹ. אֲבָל לְאַחַר מִיתָתָהּ, מֻתָּר בַּאֲחוֹתָהּ‏

  • In short -- the Torah is saying "don't ever do it, as it's too likely to lead to rivalry." (Even if you don't think that will be the case.) You can't even divorce one sister and marry another. The only exception is if the first sister is no longer alive.
    – Shalom
    Sep 19, 2017 at 10:08
  • Side note, I believe it's not just marrying the wife's sister that is prohibited. She becomes like a full Ervah in other instances as well, including relations outside of marriage. Sep 19, 2017 at 14:48
  • I suspect your parenthesized sentence is the one that best addresses the OP's confusion. You may wish to provide support for it.
    – msh210
    Sep 20, 2017 at 5:09

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