Weekly Parsha Review Laced with Humor and Sarcasm from The Oisvorfer Ruv

Shoiftim 2013: Rabaynu Gershom

2013We begin this week with a special shout-out to our friends Naomi and Howie, that’s Dr, Howie Berg upon becoming grandparents for the first time and we welcome into the world Elianne Rose born to their children Adrianna and Moshe Schwartz. A long time ago, more than 25 years, the Oisvorfer was the shadchan for the proud grandparents. Mazel Tov and keyn yirbu…

Raboyseyee and Raboyseyettes:

Rabaynu Gershom

Were the early Yiddin polygamists? Seemingly yes, at least some of them, and moreover es-veyst-zich-ois (it appears) that polygamy was an accepted part of early Judaism. It was? Zicher you recall learning that our forefather Avrohom Oveenu had at least two vyber (wives) and let’s not avada forget that he also had multiple concubines. How many? Ver veyst ober when he died the heylige Toirah tells us what he bequeathed to ‘the children of the concubines.’ Seemingly; there were a bunch. Mistama you recall that  Soro and Hogor, his two wives, were not the best of friends and mistama you’re wondering why the Oisvorfer is mentioning this topic and these good people  here in  Parshas Shoiftim, which we will read this Shabbis, half- way through sefer Devorim. Taka an excellent kasha ober soon enough the Oisvorfer will illuminate and it will all come together, polygamist style, if you chap. And before we do, let’s not forget that Yankif Oveenu (Jacob) had four wives including two full and two half sisters- all from the zelbe tata Lovon – farbrecher (bad guy) that he was.  Though he married all four sisters, basically the gantze mishpocho, Yankif was still worthy and besides being one of our forefathers, was also the proverbial father of the entire nation of Yiddin. Yankif  was, despite the fact that he epes swindled his only and older brother Eisav out of the brochos and  birthright, known for, and stood for Emes (truth) and if he saw fit to have four wives, mistama this was the emes way; sounds good to me.  And mistama you recall that there came a time when Rochel and Leah also had their differences, petty jealousies and efsher more. Ober, our beautiful and emesdike heylige Toirah never shied away from describing these relationships, in fact, punkt farkert (the opposite is true); many details of these marriages are revealed. And the bottom line? Polygamy, as stated above, was an accepted part of society, at least back then.


Which brings us to Parshas Shoiftim and its 41 mitzvois, some new, some repeats. Among the myriad, mostly unrelated to one another, topics we will be introduced to this week,  is the concept of a Jewish king and the Toirah’s instructions for what the king may, or may not have. More on that soon ober for now, what we need to know is that the heylige Toirah specifically instructs that the King may not have too many wives. How many is too many? Excellent kasha and soon we’ll address that as well.


It’s taka emes that we typically begin with a shtikel overview of the gantze parsha ober this week, because we already mentioned polygamy in the header, a topic that mamish piques your interests -chazerim that you are- the Oisvorfer knows that you have little interest in learning about anything else. We’ll efsher do the chazoro later.  Says the heylige Toirah azoy:

When the People will enter the Land, conquer it, and settle down, and they will ask for a king like the nations around them, it is a mitzva to “place over us” a king (of the RBSO’s choosing) from among the Jewish People; we may not choose a non-Jew as king, or a woman for that matter. In fact, the appointment of a king is one of the last Mitzvois (commandments) listed in the Toirah. The king must not possess too many horses (i.e. in excess of those necessary for his army, etc.) nor may he lead the People back to Mitzrayim (Egypt) – it is forbidden for us to live there (visits are permitted).  A king may not have an excessive number of wives (more than 18)  nor may he amass excessive wealth  (referring to wealth for his own sake; funds necessary for running the kingdom are excluded from the prohibition.) A king must write a Sefer Torah for himself  (in addition to the one he is commanded to write as a Jew – mitzva #613).


Did we just read that a Jewish king may have up to 18 wives? Indeed we did and by this standard, our forefathers, at least two of them, seemingly fell short of the mark. Ober is having more than one desirable even if Toirah permitted? Lommer lernin about polygamy and the Yiddin.


Says  Rabbi Joseph Telushkin azoy:  if the RBSO  had intended to or wished to communicate polygamy as an ideal, He would have created “Adam, Eve and Joan.” Shoin, drum roll please! Ober we just learned that two of our heylige Ovois, those we’re meant to emulate, had more than one and shtlet zich di shaylo (the question arises); which is the correct position? Nu, when it comes to polygamy, there is seemingly room for more than one position, if you chap. Veyter.

Efsher we can kler (posit) that since polygamy exists in the Toirah, it’s quite Ok and efsher even preferred. In fact, over in Lakewood and other such Yeshiva communities, they are considering  a takono (special allowance)  to allow the young men in kollel to taka marry more than one wife. And their reasoning? In today’s times, one wife cannot support a husband! Shoin, drum roll again please! On the other hand, efsher we can kler that although polygamy exists in the heylige Toirah, in every known case, it led to tzuris (anguish) for at least one or more parties. Seemingly, polygamy does lead to parties, if you chap. Lemoshol (by way of example), when Hogor becomes trugidik (pregnant) before Soro, there developed great acrimony between the two wives. And said Soro about Hogor:  “Now that she sees herself pregnant, she looks at me with disrespect.” And said Hogor about Soro:  “When she realized that she was pregnant, she looked at her mistress (i.e. Soro) with contempt.”

And di zelbe zach unfolded in Yankif’s not so quiet household where Leah felt unloved and unhappy in her husband’s home. Says the heylige Toirah (“God saw that Leah was unloved.”) and her sons come to hate Yoisef (Joseph) who was the son of the beloved Rochil (“Because of his dreams and words, they hated him even more.”). Need we say more? Avada we all know what happened to Yoisef because of the jealousies that ensued from his brothers unloved mother. Incidentally, stay tuned for next week’s parsha which will mamish address the situation where a man has two wives and loves one but hates the other. We’ll also learn what to do if a man has but one wife and still hates her ober chap nisht, that’s all next week. Seemingly, the Toirah cases of polygamy are wracked with anguish and competitiveness and it’s efsher telling us that  polygamy was a disastrous family model.


Nu, the Oisvorfer went searching for the correct and moral position on polygamy and reports as follows. Seemingly, Polygamy was an atavistic (big word for a yeshiva buchir from Boro Park) practice, left over from a less sophisticated time. Even when polygamy was permitted, monogamy was always considered the ideal form of partnership between a man and a woman. And while the heylige Toirah did not immediately or ever forbid these unions, it seems that by the time of the niviim (prophets), polygamy was on the decline as they encouraged the Yiddin toward higher levels of moral and ethical behavior. Nu, this didn’t work out too well;  the Beis Hamkidash was ultimately destroyed, both of them, ober that for another day.


Although polygamy was legal in Jewish society for a long time, it was still quite rare, especially in the post-Biblical period. As evidence, over the hundreds of years that the heylige Gemora was written, none of the rebbes mentioned had more than one wife, at least none that were discussed in the heylige Gemora and since everything can be found in the heylige Gemora and since they are not mentioned, we can assume that taka they didn’t have any. Gishmak, no?


Eventually, in the 10th century CE, the great Sage Rabaynu Gershom issued a rabbinic degree banning polygamy. Rabaynu who? He did what? Noch a mol please. Nu, about  a thousand years ago, Rabaynu Gershom, one of the greatest rabbis of his time, issued  a takonah (prohibition) against marrying more than one wife. Nu, as expected, many men loved this idea and ever since,  in many Ashkenazi (European) countries, under most circumstances, men have been limited to one wife.  In the regions where it was accepted, the ban included a cheirem (excommunication) for violators. In the areas where it was not accepted, it had no force whatsoever. The common understanding is that this prohibition applied to all Ashkenazi  Yiddin wherever they may be, for all generations and under all circumstances. Ober is that really the case? Was it a lifetime ban or a baseball type ban for a finite period of say 150  or even 211 years, and did everyone hold from the ban? Nu, lommer lernin ober one thing is quite zicher. The  Yiddin over in Yemen never accepted the good Rabbi’s ban and until this day practice polygamy. Are they happy with two or more veyber, ver veyst?


Says  Professor Avraham Grossman (Hebrew University) azoy: Rabaynu Gershom  was merely  rubber-stamping a changed social reality; by the time the ban was issued in Mainz, Germany in 1000, most Jewish communities had no polygamy. More significant was his edict forbidding a man to divorce a woman against her will, which according to Grossman, marked great progress in the status of women in Jewish law.


On the other hand, Rabaynu Gershom himself wrote three t’shuvois (responsa) stating that his takonah does not apply in the case where the wife has no children or has ceased to have children (Otzar HaPoskim Even Haezer 1:10 pages 14a and 14b).  And says the Tashbetz azoy: If the first wife consents to a second wife, the husband can taka marry wife  number two and in cases where consent is taka given, there never was a ban (Tasbetz sh’eilah 94). Givaldig! Ober says the  Ran:  it is likely but not absolutely certain that, in such a case, it does not apply. (Sh’eilos Ut’shuvos HaRan end of siman 48, quoted in the Beis Yosef). Which is it, ver veyst?


Moreover, almost all agree that in certain exceptional circumstances, such as the wife becoming insane, a man can secure the signatures of one hundred rabbis, and is then allowed to institutionalize his wife and marry another. Gishmak!  Nu, though many men have given this option serious thought, few have executed.


And says Rav Yaakov Emden: the reason for the ban was danger from the uncircumcised goyim (Christians) among whom we live. Christianity worked hard over the period from about 600 c.e. to 900 c.e. to eliminate polygamy in Europe. By the year 858, Herard of Tours got so far as to limit people to two wives. Shortly thereafter, the ban among Christians in Europe became almost complete, and they were soon restricted to only one wife. Since the Christians were now banned from something that had been normal practice for many years, they resented the fact that the Yiddin could continue to have more than one wife. When goyim are jealous and otherwise resent the Yiddin, the result is almost always that Yiddin get killed. Nu, to prevent  such  massacres of the Yiddin, Rabaynu Gershom banned polygamy. Veyter.


Ober hear this! Avada most of you grew up hearing that there was such a person known as Rabaynu Gershom and that he enacted the ban on polygamy ober what we never knew was when and if it expired. Seemingly  the ban was to last only until the year 5000 and said Rav Emden: the takonah is a result of our living among goyim. It would be better to eliminate the ban. The ban is only until the year 5000. Let’s not add on to the ban. Hey, his words, not the Oisvorfer’s. The ban was limited geographically to Germany and the parts of France that were nearby. It spread to Poland and European Russia. It was not accepted in southern France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Africa and Asia. In other words, the ban is over; let’s party. According to most poiskim, including the Shulchan Aruch and the Rama (Rav Moshe Isserles), the ban was taka but temporary, until the year 5000. It continued afterwards as a custom in many places in Europe, but no longer had the force of a cherem.


Ober people think that there is something basically immoral about having more than one wife. In Israel it is forbidden by law. Some continue to hold that if  the heylige Toirah which is our guide for life and which avada we follow closely, tells us that polygamy was practiced and nowhere does it say that it’s ossur (verbotten), that it still is ok today.  However, all the Toirah cases of polygamy are epes  wracked with danger, anguish and more.   Dovid Hamelech (King David) had issues with the sons of his many wives and we imagine that Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon) had his hands full servicing  his 1000 veyber. Efsher the heylige Toirah is telling us that polygamy was taka efsher a disastrous family model? Ver veyst.

And the bottom line?Polygamy was once an accepted norm in most human societies, but now its practice is quite limited and most people consider the idea of a man having two wives as somehow immoral. It appears that the ban is over ober why don’t most men marry a second  or third wife? It’s quite poshit: they don’t want to!


Nu, this  polygamy chazerei took us all the way into page four; let’s do a quick parsha overview. And in Spark Notes fashion, here it is in a few paragraphs. Moishe hands down rules and regulations for the establishment of a system of leadership in the land. Judges must have  the ability to remain objective and the strength to refuse bribery. Nowadays, disputes are handled by a din Torah and avada many of us nebech  know how honest they are or should be: arosigivorfine gelt mamish but a givaldige business opportunity for those in  the business.  Just last week the Oisvorfer reminded you that the RBSO hates avoido zoro. This week, we are again warned that idolatrous practices must be eradicated and punished, processes are delineated.



Veyter. The death penalty shall be imposed upon any scholar who renders a decision against the Great Sanhedrin (High Court of 71 judges), no matter how important or great the disputing scholar may be. Shreklich!  The Yiddin, as discussed above, are according to some, but zicher not all, commanded to request a king once they have settled in the land. We previously disused this topic biarechus (at length) – check out the archives at www.oisvorfer.com.  The king may accumulate wealth but avada not too much. Too much wealth is only reserved for modern day mukubolim (kabbalists) and a number of rebbes who, for a price, will predict and promise anything one desires. Interestingly enough, the next major topic is about prophecy, real and fake. We are again reminded to  protect the accidental murderer in special cities we call Oray Miklat, (cities of refuge). We are introduced to false witnesses, those who make up stories about others and an entire tractate of the heylige Gemora called Makkos was written based on a few words in this parsha about  Edim Zomemim (false and conspiring witnesses).


Towards the end of Parsha the heylige Toirah discusses various halochois relevant to warfare.  Conditions for exemption include fear of war, newlyweds who need to report but never had an opportunity to chap, and others. These guys stay home! The enemy must first be given the opportunity to make peace, the Yiddin are seemingly allowed to chap a piece, efsher many, and they must be careful not to destroy any fruit trees while mounting a siege. Avada not all mounting is verboten, if you chap, which seemingly the RBSO allowed for soldiers on the battlefield and in heat. Nu,  zicher you’ll be in shul early next week to learn all about the special permission granted to our dedicated soldiers -no wonder they stand proud, if you chap- as we study the case of  the soldier, the female fugitive (hot shiksa), the pre-marital sanctioned encounter, if you chap, the chasuna and much more. Our Rabbis call this booty, gishmak! Of course the subject of bringing a shiksa into the house and claiming she’s but booty has been hotly debated and is the subject of a famous machloikess between the rishonim and of course later on by the achronim but it would appear that while we all don’t agree on the exact meaning of the word, that most of us chap the concept, or would like to.  Warning: not a good idea to try this at home nowadays!

And while Charedim over in the holy land are protesting vehemently the newly minted and still being refined draft laws that will call for their conscription, they’d be better off opening a chumish and learning the end of this more than amazing chapter where it seemingly  appears that enlisting and going to war comes with benefits, many. Could it taka be that  capturing, chapping and enjoying the booty (shiksa) is mamish a mitzvah d’oyraisa? Nu, more on this next week and zicher it’s  no wonder many of you have been so diligent and don’t want to chas v’sholom be oyver rachmona litzlon (violate heaven forbid)  on such an important mitzvah. Is this what the rebbe meant when he said we should always be looking to chap a mitzvah? Ver veyst?


Says the heylige Toirah azoy: When you approach a city to wage war against it, you shall propose peace to it. And it will be, if it responds to you with peace, and it opens up to you, then it will be, [that] all the people found therein shall become tributary to you, and they shall serve you. But if it does not make peace with you, and it wages war against you, you shall besiege it. And the Lord, your God, will deliver it into your hands, and you shall strike all its males with the edge of the sword. However, the women, the children, and the livestock, and all that is in the city, all its spoils you shall take for yourself, and you shall eat the spoils of your enemies, which the Lord, your God, has given you.


The Parsha concludes with the case of the unresolved murder and the ritual of the eglah arufah, the axed heifer, which serves as an atonement for the people of the neighboring cities for not preventing a murder. What the hec is an eglah arufah? Nu, this topic alone needs another 10 pages, and who cares? Have you ever seen an eglah arufah?  According to legend this was the last topic that Yoisef  Hatzadik and Yankif Oveenu, before his less than holy brothers ditched him, literally, were studying.

A gitten shabbis-


Yitz Grossman

The Oisvorfer Ruv


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