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In the Hebrew Bible, there is a clear distinction between a love relationship and a marriage arrangement. Love relationships are depicted, over all, as the blinding-revealing passion for someone who is the object of the individual’s attention. For example, Yaakov’s passion for Rachel (B’reshith 29). King David’s lustful desire for Batsheva (Sh’muel Bet 11-12). Samson’s love for D’leelah, the dominatrix of the Hebrew Bible (Shofetim 16). Just to name a few. A marriage arrangement requires that the one’s married to each other fulfill the ethical and moral legal obligations that are binding upon them under the laws prescribed within the community. Further, love between the ones married to each other is not guaranteed. Divorce is probable, and arrangements for that are legally prescribed in both the Torah and the Talmud. Marital strife is likely to occur due to differences in individual needs or unpredictable circumstances, and must be weathered through by adherence to the marital obligations. Love can flourish between the married partners, and this is the "ideal" if the individuals work together through the struggles and keeping the obligations to nurture its continued existence in the marriage.
In the Hebrew Bible, all aspects dealing with the legal institution of marriage express polygamy. So, too, do all the narratives on the marriage lives of people; with what may appear to be the rare exception of a few. But, the Torah rarely, if ever, gives full disclosure on the personal lives of its legendary people. It has selective memory, and midrash of later generations have had to fill in areas not covered. If we were to stretch scripture a little, and interpret that some marriages were intentionally portrayed as monogamous, all this really shows us is two possibilities. The first, is that some men were likely to take only one wife; and/or two, that some should limit themselves to a lesser number. All aspects dealing with what can be described as a monogamous relationship within the Hebrew Bible deal with the love affair situation of a biblical patriarch and a woman (not always a Hebrew matriarch). Kept in its context, the Hebrew Bible presents the cultural marriage arrangement of its time – polygamy. It even legally defines proper marriage behavior for the husband who is married to more than one wife (D'varim 21.15-17). And, in typical Hebrew teaching style, the polygamist marriage narratives teach us that relationships are a struggle between individual needs. And, that the obligations – laws, commandments, rules – of being legally married to each other requires that these struggles be worked out within the marriage. Great lengths of creativity within the marriages of biblical times were taken to accomplish this.
The "idea" that the Torah encourages monogamy by showing all the struggles happening in the polygamist relationships is a later midrashic interpretation of the Common Era Palestinian Jews*. [*See footnote below.] The Jews of the intertestimal times (the 700 year period between the writing of the Jewish scrolls, now known as the TaNaKH, and the writings of the Greek New Testament by the Greco-Roman Christians of the Diaspora). And, for only about a thousand years, has it been upheld through cultural law as the ideal within most Jewish communities, and more specifically the Ashkenazic community of Old Europe. The rabbis of the intertestimal period took the TaNaKH scriptures out of their context and applied new meanings to them to deal with the present problems occurring within the overran, hellenistically influenced Yisrael. The old ways and the reasons for these ways were no longer being followed enthusiastically, and new ways were needed to keep the integrity of the Hebrew teachings.
Hence, the new law that appeared in the Damascus Document* scroll of intertestimal times that limits marriage to one husband and one wife. The Damascus scroll gives a new definition to what is considered the act of fornication. It specifically states that fornication, a sexual sin, is the taking of more than one wife in a man’s lifetime. The rationale for this definition of fornication is based upon two quotes from legend narratives of the Torah. B’reshith 1.27, "So G-d created humankind in his image, in the image of G-d did he create it, male and female he created them" and 7.9, "two and two (each) came to Noah, into the Ark, male and female, as G-d had commanded Noah." Both scriptures were taken out of their context and have nothing to do with the Moshaic laws regarding marriage. And, one quote from D'varim 17.17 that speaks of the King of Yisrael, that he is not to "multiply wives for himself." (A translation of the Damascus Document is available in The Dead Sea Scrolls, A New Translation.) [*See footnote below.]
This latter biblical injunction does not restrict the King to one wife only, but instructs him not to create a harem for himself, so that his attention remains on his duties as King. The King is also told in this same passage of scripture not to "multiply horses for himself," "not to return the people to Egypt in order to multiply horses," and that "silver and gold he is not to multiply for himself to excess." Neither of these injunctions say that the King is restricted to owning only one horse and possessing one piece of silver or gold. The D’varim passage cited as validation by the first intertestimal adherents to monogamy is dealing with political-trade transactions of the King. Later tradition has ascribed B’reshith 2.24 and Mishlei 31 as further justification that the ancient Jews intended for us to form monogamous marriages. Again, scripture is taken out of context to justify a fundamentalist view. With the passage of Mishlei, it is expressing the ideal wife and likens her to Shechinah, which is the feminine image of G-d, the Hebrew G-ddess. It does not make the slightest suggestion concerning the number of wives a man is to have. To say that the Bible supports a bias towards (or against) something that it clearly does not is simply wrong to do. And, this kind of interpreting leads to injustice.
There are four types of marital arrangements (only one that is civilly legal in America): polyandry, polygamy, monogamy, and polyamory. Polyandry is a marriage arrangement between a wife and two or more husbands. Polygamy is a marriage arrangement between a husband and two or more wives. Monogamy is a marriage arrangement between one husband and one wife. Polyamory is a marriage arrangement between two or more husbands and/or two or more wives. The Torah makes no distinction on which type of legal marriage arrangement is more preferable than the others. Instead, it only encourages that through marriage the struggles of relationship be dealt with, and that the expression of love be realized. Just as it is realized through the marital struggles between G-d and the People of Yisrael. "Now you are to love YHWH your G-d with all your heart, with all your being, with all your substance!" (D’varim 6.5). We do this by faithfully fulfilling the obligations of this community marriage relationship with G-d. So it must be in our human marriage relationships the Torah teaches us.
Monogamy is not threatened by society allowing citizens the legal right to choose other types of marriage arrangements, and to be held accountable for these marriages. For those who idealize monogamy as the way to go, the simple bottom-line fact-of-reality is that there is only one threat to the success and survival of monogamous relationships. This real threat comes from within the homes of the couples that choose a monogamous marriage arrangement, and this threat is not keeping the vows made when getting married and not working together to mutually meet each other's needs. The threat of infidelity is not basing the marriage on clearly defined obligations to begin with. Banning the legal right to form other types of marriage arrangements will not change this. And, it will not prevent people from forming polygamous, polyandrous, and polyamorous relationships - regardless whether they are legally sanctioned by society or not.
The issue in the Hebrew Bible is about getting married, not about what marriage form is "right." Its focus is on fulfilling the obligations that come with marriage, whether there is love between the married partners or not. When maintained in this manner, the relationship is in kedusha, a state of holiness. And, this benefits the community, by providing a strong family-oriented foundation to build from. How can a marriage relationship – whether it be polyandry, polygamy, monogamy, or polyamory – be less of a struggle and more of a love relationship? The first step is to keep the marital obligations made between each other when committing the act of marriage. Verbally remember and edify the words of this marital agreement often - if possible, on a weekly basis. Sit down together and talk it over.
The next step, which is actually the very first step and must always remain the more important step throughout the marriage is understanding that love is not an object, and thus the degree of love one has for another cannot be controlled. But, we do have the power within us to control how we will relate to to each other in our relationships. And, we have the power to decide whether we will be fidelitous or not. In other words, by defining together the obligations of the marriage, by living by them throughout the marriage (being conscious of these obligations on a daily basis) and, through this marriage relationship, by elevating the emotional, sexual, and spiritual needs of our partners-in-marriage. Complete honesty between each other, recognition of the need for individual self-responsibility, and partner encouragement (not coercion) is a must. Fulfill this and this marriage, whatever its type, is a marriage maintained in kedusha/holiness, according to the teachings of the Hebrew Bible.
Footnote: Just for historical authenticity to the statements made in these * asterisked paragraphs above, the Damascus Document of the Intertestimal period is a product of a specific extremist community sect of Judaism, and is not reflective of Jewish lifestyle in that time period as a whole. In fact the majority of Jewish communities would continue to engage in polygamist marriage relationships well into the Common Era, and even within the Ashkenazic communities this was so. Monogamy was accepted and justified as the ideal by modern Jews only because of the Christian presence around these Jewish communities, meaning Jews conformed to the practices of their neighbors to avoid persecution over this issue. It is through the extremist Jewish document of the Yachad sect that defines monogamous marriages and the monogamous approach to marriages within the Greco-Roman world of the time that Christianity would come to idealize monogamy as the ideal marriage relationship style. Even the Irish, who were the first culture to embrace Christianity outside of the Greco-Roman world, continued to engage in rather promiscuous relationship styles - styles that included group sexual relationships and marriages. It would not be until the arrival of the "White" people into Europe and their subsequent embracement of Christianity that monogamy would be institutionalized as the only correct form of marriage. Some estimates have it that monogamy finally took root about a good thousand years after the Damascus Document had been written. And, still today, not all societies are convinced that it really is the most moral form of forming relationships.
Joseph Farkasdi is a fictional writer and social commentator. His online expressions range from the sharing of deeply opinionated thoughts on life, love, and relationships to the ever stirring wild and sometimes wet erotic fantasies that stretch one's secret imaginations. His photographic works are as revealing and shameless as his willingness to share all without inhibition.
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