I spent last year trying to live according to the rules and customs of the Bible. And a few months in, I decided that if I was really going to commit, maybe I should take a shot at polygamy.
It’s a huge theme in the Old Testament. Polygamy was, if not the norm, completely accepted in early biblical times. Jacob had two wives (and two concubines). King David had eight. Solomon holds the record with an impressive seven hundred spouses.
Things, of course, have gone sour for polygamy since then. This morning, I was reading about a particularly dark side of polygamy — namely the (alleged) sleazeball and (accused) megalomaniac Warren Jeffs, the head of a breakaway Mormon sect who is said to have seventy wives. He’s going on trial this week for, as the Times puts it, being “an accomplice to rape in arranging polygamous marriages between under-age girls and older men.”
I never spoke to Mr. Jeffs during my year, but I did do some research on modern-day polygamists to see how it works.
I was surprised to find out there is a small but passionate Jewish pro-polygamy movement. Ashkenazi Judaism officially banned multiple wives in the eleventh century, when the great European rabbi Gershom ben Judah laid down the one-spouse-only law. But you can still find a sprinkling of ultra-orthodox Jews who want to return to the old days. They argue the rabbinical ban was instituted not for moral reasons, but for practical reasons — the Jews didn’t want Christians to be jealous of their cushy domestic setup.
I also spoke to a prominent Christian polygamist. I said multiple spouses is an interesting concept, but how could I convince my current wife, Julie, that she should let me take on a second wife? His suggestion: The preemptive strike. He told me to find a second wife, perform the ceremony, consummate the marriage — THEN tell my first wife. That way it’s a fait accompli. And my first marriage has a better chance of surviving than if I go all wimpy and ask for permission. Hmmm. Sounds about as wise as the time my dad gave my mom a smoke detector as an anniversary gift.
I asked him if the strategy wasn’t a bit sneaky and un-Biblical. His reply “It can end up being more cruel to put a wife through a year, five years, 10 years of worrying that you’re going to take a second wife.”
He then asked if I had a prospective second wife. I told him that our nanny is cute. (My wife agrees. And she’s given me permission to have an affair with her, a la Curb Your Enthusiasm. Of course, Julie gave me the offer only because she knew there was no chance the nanny would ever be interested. It’s like giving me permission to become a linebacker with the Dolphins).
The polygamist thought this was a good idea. It would give me a nice, practical line of reasoning with my first wife — we wouldn’t have to pay the nanny bills anymore.
In the end, I ignored his advice and I did ask my wife for the green light. And in the end, as I suspected, she put the kibosh on it. I was forced to stick with the conventional single spouse.
The weird thing is, in the past few months, Julie has become quite tolerant of polygamy. Just not in my case. She’s addicted to HBO’s Big Love, and says it’s made her see how the arrangement could work for some people. More emotional support. Readily available backup babysitters. And, as Julie just put it to me: “Chloe’s character is good at fixing things so if you marry someone incompetent (no naming names), one of your sister-wives can help you out.”
At the end of my conversation with the polygamist, he became quite agitated. He was talking about persecution of fellow polygamists, and how they are put in jail next to criminals and homosexuals. He pronounced the word ‘homosexual’ with the venom most people reserve for war criminals or Dick Cheney or Crocs.
Apparently, polygamists aren’t so tolerant of other types of sexual behavior.
Perhaps he should take a lesson from my wife, who thinks polygamy should be legalized, as long as all the parties are consenting adults — and who is also completely open-minded about gay sex. Though as with polygamy, probably not within her own marriage.