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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Polygyny in rabbinic literature Glaim, Aaron


Modern scholars of Jewish Studies have long recognized that rabbinic texts from late antiquity accept the legality of polygynous marriage and legislate on a variety of situations involving multiple wives. Many of these same scholars have also argued, however, that rabbinic literature contains an obscrvable ’monogamous trend,’ which promotes monogamy and condemns polygyny. In order to evaluate this claim, and to further the academic understanding of this subject, this thesis analyzes and contextualizes a comprehensive body of rabbinic legal and narrative texts that intersect significantly with polygyny. This study considers relevant articles of post-biblical rabbinic legislation, as well as subsequent discussions of this legislation, in the legal domains of levirate marriage law, procreation law, betrothal law, inheritance law, testimony law and monarchy law. It also considers narrative, interpretive and prescriptive texts involving multiple wives. These texts are drawn from the Tosefta, the Mishnah, the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds, various midrash collections and the Targum to Ruth. The study explicates the legal and conceptual principles, social assumptions and interpretive maneuvers that motivate these texts. This procedure allows for the cogent isolation and identification of a somewhat narrow range of rabbinic perspectives on the issue of polygyny. This thesis shows that previous studies have by and large understated the polygynous aspect of rabbinic literature while simultaneously overstating the case for a monogamous trend.

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