Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Due to an excess of politics lately, I've ignored a few interesting topics.

Zvi Zohar's quite banal article in Akdamot about pilagshim has ruffled a few feathers. The gist of it is that many rishonim are of the opinion that pilagshus -- an exclusive (for the woman) relationship between a man and woman without kiddushin or kesubah -- is permitted. Zohar presents this as a remedy for the problem of what he describes as rampant illicit pre-marital sex.

A variety of rabbanim have expressed the expected degree of shock and horror. Hirhurim has also weighed in on this one.

I wrote two posts on R. Yakov Emden's lenient view on pilagshus a long while back. And still I found Zohar's article distasteful for a number of reasons.

1. An article on halacha should not be tendentious. As R. Yehuda Henkin noted in his rebuttal (in the same issue of Akdamot), Zohar ignored a long list of opinions that were contrary to the one he needed. Even in my posts, which were for the purpose of explicating RYE's lenient view and explicitly not intended as practical advice, I cited numerous stringent views not cited by Zohar. The most egregious omission is the view of the Rambam (Hil. Melakhim 4:4) that pilagshim are premitted only to kings. This is relegated to a footnote.

2. The truth is that the arguments for leniency in this matter are indeed more compelling than those against. What rankles, though, is the technocratic view of halacha implicit in Zohar's argument. His point is that if people are sleeping together, we ought to find a way to permit it. This is bizarre. As I've argued before (in my favorite post), hypocrisy is something we ought to learn to live with. It is better to own up to the fact that we do things that are forbidden than to rewrite halacha to suit our convenience. One of the popular mechanisms for such rewriting is to entirely ignore the flow of tradition as an organic entity and instead to reconstruct the "true pristine halakhah" out of books. (Yoav Sorek recently wrote about this in Makor Rishon.)

3. Zohar completely missed the boat on the real practical use of pilagshut: it can serve as the basis for civil marriage in Israel. This is a heavy topic that deserves its own post.


Blogger Jewish Exile said...

The thing is, since pilagshut has been rejected as practical halacha, it is not well known how it would work practically. This is of critical importance; for those who allow pilagshut, where exactly is the line between pilagshut and znut? And are we at all sure that those who willy-nilly rely on Zohar's reasoning aren't actually practicing the latter on a regular basis?

4:55 AM  
Blogger Drew_Kaplan said...

Ben Chorin,
There's a very obvious reason why Dr. Zohar merely relegated Ramban's position: because in תנ"ך we see that that is certainly not the case. In fact, I think there are more non-kings with pilagshim than there are kings with them.

Jewish Exile,
I do agree with you that "it is not well known how it would work practically." But as to drawing the line between pilagshut and zenut, I think that the most black-and-white one could make the distinction is to say that the former is a committed relationship while the latter is not, much like one-night stands. The gray area, however, is where there would be something like a week fling or the like. Granted, this needs more working out, but it's a start. As to your last question, I think that (as Ben has pointed out in the comments section of the linked Gil post) one doesn't have to rely on Dr. Zohar's reasoning to be practicing it - one may very well be concerned with people committing sins - if one is engaged in act, wouldn't it be better if they do it in a permissible fashion or in a sinful fashion? However, of course, the opposing side to that opinion is that then the floodgates would be opened to rampant non-marital sex taking place, thus stealing a focus away from marriage - a time-honored Jewish tradition. It is for this last reason that pilagshut has not been around in practice on a communal level.

6:22 AM  
Blogger Ben Bayit said...

While I agree with the thrust of what you wrote, I want to point out two things:

1) The article rankles b/c it is INDEED really a mechanism for allowing quasi-marriages which can lead to easy no-fault "divorce" that may not require a get. It is meant to undermine the sanctity of marriage and establish a bi-level marriage regime similar to the staes in the US that have regular marriages as well as covenant marriages that disallow no-fault divorce. But this is not said up-front and instead it is presented as a solution for singles issues. He wants to get to the same place you are suggesting for civil marriages, but in reality wants to advocate it as a potential solution not just for secular Jews that are going to Cyprus but even for religious Jews (and we all know that whatever the disagreements regarding the exact magnitude of the aguna "problem" - most of the cases involve religious circles). However the baggage in the Orthodox community regarding innovations to the marriage ceremony (e.g. no conditions, etc. etc) necessitates first establishing a legitimacy for the "common-law" marriage in Religious circles. In reality, pilagshut is simply not a solution for wanton sleeping around by singles. Practically speaking, do you see all the "pilagshot" in katamon running to the rabbanut for a "decree of singlehood" every time they split up with their boyfriends (something that the Rav Duchovski faction in the rabbanut would require even if a get isn't required)?

2) In Zohar's defense, he wrote the book on Rav Haim Hirschenson and is obviously influenced by him. Rav Hirschenson DID view positively the search for halachic solutions to allow what is already being practiced (use of the safety T-razor is the classic example in his corpus). I'm not ready to render Rav Hirschenson's views as totally illegitimate, even though I agree with Sorek's piece in the specific context of Shira Chadash, Zohar and homosexual households. As Rav Henkin himself pointed out regarding Shira Chdasha the main problem with the shul is that social norms dictate that it won't remain Orthodox. The line of taxis that line up every friday night outside Shira Chadasha and the current "breakaway minyan" at the Pelech School which involve Israelis not happy with the "americanization" (read driving to shul on shabbat) of Shira Chadasha only lend credence to Rav Henkin's assertion.

11:32 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

Jewish Exile,
R. Yakov Emden offers a simple solution to the pilagshut/znut problem. He requires three months "havchana" after termination of a pilagshut agreement during which time the woman cannot have sex with anyone.

There are certainly difficulties with the Rambam's position but Zohar does not deal with them. Instead he says that "*at worst* the Rambam forbids pilagshut m-derabanan". This is worse than disingenuous.
BTW, the "Ben" who commented on Hirhurim is Ben Bayit (see comment above) and not me. (Ben Bayit, maybe we should sign comments with our full handles.)

Ben Bayit,
Your observation about Zohar's agenda is interesting.
One doesn't need Hirshenson to find examples of being "meyashev the minhag". This is common practice, especially among Polish poskim such as Eretz Tzvi. The point is that they reconciled practices that were widely regarded as normative even if at variance with code law. Justifying self-consciously non-normative behavior is simply dishonest.
I hadn't heard about the Pelech minyan. Do tell more.

Ben Chorin

12:00 PM  
Blogger Ben Bayit said...

B.C. - I agree with your assessment regarding self-conscious non-normative behavior. But taking my argument about Zohar's agenda and where he's coming from a step further. Let's assume that over 50% of religious youth are sleeping around. The obvious solution even in a "Hirshnesonian" mode of thought that seeks to find an ex-post facto solution in the world of leniencies, would be to abandon the rabbinic prohibition of single women going to mikve (the ability to abandon rabbinic prohibitions in the modern era is something that Hirshenson AND Zohar definitely discussed). Not jump straight to the Pilegesh issue. It's pretty clear that it's marriage/divorce and agunot that's on his (and Beit Morasha's) mind and not the singles crises. Just think of the Rabbi that heads up Beit Morasha and what book's and articles he's published on this topic, and you'll see that I'm correct.

A faction at the Pelech shabbat minyan has started a "shira chadasha type" minyan that will be meeting every Shabbos Mevarchim. Otherwise they will be stayng within the Pelech community. When I asked as to why they just don't go to Shira Chadasha which is basically down the road, the answer I received was that "SC was becoming too American". The extrapolation to the driving on shabbat to shul, was my own. I still find it interesting that they want to do this in the same way "women's minyanim" were dealt with and not establish a new shul right away. One could extrapolate from all this that Rav Henkin's assessment the "go fast" approach on this issue is an expressway out of Orthodoxy, may have been perceived by even some "liberal" elements as having been correct one.

AFAIK, I used the full ben bayit name on hirhurim. sorry if there was confusion

12:33 PM  
Blogger mnuez said...

Yeah, I came across Zohar's article mentioned all over the placve but I never cared to read it simply because

a) The YE piece is old news and

b)I have no interest in anything that Zohar has to say about halacha.

His point of view regarding halacha is the same as the average secular lawyer's (and worse even that Naomi Regan's). It is: To use the words of existing legals texts to get the social outcome that I desire.

Lawyers, as a class, are people whos professional lives revolve around the ignoring issues of right and wrong. If we can finagle the system into being metaher the tamei and metameh the tahor - for my clients of course - than all's well. And no one in society has a bad word for them - "they're only doing their job".

Thankfully, the great poskim are either of a different mind about such matters or are at least clever enough to cover up intentions. Reading R' Moshe's psaks on a whole host of human (humane?) matters, you get the distinct feel that his goals are to acheive God's goals. Now, that's a complicating thing, what with having to combine copmmon sense with a whole host of legal texts and traditions, but that appears to be his goal: To acheive God's goals./

Zohar's goals are to acheiev the Hartman Institute's goals.

I had a meeting with him in his office a number of years ago regarding the issue of geyrus in Israel. Particuallry the hu8ndreds of thousands of Russian non-Jews in Israel and whether they could be megayer in some way without accepting to be Orthodox Jews.

He asked me as to what I was more concerned with, Jews or Judaism. I answered (as you could readil;y guess) Jews.

He brightened.

"In that case, there's no problem! We'll get a committee together (the Ne'eman commission was in the talks at the time), have a few classes and convert them!"

Jesus Horatio Christ. What I had meant was that I was willing to sacrifice halacha for the sake of the Jewish people, not to rape the Jewish people by moving hundreds of thousands of goyim d'oraisa (anmd d'rabanan) into unzer folk!

To him though, there is no such thing as the Jewish people. He has no family feelings for the Jews. Ha has the Hartman Institute. His goals are to play around with the machanics of Orthodoxy with some vague social goals in mind and some less vague pleasure in the fun of messing with the system.

Retzono La'asot Retzon Kono? Hardly.

For this reason, despite my own lack of commitment to "the halachic system" I have no interest in hearing Zohar's disingenuous readings of a system he seems interested in raping for his own purposes.


6:49 PM  
Anonymous zalman said...

... and on a lighter note -
the real practical use of pilagshut:
it can serve as the basis for Isreali politics.

10:04 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

You're the king.

I think you've confused pilagshut and znut...

10:07 PM  
Anonymous zalman said...

so on the question where exactly is the line between pilagshut and znut?
we can answer, if it starts to sound like politics...

10:31 PM  
Blogger Ben Bayit said...

I forgot to include this link yesterday. It clearly discusses the "singles problem" - or more correctly the "refusal to get married" issue - in the context of aguna crises activism. http://www.inn.co.il/newspaper.php?id=5534

We can all try and imagine which Rabbis' daughter this is. I don't know, but the list can't be too long.

9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The truth is that the arguments for leniency in this matter are indeed more compelling than those against."

true, but since it's not clear whether even if permissible, a pilegesh requires a get and what form that would take, the argument for chumra gets a lot stronger.

It's curious that so little mention is made of REmden's stated intention of acting as a counterweight to Sabbateans who he viewed as attracting membership because of leniencies on such matters. He clearly refers to this agenda in his teshuva.

5:23 PM  
Anonymous Alan said...

A pilegesh does not have to be a one night stand. Jacob's concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah were part of his family and their children became an integral part of Bnei Yisroel.

There are cases in which a man married to a barren woman, might take a pilegesh in order to fulfill the mitzvah of peru-urvu.

While it is extremely difficult to maintain a non-monogamous family, it can be done.

6:10 PM  
Anonymous Sara said...

I guess he has a unique view of his writing. I wonder what's the reaction of his readers when reading his article.
Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts and knowledge about your topic. I have a great time reading your article. Thanks

10:43 PM  

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