Our press and social networks are abuzz with yet another scandalous example of haredi extremism and misogyny.

Here’s the story, as reported in Israel Hayom:

The Chief Judge of the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court, Rabbi Eliyahu Abergel, has ruled that in cases where a man has not fathered any children, and his wife cannot or does not want to bear children, the man may take a concubine… “The concubine may also live with the couple,” says Rabbi Abergel.

Reaction online ran the predictable gamut: from “another small step in the Talibanization of Israel,” to “dark ages sexism,” and “putting the seal of approval on adultery.”

בהשגחת בד"צ מהדרין

בהשגחת בד”צ מהדרין (adultery image via Shutterstock)

Well, I support Rabbi Abergel’s ruling, and here’s why.

First, because Israel Hayom’s headline and lede managed to leave out the most important part of Abergel’s ruling, even though it’s in the same sentence as the permit to take a concubine. Shrouded as they are by the indignant rage of the first few paragraphs of the article, one could be forgiven for missing the words, “and refuses to grant her husband a divorce.”

This is the full quote from Rabbi Abergel’s halachic work “Dibrot Eliyahu:”

Establishing a family is an important commandment. A woman who refuses to, or cannot, bring children into the word, and refuses to grant her husband a divorce, is preventing him from building a family and spreading his seed. In such a situation, the husband is permitted to take a concubine and there is no constraint under halachah.(Emphasis mine.)

This isn’t about concubines, but about marital freedom. Anyone who doesn’t believe spouses should be able to forcibly trap their partner in a marriage should support this ruling.

Second, as for concubines, it is as taboo to have a concubine in the haredi world as it is in the secular, if not more so. Anyone who knows anything about halacha — many journalists sadly do not — understands what is happening here. In effect, Rabbi Abergel, one of Israel’s most renowned and brilliant halachic scholars, is using an ancient and outmoded halachic device (the concubine) to circumvent an injustice (a husband trapped in a bad marriage) without breaking the rules.

Third, several moral questions arise from this ruling, but they deserve more serious treatment than that afforded by social media or blog posts. For example, is childlessness a legitimate or justifiable cause for divorce? While I value romance and loyalty as much as the next modern man, and feel that I would opt for adoption before leaving my own best friend and partner, I have yet to attain the spiritual perfection required to stand in judgment of a married couple that falls apart because it cannot bear children.

If you still want to get angry at Rabbi Abergel (it’s never a good idea to miss out on haredi-hunting season), there is one major question to which the Jewish people’s rabbis keep giving the wrong answer. We may rightly applaud a rabbi who helps free a trapped husband to find romance and build a family, but what of the women trapped in the same situation? There are far more wives who need Rabbi Abergel’s halachic creativity to be free of their abusive, recalcitrant husbands. What is he doing for them?

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In other maligned-rabbi-does-the-right-thing news, Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar has ruled that self-immolating social protester Moshe Silman will not be considered a suicide should he succumb to his wounds, and can be buried honorably in a Jewish cemetery.

“Halachah has recognized many times that for the purposes of burial a person who commits an act [i.e., harms himself] because of sickness or a profound anguish that can leave them confused, even if it is a temporary confusion, does not fall into the category of suicide,” he explained to the haredi radio station Kol Chai on Tuesday.