The Comeback Of Concubines
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 9 Jan 97 13:32:35 -0800
Subject: The Comeback Of Concubines
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From: the NY Daily News
Original Story Date: 12/29/96
Original Story Section: News Fix
The Comeback Of Concubines
By SUSAN FORREST
Daily News Staff Writer
[Image]shadowy Brooklyn organisation is recruiting married Orthodox Jewish
men to enter extramarital relations by promoting the ancient biblical
concept of concubines.
The organisation, which calls itself Shalom Bayis (Household Peace in
Hebrew), operates a telephone hotline through which men can meet women
willing to serve as concubines - kept mistresses.
Hotline tapes obtained by the Daily News along with interviews with callers
document that scores of men are telephoning Shalom Bayis. So are angry wives.
The group advertised in flyers widely distributed last summer in the
ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods of Borough Park and Williamsburg as well as
faxed to synagogues and Jewish centres in the metropolitan area, New
England, Israel and England.
The flyers contend that illicit relationships between Orthodox and Hasidic
husbands and single women will bring "Shalom Bayis" and "stop the plague of
The come-ons also state: "Jewish law permits married men and single men to
maintain a pilegesh [concubine]" for sexual purposes, adding, "This concept
has been in practice throughout Jewish history."
Shalom Bayis, which critics charge is staffed solely by a disgruntled
divorced man and a female assistant, insists concubines offer an alternative
to divorce and are acceptable based on the Torah, the Five Books of Moses
that form the basis for written Jewish law.
Those claims have sparked denunciations from rabbis and a fierce debate in
the Jewish community.
Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld of Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, said
Shalom Bayis represents "nonsense, lies and fabrications."
"It is simply a way of allowing married men who don't want to be loyal . .
. to liberate themselves," he said.
Rabbi Morton Avigdor of the Manhattan-based Agudath Israel of America added:
"This is a farce and an embarrassment to the Orthodox community. It is
nothing more than plain old prostitution. Orthodox Judaism is based on a
wholesome family life, and this flies in the face of everything Orthodox
Judaism stands for."
Shalom Bayis is shrouded in secrecy. Its hotline number is not listed. Its
leadership is unclear, as is the scope of its business.
The organisation's spokesman, who goes only by the name Yossi, said he is
an ultra-Orthodox Jew. He refused to be interviewed in person or reveal
information about himself. He said the operation averages 100 calls a day.
Whether that number is accurate or not, Chaim Shaulson, editor of two Jewish
weekly newspapers in Brooklyn, said he knows of at least five ultra-Orthodox
marriages in Borough Park that include live-in concubines.
Many of the men recorded on hotline tapes obtained by The News said their
marriages had been arranged when they and their wives were teenagers and
that they have little or nothing in common except their children.
"Good evening," said one caller. "I am a married Hasidic man. I have a
family with children. I don't get from my wife what I am supposed to get.
If there is anyone out there who could do better, please call."
The pilegesh-seeking callers - including lawyers, stockbrokers and diamond
merchants - provided descriptions of themselves and left beeper numbers.
"Hi, I'm a father of six children. I'm married 28 years," stated a
49-year-old man. "You can reach me on my beeper at . . . all right?"
A man in his late 40s said, "It is very urgent. I have a long-term marriage,
but my [wife] is not into sex, and I need something on the side."
Most of the men contacted by The News said Shalom Bayis never returned their
calls and they were still waiting for their pilegesh. They said they were
seeking a clandestine relationship with a self-supporting woman, not a
live-in concubine. Some said financial rewards for the woman would accompany
"I was married at 18, and I knew my wife for 15 minutes before we married.
It was an arranged marriage," said a 45-year-old Hasidic father of five.
"It's not all about sex. . . . I need friendship with someone I can relax
with. I can't relax with my wife, but I can't divorce my wife."
A 29-year-old father of four from Long Island said his marriage was arranged
when he was 20. "I want a pilegesh not only for sex, but also to go to
movies and dinner with - and play chess," he said.
Asked if he loved his wife, the man replied, "I still don't know what love
is, and we never talk about sex because that's how we were raised. I would
say 60% of my married friends are miserable. . . . I have spent thousands
of dollars in counselling, and then I called Shalom Bayis and I really liked
Jewish law considers marriage and children sacred. But divorces are
nonetheless on the upswing among ultra-Orthodox Jews, ending between 10%
and 30% of marriages.
A Jewish religious divorce, known as a get, can be granted only by the
husband, who also has the sole power of negotiating the terms.
The Shalom Bayis hotline and flyers focus on the issue of divorce. Its
hotline message says it "is beginning an aggressive campaign to urge
everyone with children to refrain from giving a get for the next 10 years.
It is our ultimate goal to preserve peace and harmony in the Jewish home.
. . ."
"There are now hundreds of career women from the upper West Side who are
desperately seeking to be pilegshen to exclusively married men."
Shalom Baylis also claims that a Jewish husband can have as many concubines
as he wants, as long as he provides each one "with a basic form of
residence," which could be live-in.
The group's flyer states that a concubine must be Jewish and unattached,
"strictly monogamous" and remain celibate for three months after the
relationship ends. She also "must keep the laws of purity" by monthly
cleansing in a mikvah, a ritual bath.
If a concubine gets pregnant, the child is, in Yossi's words, considered
"100% kosher" - legitimate.
Yossi also said his group takes no fee.
Among the advantages for men, according to the flyer: "To divorce a
pilegesh, it is very simple. They just separate and go their own ways."
Most women who've called the hotline are furious.
One caller shouted "chillul hashem," which means the desecration of God's
name. One said she was alerting the police vice squad, and another warned,
"Mayor Giuliani is on his way."
"You should dismantle this horrible disgusting thing," one woman screamed.
"Where you got such a meshuggeneh crazy idea I'll never know."
Some other female callers to the hotline volunteered to be concubines.
Law enforcement sources said the police public morals squad looked into
Shalom Bayis and found no evidence of prostitution.
"What law is being broken if those operating the ring are not charging a
fee for this matchmaking service?" said one source. "If they are, it's
prostitution. If they're not - and so far, I know of no evidence that they
are charging a fee - then the DA has no grounds to step in."
One Orthodox feminist group said the concubine concept is another example
of the subordinate role of women in ultra-Orthodox Judaism.
"Some of the men in this organization are the same men withholding gittin
[Jewish divorces] from their wives," said Rivka Haut, 54, co-director of
Agunah Inc., an Orthodox feminist group that assists women in obtaining
"For married men, concubines are a wonderful way to have their cake and eat
it too, while keeping their wives chained in a dead marriage," Haut said.
"The Shalom Bayis group is to torment women even more."
Yossi insisted, however, "We are not looking to hurt women." He maintained
that Shalom Baylis is "working behind the scenes with rabbis to get
proclamations to support the concubine issue."
Two rabbis whom Yossi identified as supportive declined to comment.
"I don't think there is any rabbi who would suggest or tolerate such an ugly
and ridiculous thing," said Avi Shafran, an Orthodox rabbi in Manhattan who
called Yossi a "nut with a psychological problem."
Isaac Abraham, a well-known Hasidic spokesman in Brooklyn, said: "Yossi
isn't quoting from Jewish law. He's quoting Heidi Fleiss."
"in the USA one can get away with murder, but not with sex!!"
© 1997 Peter Langston