What do the religions of the world teach about polygamy, the pros and cons? —GetReligion
Polygamy has been opposed by Christianity throughout history, but it exists unchallenged in countries dominated by the world’s second religion, Islam. Most other nations make it a criminal offence. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights expresses moral abhorrence and urges abolition, arguing that legal polygamy violates “the dignity of women”.
Indigenous religion which involves polygamy continues in some areas of Africa. South Africa allows it not only for the Muslim minority but also for those who maintain their traditional cultures, for example former President Jacob Zuma of the Zulu people, who has four wives. Modern India prohibits polygamy even though it was part of the Hindu tradition, but also allows it for Muslims.
In the history of the United States, the hostility was such that in 1856, the major declaration of the first convention of the nascent Republican Party declared that Congress should “ban in the territories these twin relics of barbarism, polygamy and slavery”. Within a few years, of course, opposition to slavery ended in an unimaginable massacre of Civil War.
Decades later, after the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the religious freedom claims of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an unprecedented federal crackdown has forced the faith to suspend the teaching of polygamy of the Founding Prophet Joseph Smith Jr. and his successors. The LDS rule of monogamy remains strictly in effect to this day, even where secular law permits polygamy, while smaller breakaway sects still preserve Smith’s original doctrine.
Multiple marriages were as old as monogamy, according to online dating site ModernPolygamy.com, and especially for powerful and wealthy men. Surviving inscriptions showing the existence of the practice in east-central Mesopotamia and Assyria date back to around 2000 BC.
It is the same general period for Abraham, the spiritual ancestor of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, who took three wives (see Genesis 16:1, 16:3, 25:1). Jacob, Moses and King David were among the later biblical polygamists. King Solomon did too much, taking 700 wives (I Kings 11:3). In cases of “levirate marriage” (see Deuteronomy 25:5-10), an already married man also had to marry his sister-in-law if the brother died and the widow had no son to support her.
In later Jewish history, polygamy was tolerated but never widespread, declined, and then outright banned a thousand years ago by the great medieval sage Gershom ben Judah, aka Rabbeinu Gershom. His policies later governed the Ashkenazic branch of Europe while polygamy persisted among Sephardi Jews in the Middle East.
The aforementioned Job article reports that modern Israel prohibits polygamy but generally does not enforce the law among Bedouins. Also, ancient Judaism heter meah rabbonim practice still allows a husband whose first wife refuses a obtain (divorce decree) to seek approval from 100 rabbis to live apart from her and take a second wife. Famous actor Shuli Rand did it last year. Some 15 out of 80 such requests are granted each year, the Job said. Controversially, wives cannot exercise this privilege.
The teaching of Islam comes from the Qur’an (4:3): “…marry such of the women as you like, two, three or four, but if you are afraid that you cannot be fair, then only one, or what your right hands have is more likely to enable you to avoid injustice.
Although fairness is a divine commandment, the Encyclopedia of Religion (1987) states that “conflicts between women are very common in Islamic countries”. Interestingly, a limit of four had been an earlier recommendation in ancient Judaism. Muslim commentators say that the limitation to four (although the Prophet Muhammad had 11 wives) overcame marital excesses in pre-Islamic Arabia. The scriptural “right hands” referred to taking female slaves who had less financial rights.
CONTINUE READING: “What do the religions of the world believe about polygamy, the pros and cons? »by Richard Ostling.
FIRST IMAGE : Illustrative features with the “Does Solomon’s Hundreds of Wives Mean the Bible Promotes Polygamy?” posted to Answers to difficult questions website.