Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Polygamy and Pilegesh

I was at a conference on Monday at the HBI with the topic: "Polygamy, Polygyny, and Polyamory: Ethical and Legal Perspectives on Plural Marriage." Now I naturally went to the conference expecting that a massively feminist organization like the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute would *oppose* polygyny (multiple wives), polyandry (multiple husbands) maybe, but definitely not polygyny. I based this on my own knowledge of the practice which basically treats women as property and was eliminated from Western and Jewish tradition through the combined force of the otherwise disenfranchised women. It's in fact the best proof that women had 'unofficial' power over the past few centuries.

Well, was *I* in for a surprise. I was only able to go to the first and third sessions (see the above link for the schedule) but that first session was the weirdest, most disturbing, academic panel I'd ever heard. It was filled with pro-polygamy weirdos and the audience, filled with feminists, didn't grab pitchforks and torches - rather they seemed to find the whole thing awesome.

How?! Well, in the airy academic world of anti-empiricism, all that's necessary is to have a compelling *idea* plus one or two anecdotes, and you're all set with a policy proposal! These doofi don't seem to bother with thinking about what the future would look like once the plans are implemented; I guess that's why communism is alive and well in the academy even though it's dead in every country it's been attempted.

There were some sane people in the crew. Prof. Elimelech Westreich, gave a detailed talk on polygamy in halakha, and the best stuff was from Prof. Alean Al-Krenawi who has published studies on the psychological impact of polygamy. His work shows that there's severe unhappiness and anomie in polygamous families. His was the last talk and I could see that he was nearly quivering with frustration and how all these progressives were seriously accepting what he knows to be a retrograde, and even evil, practice.

Yet, the biggest repudiation needs to be given to Prof. Zvi Zohar who spoke about his advocacy for pilagshut, a.k.a. Biblical concubinage (see above for "weird and disturbing"). His article, and a bunch of other wickedness, is found here.

Zohar's point is that there are many current social problems - a singles crisis, an agunah crisis, and his main focus: the crisis of liberal Orthodox Jews who wait until their 30s to get married but want to have sex in their 20s - that can be solved by re-instating 'pilegesh.'

To put it simply, Zohar's idea is both pernicious and ignorant. Pernicious because it will cause many more social problems than it would possibly solve, and of those it cares about, the only thing that will be helped is guiltless sleeping around. It will actually prolong the singles crisis, it won't help agunahs because he acknowledges that people will eventually get married anyway. So all he wants to do is allow nominally-frum Jews to sleep around. Yipee. It's basically the equivalent of saying "people are driving to shul, so let's just make driving OK on Shabbat!" And boy did that work out.

It's ignorant because he actually read the "Pilegesh at Giva" story as somehow advocating pilagshut instead of it being a CLEARLY OBVIOUS ATTACK ON PILAGSHUT. Its kinda like reading the golden calf episode as a support for golden idols.

Anyway, I will end my trashing of his idea with one of my favorite Onion stories: "Desperate Vegetarians Declare Cows Plants"

No comments: