How was Jacob embalmed?

Byline: January 3rd, 2010 at 3:00 PM

Genesis 50:3: they spent forty days in doing this, for that is the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.– This figure does not quite correspond either to Herodotus or to the Roman historian Diodorus (Histories 1:91) Herodotus wrote that the period of embalming took 30 days, while according to the Diodorus, it took 70 days. Perhaps in the case of Jacob, 40 days were all that was necessary for embalming. The 70 days of mourning may have also included the 40 days of embalming while the thirty additional days were necessary to complete the period of mourning  before the journey to Canaan began.

The famous Greek historian Herodotus (II, 86) offers one of the more detailed sources on these matters, mentions three methods of embalming. The first, and most expensive, necessitated extracting the brains by means of an iron hook. The emptied skull was subsequently filled with spices. Next, an incision was made with a sharp “Ethiopic stone” which is believed to be obsidian — a  glassy black volcanic rock that can be flaked to a razor’s edge.

Obsidian can be sharper and thinner than any surgeon’s scalpel.  The first organs to be removed are the upper intestinal tract, and the pancreas. Then comes the spleen, kidneys, bladder, and more of the digestive tract; then comes the colon, stomach and spleen. After the liver comes out the lungs. Only the heart is left in the rib cage because the Egyptians believed that when the deceased approached Osiris, the heart would be weighed.

If it was as light as the feather of Ma’at, the goddess of truth, the person was one step closer to becoming accepted by the gods. All the emptied parts of the body were then cleansed and also filled with spices. Afterwards the body was packed in dry natron for a period of seventy days.

The last stage of embalming by this method consisted of washing the body and wrapping it tightly in cloths soaked in resins. In this state the embalmed body was delivered to the relatives, who would put it in a wooden coffin made in the shape of a human body; this was then placed in an upright position in the burial chamber. The second method, a cheaper one, consisted of dissolving the intestines by infusing cedar oil through the anus.

As with the previous method, the body was packed in dry natron and after seventy days the oil, together with the dissolved intestines, would emerge, so that all that remained of the body were the bones and the skin. The third and cheapest method of embalming involved cleansing the body by means of an enema before packing it in natron for seventy days. The embalmed body was then ready for burial. The secrets of the art of embalming were forgotten early in the Roman period.

It is interesting to note that nowadays, Jewish law rules that embalming is forbidden unless the body is being transported over state lines, in which case it is permitted.

The Ethical Problems of Hunting

The rabbis never hunted except with nets or with traps because it still allowed for kosher slaughter, but with regard to the bow and the arrow, or a gun, these methods of hunting rendered an animal a “nevalah” and therefore is not a Kosher manner of slaughter.

Wild animals considered acceptable for food and thus apparently hunted included the hart, the gazelle, the roebuck, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope, and the mountain sheep (all listed in Deut. 14:5). Along with hunting, fishing (Isa. 19:8) and trapping birds with nets[1] are mentioned.

The Sages of antiquity have long taken a negative view of hunting. The 19th century German Jewish poet, Heinrich Heine once observed that Jews have historically identified more with the hunted, than the hunter. Hein’s thought is quite accurate.

Philo of Alexandria (ca. 1st century) observed that hunting was as “a sort of prelude to and representation of the wars and dangers that have to be encountered against the enemy.” Western history with its obsession with violence certainly bears this out.  Another 1st century Jewish intellectual, Flavius Josephus, tells us that Herod the Great enjoyed hunting on horseback and he adds that Herod was one of the most violent men ever to have ruled Judea.[2]

One famous Responsa dating back in the 18th century, Rabbi Ezekiel Landau, the Chief Rabbi of Prague, was asked whether hunting with a rifle was permitted or not.  In his reply, Landau notes that the only hunters mentioned in the Tanakh are Nimrod and Esau—neither of whom happened to be Israelites. Hunting was never a common occupation among our people. Hunting for sport engenders cruelty within the human breast. In short, hunting for sport or for adventure,  is certainly forbidden; however,  if it is for other constructive reasons (e.g., clothing etc.,) it is then permitted. It goes without saying that if an animal poses a serious public health danger, e.g., a rabid dog, hunting such an animal is indeed necessary. Beyond that, Landau notes that anyone who recklessly exposes himself to danger violates the biblical precept of not endangering one’s health.[3]

Some years ago, when I was touring Mexico, some of the natives asked me if I would like to attend a bullfight. I politely turned the request down, but the invitation did remind me about  a wonderful story I read about Albert Schweitzer, who once wrote in his diary about an invitation he received while he was visiting Barcelona. Schweitzer recalls, “In bright dresses, and fluttering head scarves, all the young women were going in one direction: the arena. They were going to witness how enraged bulls would split open the bellies of poor mules with their horns, and then how they themselves to the jubilation of the crowds were tortured to death. The director of the large music society whose guest I was, addressed me, saying, You must come! You must see it at least once; otherwise you won’t know what Spain is! . . . The man was a deeply pious artist with whom I was seriously conversing just this morning concerning Christianity.”

Perhaps Gandhi was partially correct when he said one can measure the humanity of a civilization by the way they treat its animals. After reading Schweitzer’s passage, something suddenly dawned upon me:  Wasn’t Spain the same country that tortured and persecuted millions of people all over the European and American world when they zealously enforced their infamous Inquisition?  Our Sages stated it eloquently centuries ago:   Human beings are shaped by behavior( adam ni’fal ki’fee pi’u’la’tov).  This observation still holds true even today. How we treat animals in our society does indicate something important about our behavior as a civilized species and our attitude about sentient lifeforms–along with our ethical responsibilities and duties.

[1] See also Amos 3:5; Prov. 6:5; Pss. 91:3; 124:7.

[2] Wars of the Jews, 1.21.13.

[3] Noda B’Yehuda Vol. 2.,  Responsa 10.

The Dreidel as a Spiritual Metaphor

I often get asked the questions, “What is the symbolism of the dreidel? What exactly is its origin?” The dreidel is a four cornered top that was popular in the medieval era and originally used for gambling. Jewish folklore purports that when the Syrians prohibited the study of Torah, the Jews insurrectionists would take a top to gamble with, so that the soldiers would let them play their game in peace. The name, “dreidel,” is a Yiddish word that derives from the German verb, “drehen,” (“to turn”).

Historically, the origin of the dreidel is not quite so apocryphal. During the medieval era, gambling dice often had four letters inscribed, N,G, H, and S, representing “nichts,” (nothing), “ganz” (i.e., winner takes “all”), and “shtell arein” (“put in”).  Jews subsequently transformed the dice into a top and added four Hebrew letters, נ (N), ג (G), ה (H), and שׁ (S)—signifying, נֵס גָדוֹל הָיָה ֹשָם  “nes gadol hayah sham” (“A great miracle happened there”).

The symbolism gets more interesting when we take into consideration the numerological patterns the Kabbalists cleverly add when redesigning the dreidel during the medieval era.  The value of the four letters equals 358, the same numerology (gematria) as Moshiach (Messiah)! This could suggest several things:

(1)   The wandering of the Jews (drehen) is not purposeless, though it may seem that way at times. Israel’s wandering serves to bring the world that much closer to its final redemptive stage of human history—the Messianic era.

(2)  As the dreidel spins, it represents the pulsating movement of the Divine; we who observe it, cannot see how its final stage will unfold until it actually occurs. Such a concept has its antecedents in the Talmud’s famous statement, “Three come unawares: Messiah, a found article and a scorpion” (T.B. Sanhedrin 97a). I have always liked this passage, for in its simplicity, the Sages teach us that it is not for mortal men–or women–regardless how pious or learned they happen to be, to engage in the mindless pursuit of messianic prognostications. The Messiah will appear when we least expect him to arrive.

(3)  Our fortunes in life are much like the chaotic turnings of the dreidel; those of us who lost our fortunes with the crash of the Stock Market crash, know the wisdom of this teaching only all too well …

In short, although our existence is unpredictable, faith is the compass that provides us with the wisdom and radar to navigate through even the most difficult of times, like today.

Why did God punish Onan with death?

Here is the passage we are examining from Genesis 38:9-10:

38:9 וַיֵּדַע אוֹנָן כִּי לֹּא לוֹ יִהְיֶה הַזָּרַע וְהָיָה אִם־בָּא אֶל־אֵשֶׁת אָחִיו וְשִׁחֵת אַרְצָה — But since Onan knew that the offspring would not be his, he spilled his semen on the ground whenever he went in to his brother’s wife, — The wording of the text  “ba” suggests Onan’s behavior was not a one time action; he seems to have habitually climaxed in this manner. The NRSV’s  translation, “whenever he went in . . .” is preferable to other Bible translations that read “when he went in.”

וַיֵּרַע בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וַיָּמֶת גַּם־אֹתוֹ — What he did was displeasing in the sight of the LORD, and he put him to death also — We really don’t know why Onan died. The ancients viewed the sudden death of a young person as an act of God, Who serves as the Ultimate Cause for everything that unfolds within the natural world. Moderns, in contrast, tend to attribute events that occur in the phenomenal world to more direct and scientific causes. To understand the Bible, it is helpful to see it through the eyes of the people who wrote it.

To the rabbinic imagination, God punishes Onan because he preferred to spill his seed rather than give it to Tamar, his levirate wife.

However, a closer examination of the text reveals a different approach that contradicts conventional rabbinic thinking found in the rabbinic writings of the Talmud, Midrash and especially the Zohar.[1] It is apparent from the narrative Onan’s sin was not primarily sexual in nature. Rather, it was his refusal to fulfill the obligation of levirate marriage (Deut. 25.5–10). On a historical note, several Jewish and Christian exegetes interpret the story of Onan  as a condemnation any sexual act other than for the purpose of procreation[2], as one notable 20th century Halachic scholar, R. Aharon Walkin, explains:

“As for the doubt about whether it is permitted to follow this procedure because of the prohibition against ‘bringing forth seed in vain,’ if we follow the earlier sages, it seems that the Talmud and subsequent halachic scholars  agree that doctors are to be trusted even in cases where certain prohibitions (of the religious law) are involved. If, then, the doctors’ words are correct, that by this procedure it will be easier for her to become pregnant, since this is the physical nature of this woman, then this procedure (of taking the seed) is not ‘in vain’ at all. On the contrary, it is for the purpose of achieving pregnancy more easily. The rabbis forbade bringing forth seed in order to destroy it, but here there is no destruction; it is placed into the womb of the wife in order that she shall be impregnated. Then, clearly, there is nothing wrong with this procedure.[3]Continue reading “Why did God punish Onan with death?”

Newest Endorsement of the “Birth and Rebirth Through Genesis” commentary

Hello everyone!

Professor Allan C. Emery is a Harvard graduate (Class of 1999), as well as the Senior Editor of Hendrickson Publishers.  Allan was gracious enough to write an endorsement for my new commentary on Genesis, which will be available to purchase by the end of February of 2010. The book will be about 530 pages. Due to the time constraints of Hendrickson Publishers, the proposed book could not be published within the next 2-3 years, so I decided to go with Llumina Press instead as my publisher.


A few reflections on Rabbi Michael L. Samuel’s Birth and Rebirth Through Genesis: A Timeless Theological Conversation (Genesis 1–3)

It is a brave soul who will devote the time, study, and effort to devote a full-length book to exploring just three chapters of the Hebrew Scriptures. As senior editor at a publishing house devoted to the subject of Biblical Studies, I am fully aware of this reality. But Rabbi Samuel has done just that and in doing so has brought forth a marvelous theological reflection on the opening chapters of Genesis. The first portion of the book is devoted to a discussion of the foundations of how best to understand and benefit from the study of Genesis 1–3 using imagination, the understandings of past theologians and philosophers, all the while taking advantage of the benefits of a postmodern approach to this ancient text. The second portion of the book is given to a phrase-by-phrase translation of the Hebrew and discussions as to various appropriate interpretations of these Hebrew texts. The third section, almost half of the entire book, provides thirty fascinating theological reflections on the contribution of these three chapters to matters of modern interpretive interest. These include such diverse issues as “The Nature of Biblical Interpretation,” “Romantic Theology: Creation Flows from Love,” “Time, Creation, and Theology,” “A Theological View of Evolution,” “Examining the Biblical Concept of ‘Dominion’,” “The Meaning of Clinging,” “The Serpent as a Psychological Metaphor,” and “Why Did God Create Evil? A Parable of the Zohar,” to name fewer than a quarter of them.

All this said, there is little question that both in Jewish and Christian theological circles, the opening conversation of the Scriptures and of the Pentateuch itself is understood by many scholars to be pivotal to theological reflection on the whole of revelation. Issues related to the place of humanity within the cosmos with its ecological implications, issues dealing with the present state of humankind with respect to various moral issues related to how we deal with one another, and serious thought about the proper way to approach all theological reflection, spring from these seminal chapters. The importance of these opening chapters of the Pentateuch has been understood by both Jewish and Christian interpreters of the Scriptures for most of two millennia. And Rabbi Samuels draws from the rich resources of their thinking throughout his own work with a genuine appreciation for what each tradition has brought to the fore.

While this is a book written by a rabbi well-versed in the rabbinic tradition, one cannot read more than a few pages to discover that his research, his interests, and his appreciation of critical thought span the centuries of both Jewish thought and Christian, while encompassing the best of the non-faith-bound philosophers of these same millennia. Buber, Kohen, Kung, Derrida, and many, many others all have something to contribute to the discussion of these three brief chapters and Rabbi Samuel is fearless in drawing on their works and their thinking in order to provoke his reader to leap beyond the well-worn paths of the past.

I am aware that this book is but an opening salvo of a larger work encompassing the whole of the Pentateuch. We look forward to hearing more from Rabbi Samuels in the years ahead.

Allan C. Emery III, PhD

December 10, 2009

Is there a sequence for lighting the Hanukah candles? Should it be done from right to left, or from left to right?

ANSWER: There are a number of ways of lighting the Hanukah menorah and each method is considered appropriate. R. Israel Isserlein (a.k.a, the “Rema”) indicates that the Rhineland tradition began at the left of the menorah and continued in sequence day by day. On the other hand, he also notes that in Vienna, precisely the opposite sequence was used, and one moved from right to left, in other words, in the fashion of the Hebrew writing.[1] To the best of my knowledge, there is no earlier discussion of this matter and there is no Talmudic or Mishnaic basis for any decision. The Shulhan Arukh (the Code of Jewish Law) decided that the candles should be inserted from the right, with one added each night, but lit from the left, with the newest lit first, a kind of compromise.[2]

The Talmud (T.B. Shabat 21b) is concerned with another problem, i.e., should one add a light each night or diminish the number each night? The School of Shammai began with eight candles and diminished the number until on the last night only a single candle was lit. On the other hand, the School of Hillel began with one candle and built to a climax of eight candles. Tradition has chosen to follow the School of Hillel, and we continue in this pattern.

Clearly then, family tradition in this matter may be followed, though the path of the Shulhan Arukh has historically become a general custom, and we should follow this pattern along with the majority of the Jewish community.

Ask your Kids the following question: What is the most important candle of the Menorah? Try to justify your answer.  Let me know what kind of answers you come up in your postings.

[1] Responsa of the Terumat Hadeshen #105

[2]  Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayim 676.5.

Hanukah: Celebrating the Gift of Being Different

Today, I conducted a little workshop for the 6th-7th grade classes on the relationship between Hanukah and Christmas. Bear in mind that close to 50% of the children come from intermarried homes; for them, this discussion proved to be quite revelatory. A series of questions were posed to the kids helping them process the awkward feelings families often grapple with whenever this time of the year arrives.

For me personally, these questions are quite familiar; I remember growing up in a small Pennsylvanian steel-mining town where being a Jewish kid was an uncomfortable experience. My father was a Holocaust survivor, and the last thing he wanted to hear from me was singing the traditional Christmas carols chanted at school. During music, I would often sing off-key to express my protest of having had to sing, “Joy to the World,” or “Silent Night.” You could say that it was one of my first of many experiences in civil disobedience!

Back to our story … the children at our joint religious school mentioned some of their experiences. One child was thrown out of his music class (Boy—that sure sounded familiar!), while others politely sung the songs without much fanfare.

In my discussions with the kids, I tried to stress that Christmas is a lot like a personal birthday party; whenever attending the party, one can be happy for the person celebrating his birthday, but in the final analysis, it is that child’s own special occasion—and no one else’s. As Jews we need to respect the holidays of our neighbor or loved ones. Nobody has the right to diminish that individual’s right to celebrate the holiday—but the celebration is not a Jewish one. However, we also have our own holidays, many of which we observe throughout the year.

We went around the room going over the sundry Jewish holidays we celebrate.

Here are some of the comments I heard that night: Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuoth, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkoth, the list goes on and on. Although Hanukah is an important holiday that celebrates religious freedom and the right for a minority to worship God as they see fit, it is still a relatively minor holiday of the Jewish year. Christmas, on the other hand, is more like a Christian Rosh Hashanah. It is not realistic to expect that Hanukah should be equal to Christmas in terms of importance because it’s not. Continue reading “Hanukah: Celebrating the Gift of Being Different”

Creating a Religiously Tolerant Society–Avoiding a “Bah, Hambug!” Holiday Attitude

One of the perennial questions that seem to divide Americans is the question whether there is a place for displaying religious symbols on public properties. Advocates for displaying such items claim that religious symbols add toward the holiday festivities—after all the United States has always celebrated its holidays in this manner, why should we break with what has become a true American tradition?

On the other hand, there are those who take a critical view of this issue; they insist that our country is based upon the separation between Church and State; there is no official religion in the United States, and Christians and non-Christians need to recognize that reality, lest it appear that the government is endorsing one religious tradition over another.

While most Jews do not get upset over a sign that says, “Merry Christmas,”  displayed on public property, one New England town had a most troubling incident occur in recent weeks. The Andover Fire Department decided to take down its homemade “Merry Christmas” sign that was made by the firefighters some 50 years ago.

Understandably, the people are quite upset. The controversy began when Rabbi Asher Bronstein of Chabad, threatened a lawsuit against North Andover after the selectmen would not let him place a menorah on the town common for all eight days of Hanukah.

In the end, the city leaders ruled that the menorah could be erected for one day, rather than all eight days of Hanukah. Moreover, this one day rule applied to all organizations–religious or not– and this decision has upset the Christian community as well.

One must really question the rabbi’s wisdom of threatening a city with a lawsuit especially when there are so many privately owned buildings that would have no problem displaying a menorah on private property. No rabbinic leader should aspire to be “the Grinch (or rabbi) who stole Christmas.” Christmas and Hanukah are family celebrations that should create good will among all people of faith. Sowing seeds that create disharmony and intolerance between both faith communities ought to be avoided at all cost.

Hanukah celebrates the importance of religious freedom; if the town had banned any display of a menorah throughout the city, the rabbi’s position would at least be defensible. However, many privately owned businesses have no problem partnering with any rabbinical institution that wishes to display a menorah on its property. The purpose of the menorah is not to show off the institution displaying it; the  purpose of the menorah lighting is to publicize the miracle of Hanukah in a place that is prominent for all to see. Surely there is no lack of such places in Andover!

Even if the rabbi’s position is theoretically correct, he ought to ask himself one simple question: How are people going to feel about me creating social disharmony over a religious symbol or greeting like “Merry Christmas?” The Chinese have a wise saying, “Do not use a hatchet to remove a fly from a friend’s face”You are unlikely to  kill the fly, but you will do a lot of damage to your friend! The rabbi may want to read Dale Carnegie’s excellent book,How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Hanukah’s symbolism is best appreciated when Jewish leaders act in the way of pleasantness and tolerance that does not strike at the heartland of America during this most festive time of the year. We live in a predominately Christian culture, and the last thing we want to convey to the Christian community is a “Bah! Humbug!” type of attitude. [1]  In simple terms, we can not be a light unto the nations so long as we are trying to extinguish the light of others. Just as each candle has its place on the menorah, so too does each religion has its rightful place in God’s scheme of faith.




Is vegetarianism the ultimate ideal for humankind?

With all the commotion being made about laboratory created meat, the new technological development raises interesting ethical questions whether the slaughtering of animals ought to even be continued, since artificial meat is available. Should the practice of kosher slaughter be continued? Obviously, none of us can expect to know the future. Time will tell whether such a meat alternative is even considered healthy for human consumption. That being said, if the technology can truly replicate meat in a safe and healthy way, we may live to see the day when animals will once again live peacefully with humankind. This idea is hardly original; its roots go back to the time of Philo of Alexandria, the early Midrashic literature, if not earlier.

On the practical side, everyone in the kashrut industry has long known that the biggest problem with kashrut is most typically the meat! Eliminate the problem with meat, religious Jews can eat their food with less anxiety and angst!

Some rabbinic thinkers in the last two hundred years or so have expressed some important thoughts about the rational behind vegetarianism, which exists  in Jewish thought and tradition. Marcus Kalisch, a British rabbinic scholar (1825-1888), writes about the vegetarian diet of Adam:

The lifeless creation was produced for the living beings; vegetation was destined for men and animals; no being “with a living soul” was originally intended as the food for another living creature; man was assigned to eat the seed-giving plants, and grain, and the fruit of trees; to the animals were left the grass and the herbs (vv. 29-30). Although man was permitted the dominion over the beasts of the field, the fishes of the water, and the birds of the air, he was not allowed to extend that dominion to the destruction of life; he was the master, not the tyrant, of the animal kingdom — he might use, but not annihilate it . . .

. . . Every living being has a right to exist, and to enjoy its existence; God had blessed the animals with fruitfulness; man was not allowed to counteract that blessing by killing them for his sport or his appetite. God created the world for peace and concord, no being should rage against another; the sin of man brought warfare among the living creatures; the cries of agony rent the air; man and beast raged among themselves, and against each other; the state of innocence was succeeded by the age of passion and violence; and it was only after the fall of man that animal food was permitted to him (9:3).[1]

Less than a century later, R. Abraham Isaac Kook (1864-1935) expressed a similar perspective, envisioning a time when human beings will once again live in a state of peace with the animal world, and will not need to subsist on them for sustenance: “The thrust of the idealism that continues to develop will not remain forever in its confinement. Just as the democratic aspiration will emerge into the world through the general intellectual and moral perfection, “when man will no longer teach his brother to know the Lord, for they will all know Me, small and great alike” (Jer. 31:34), so will the hidden yearning to act justly toward animals emerge at the proper time.“[2]


[1] Marcus M. Kalisch, A Historical and Critical Commentary on the Old Testament (London: Longmans, Brown, Green and Dyer, 1858), 78.

[2] Abraham Isaac Kook,  “Talele Orot”, Tahkemoni, Vol. I, (Bern, 1910, 21), cited from Ben Zion Bokser’s, Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, the Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems (New York: Paulist Press, 1978), 23.

Jacob’s Complicated Love Life and its Halachic implications

Inevitably, the story about Jacob and his complicated love life raises a number of questions regarding the Jewish attitude concerning concubines and polygamy. Do Jews still practice polygamy? Outside Sephardic circles, polygamy has been banned for well over a thousand years, since the time Rabbanu Gershom outlawed it for Ashkenazic Jews.

Historically, there is no evidence of actual concubinage in the Talmud, nor is there any evidence of it in practice during the Middle Ages. In the responsa of Asher b. Jehiel (no. 32:1), there is a reference to a concubine, but it seems to be merely the case of a man cohabiting with a woman without going through a marriage ceremony with her, and not to a formal concubine. Modern readers would refer to such a woman as a “mistress.”

In general terms, the Talmud distinguishes between a concubine and a wife in the following way: Wives have ketubah (marriage contract) and kiddushin (formal marriage ceremony i.e., hupah) while concubines have neither. [1]

Ibn Daud adds in his notes to Maimonides, that any woman who does not dedicate herself to one man, is considered to be a harlot. [2]

However, Rashi takes issue with this definition. According to him, even a concubine must have kiddushin, but what she lacks is a ketubah (which delineates the financial responsibilities a husband has for his wife). In fact, Jewish law insists that even a married woman must have a ketubah, lest she be considered a concubine. Rashi’s opinion draws support from the Jerusalem Talmud (J. Ketubot 5:2, 29d). Most Halachic authorities generally rule in accordance with Maimonides and the Babylonian Talmud.

Opinions differ with respect whether a concubine is permitted or forbidden. Some scholars say that neither biblical or rabbinical law prohibits it. All that matters is that the concubine go to the mikvah ( a ritual pool of water) so that the man is not guilty of having sex with a menstruating woman (EH 26:1). The majority of medieval authorities conclude that concubinage is immoral. Radbaz, for an example, wrote back in the early 17th century, “Nowadays a woman is not sexually permitted to any man except through the formal marriage ceremony of kiddushin, Huppah,  sheva brachot (the seven marriage blessings) and ketubah.” (Resp, Vol, 4 #225)

Only one notable 17th century authority, Jacob Emden (responsum no. 15), expressed the opinion that it should be permitted. Emden’s citations of talmudic sources endorsing polygamy show that some of the most famous rabbis of the Talmud were footloose and fancy free when it came to the question of concubines. In all likelihood, Rabbi Emden probably would have felt quite comfortable living in the 60’s. Continue reading “Jacob’s Complicated Love Life and its Halachic implications”