One of the common misconceptions that people have about Islam is that it encourages polygamy. In reality, polygamy predates Islam and was very widely practiced through the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Since the seventh century, Islam’s message has been that it would tolerate this practice, and under such stringent conditions that it would be hard to think of situations in which these conditions would obtain in this day and age. (Today, less than 2% of Muslim marriages are polygamous. In my opinion, it’s still 2% too many.)

At any rate, I stumbled on this interesting article that discusses the practice of polygamy by Orthodox Jews, and shows how Yemeni Jews in fact stretch the limit of two wives to four, probably in response to cultural mores.

Polygamy may be banned by the state constitution and abolished by the predominant religion, but it is still practiced by ultra-orthodox followers of the faith, some who want it made lawful to avoid sticky legal and moral questions.

Sounds like Utah, but it’s Israel.

Political pressure to loosen the prohibition on polygamy for Sephardi Jews who came to Israel from Muslim countries is growing, a researcher told the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting, which concluded Sunday in the nation’s capital. (…)

Jews living in the predominantly Arab country of Yemen still practice polygamy under the belief that Israel’s rabbis are wrong in their prohibition of plural marriage. Yemeni Jews have an “unspoken cap” of four wives, rather than two. (…)

When Israel became a state in 1949, the ban on polygamy became legally binding on all Jewish residents. Yet some Sephardi Jews in Israel continue to take second wives in “underground” marriages performed by rabbis who oppose the legal ban. Kalifon said these plural marriages by Sephardi Jews have created a mire of legal problems.

Polygamy’s Practice Stirs Debate in Israel


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