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Polygamy and matrilineal descent


mercyngrace

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One of the explanations I've heard about why men could marry multiple wives but women were not to do so is that one's inheritance is determined by their mother's line rather than their fathers. I bumped into this today and wondered if one of you could confirm whether or not it is accurate.

In Judiasm, the status of whether a person is Jewish or not is considered to be "inherited" through the mother. This Halacha has been around since the origins of Judaism as a culture, at least as far back as when the Torah was received by Moses on Mt. Sinai. Many claims, however, have attempted to place the inauguration of this "Custom" significantly more recently than the correct date.

Without discussing Individual claims for when it was that this "Custom" originated, I will explore the documentary evidence that this law was well known at the destruction of the second temple. Since many will contend that direct evidence from the Old Testament was posiibly more recently modified, the oldest documents extant are from just before, during, and after the destruction of the temple.

In any case, The Mishna, which was a compilation of sayings from the Tannaic period (from approximately 50 B.C.E. - 200 C.E.) about the law as they understood it, seems to take the fact that matrilineal descent for granted. According to one opinion listed, a woman who has a baby from a non-jewish man is considered to be a "Mamzer," (Leviticus 20, Deuteronomy 23, verse 3) According to the other opinion, which is listed as the one we follow, there is no legal distinction between this child and one born from both Jewish parents, except that he cannot claim membership in a tribe, as this is a status inherited from the father. (This means that the child is non a Levite, but otherwise has no practically different rules than a member of the other 11 tribes. However, it has been contended that the Mishna may not be the same text as that which originally existed, though at the least, it is the same manuscript as was in use in 600 C.E.

If someone were to reject the Mishna as a source, due to the fact that it cannot be verified far enough back, there are sources form the Midrash, a set of collections of Tannaic literature explaining scripture, some of which, it is clear, dates to well before the destruction of the second temple, we see that this understanding of Matrilineal descent is taken for granted as well. The example I remember most clearly is from when Joseph marries an "Egyptian" woman, (Genesis 41, 50) the Midrash explains how the children, Ephraim and Menashe, are jewish. The reason given is that the girl Joseph marries is the daughter of Dina, who was raped by Shechem, (Genesis 34) (And the daughter of this union is assumed to be Jewish.) Contrast this with the casual liason that Yehuda (Judah) had with Tamar, (Genesis 38) when he thought that she was not a jewess (and it is clear from midrashic sources that he is not concerned with any offspring that may have resulted, seeing as the child would clearly not be Jewish.)

There are those who feel, however, that since the Midrash was not widely distributed, and many textual discrepancies exist, therefore, though there is no specific evidence, large sections of it could have been altered in the intervening 2000 years, and a more reputable source, such as the Talmud, is needed, since it is clear from documentary evidence that it was not changed significantly since it was written, 1500 years ago. In Tractate Avodah Zarah, which discusses business and personal relationships between Jews and those non-Jews who practice Idol Worship, it is clear in several places that a relationship between a jewess and a non-jew is Jewish, especially in cases involving capture by a non-jewish army, where we say that a child born to the woman through rape, is a Mamzer, since it is a forbidden relationship since the woman is married. A proof that children of jewish men with non-jewish women is from the discussion in the Talmud of the payment for rape (50 peices of silver, in Deuteronomy 22, verse 28) where it says that a non-jewish woman is not entitled to this specific payment, and is instead entitled to a seperate type of damages claim, which a jewish woman (according to most opions, including the one that is followed) is not.

It is possible, given all of these sources, still to doubt that the rule was given more than 3000 years ago to moses, but to claim that it originated after the holocaust is patently ridiculous, and claiming it originates during the 2000 yeaars of exile since the destruction of the Second Temple is a only somewhat less difficult to support claim.

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I don't buy it. Off the top of my head, levirate marriage where a man marries the widow his brother in order to raise up seed to his brother's name would not be necessary if inheritance came through the mother. Also there was the exception of daughters getting an inheritance only if there was no brother to care for them (IIRC).

Plus his own comment: "except that he cannot claim membership in a tribe, as this is a status inherited from the father"

While the child may be accepted as Jewish/Israelite, any material or lineage inheritance would come down through the tribe and thus through the father. At best he's demonstrated that there is a general acceptance of ethnicity, but not direct kinship.

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Another thought to consider is the fact that Hebrews/Semitics were patriarchal. It was vitally important to know who your father was and to be able to demonstrate this. Hugh Nibley, in "Abraham in Egypt," noted in connection with Egyptus, Pharoah, and priesthood restrictions that this was a matriarchal lineage, and that this was the reason why Pharoah was "cursed as to the priesthood." He made the point that one always knows who one's mother is, regardless of the system, but in a polygynous system (one woman, many husbands), one could never be sure with absolute certainty who one's father is.

I don't think that people who favored patriarchal over matriarchal like this would have determined inheritance through matriarchal descent.

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Another thought to consider is the fact that Hebrews/Semitics were patriarchal. It was vitally important to know who your father was and to be able to demonstrate this. Hugh Nibley, in "Abraham in Egypt," noted in connection with Egyptus, Pharoah, and priesthood restrictions that this was a matriarchal lineage, and that this was the reason why Pharoah was "cursed as to the priesthood." He made the point that one always knows who one's mother is, regardless of the system, but in a polygynous system (one woman, many husbands), one could never be sure with absolute certainty who one's father is.

I don't think that people who favored patriarchal over matriarchal like this would have determined inheritance through matriarchal descent.

Google is bountiful ;-) and I have turned up many articles that confirm matrilineal descent after Sinai. If your mother is a Jew, you are a Jew. It is a rabbinical interpretation of Duet. 7:4. Probably not applicable to plural marriage.

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Google is bountiful ;-) and I have turned up many articles that confirm matrilineal descent after Sinai. If your mother is a Jew, you are a Jew. It is a rabbinical interpretation of Duet. 7:4. Probably not applicable to plural marriage.

I believe it was David B. who stated recently that the rabbinic influence wouldn't have occurred until after the NT (it may have been the OT) as rabbis (that does not look like a correct spelling, will have to check) as understood now did not exist until later. So if the rabbis interpreted it this way, it does not mean that Jews/Israelites interpreted it this way prior to the time of the rabbis.
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I believe it was David B. who stated recently that the rabbinic influence wouldn't have occurred until after the NT (it may have been the OT) as rabbis (that does not look like a correct spelling, will have to check) as understood now did not exist until later. So if the rabbis interpreted it this way, it does not mean that Jews/Israelites interpreted it this way prior to the time of the rabbis.

Yeah - I get that. I just didn't write my comment clearly.

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Yeah - I get that. I just didn't write my comment clearly.

Sorry if I came across dogmatically (if so, blame it on me hanging out 24/7--it feels like it at least-- the past three days with just the dog).

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Sorry if I came across dogmatically (if so, blame it on me hanging out 24/7--it feels like it at least-- the past three days with just the dog).

LOL - it wasn't you, when I read my comment back I realized that I worded it badly. You can blame my incoherence on trying to carry on a conversation while doing laundry, scrubbing the bathrooms, and shampooing floors. My multi-tasking skills only go so far... :P

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I don't know if this is historically accurate, but it makes a lot of sense to me. I've been told that the Jewish custom of having the mother determine the child's "Jewishness" came from their history of constant warfare and persecution. Because there were always so many women being raped by invading and occupying forces, it simply wasn't possible to always know who the father of a child was. Instead of punishing the woman for her rape (by death), the Jews chose the more practical custom of letting maternal lineage (which is exact) determine the child's ancestry. Only tribal affiliation would be affected--especially for Levites.

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From Mary and possibly from Joseph too. As far as most of their acquaintances knew, Joseph was his father.

Joseph wasn't his real father (I think Luke points this out by giving a different genealogy than Mathew for Jesus). There are some pretty serious adoption laws though in Judaism - an adopted son is the considered the same as a real one...which is good for us, as we are described as being adopted... (Jesus is the "only" begotten afterall)

ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.

(New Testament | Romans 8:15)

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I believe it was David B. who stated recently that the rabbinic influence wouldn't have occurred until after the NT (it may have been the OT) as rabbis (that does not look like a correct spelling, will have to check) as understood now did not exist until later. So if the rabbis interpreted it this way, it does not mean that Jews/Israelites interpreted it this way prior to the time of the rabbis.

I think it was actually Maklelan, as well as myself. Rabbinic Judaism really only begins after the destruction of the second temple and is engineered by r. Yohanan ben Zakay and his supporters at Yavneh (Jamnia). They came from the more progressive stream of Pharisaic Judaism, which Christ in his earthly ministry was influenced by. before Yavneh the appelation rabbi was an honorific, not a designation of a sage.

Matrilineal descent is a later idea. For the most part, before the Amoraic period (about 200 years after Christ) what counted was the father, not the mother. Children were usually considered as belonging to the religion of their father.

Anyway, lineage according to tribe was always patrilineal and still is.

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One of the explanations I've heard about why men could marry multiple wives but women were not to do so is that one's inheritance is determined by their mother's line rather than their fathers. I bumped into this today and wondered if one of you could confirm whether or not it is accurate.

This seems to be an echo of the Abrahamic covenant and reflects the eternal role of gender in Heavenly Father's plan. The most practical aspect of perpetuating patriarchal order (priesthood, priesthood government, exercise of keys binding the earthly living to heaven) is obviously heavily dependent on the activities of women and mothers. The men have the priesthood, the exclusive path from earth into heaven, and the chief patriarch expresses and delegates the binding and sealing keys; the women have the exclusive gateway through which bodies and spirits unite into this mortal world. Women provide the default doorway into the claiming of the divine birthright for all God's children through birth, while men provide the default doorway into the claim and exercise of the birthright for all those souls through presentation of the doctrines, covenants and ordinances of salvation. As far as the "bloodline", "inheritance" or "birthright" are concerned, the priesthood in the patriarchal order provides the "house" (temple, Zion community, church unit) for the family, and the woman provides the doorway into the house where the priesthood benefits can be received (tabernacle of the bodies of children, entrance into experience in this world, etc.) for the family. So while men provide the gateway into the next life, women provide the gateway into this life in order for souls to obtain the gateway into the next life. In this way Eve is the mother of all living before and after the resurrection. This is the idea behind children being sealed to their mother and to whomever she is sealed, regardless of who the biological father is.

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Another thought to consider is the fact that Hebrews/Semitics were patriarchal. It was vitally important to know who your father was and to be able to demonstrate this. Hugh Nibley, in "Abraham in Egypt," noted in connection with Egyptus, Pharoah, and priesthood restrictions that this was a matriarchal lineage, and that this was the reason why Pharoah was "cursed as to the priesthood." He made the point that one always knows who one's mother is, regardless of the system, but in a polygynous system (one woman, many husbands), one could never be sure with absolute certainty who one's father is.

I don't think that people who favored patriarchal over matriarchal like this would have determined inheritance through matriarchal descent.

The distinction needs to be made between MATRIARCHAL and MARTILINEAL. One meas rule by the mother (or maternal line) the other simply means determining descent based on the maternal line.

That the Hebrews were Patriarchal means that rule and priesthood were handed down from father to son. Matrilineal descentsimply means that your "tribe" is determined by your mother. These are not mutually exclusive concepts.

If we think of it in modern terms, your would inherit your mother's last name instead of your father's but you would still receive your inheritance (priesthood, the throne, the family lands, etc) from your father.

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The distinction needs to be made between MATRIARCHAL and MARTILINEAL. One meas rule by the mother (or maternal line) the other simply means determining descent based on the maternal line.

That the Hebrews were Patriarchal means that rule and priesthood were handed down from father to son. Matrilineal descentsimply means that your "tribe" is determined by your mother. These are not mutually exclusive concepts.

If we think of it in modern terms, your would inherit your mother's last name instead of your father's but you would still receive your inheritance (priesthood, the throne, the family lands, etc) from your father.

. Your definition of matrilinial wouldn't include the Jews because the tribe is still determined by the father even if their "Jewishness" is determined by the mother. I imagine this only affects Cohanim since they are the only ones who seem to keep track of their entire genealogies (or at least try to)
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. Your definition of matrilinial wouldn't include the Jews because the tribe is still determined by the father even if their "Jewishness" is determined by the mother. I imagine this only affects Cohanim since they are the only ones who seem to keep track of their entire genealogies (or at least try to)

I don't think "tribe" is the right word but I couldn't think of a better one.

Still today, Jews are considered Jews based on whether their mother is Jewish. Some Jewish sects accept people who were born of a Jewish father and gentile mother but I think it is uncommon according to all the reading I did yesterday, though anyone can convert I suppose.

See here.

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Tribal and familial descent in Judaism is patrilineal.

I'm glad you weighed in! This is generally I am finding online:

As of today, Judaism is divided on the issue of "Who is a Jew?" via descent. Orthodox Judaism stands unequivocably behind Judaism's almost 2000 year old law of matrilineal descent. Conservative Judaism has stayed loyal to the traditional matrilineal descent law, but, compared to Orthodoxy, is more open in its acceptance of potential converts, more sensitive in its approach to intermarried Jews, and more active in its outreach to intermarried families. Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism have expanded their definition of a Jew from one with a Jewish mother to also include one with a Jewish father.

Can you make heads or tails of this for us?

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For Orthodox Judaism, the most rabbinic of all, if one's mother is not Jewish, then one has to undergo a long, tedious and exhaustive conversion process.

Conservative Judaism is close to orhtodox, but slightly more flexible. As a general rule they follow matrilineal descent, but are willing to look at it on a case-by-case basis and their conversion process is a lot easier.

Reform Judaism is the most radical, they don't care about matrilineal or patrilineal descents, just as long as one of the parents is jewish, then the kids are too.

These three broad dvisions of Judaism, were they Mormon magazines would be the Ensign, Dialogue and Sunstone, respectively.

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For Orthodox Judaism, the most rabbinic of all, if one's mother is not Jewish, then one has to undergo a long, tedious and exhaustive conversion process.

Conservative Judaism is close to orhtodox, but slightly more flexible. As a general rule they follow matrilineal descent, but are willing to look at it on a case-by-case basis and their conversion process is a lot easier.

Reform Judaism is the most radical, they don't care about matrilineal or patrilineal descents, just as long as one of the parents is jewish, then the kids are too.

These three broad dvisions of Judaism, were they Mormon magazines would be the Ensign, Dialogue and Sunstone, respectively.

Thanks - so are you in agreement that the concept of matrilineal descent concept is from the early CE? Most of the sites I find suggest this which is why the one I cited in the OP caught my eye.

I was actually trying to learn more about Tamar and Judah per our discussion on the other thread but my Adult ADD took over and got distracted with this lineage business :P

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Thanks - so are you in agreement that the concept of matrilineal descent concept is from the early CE? Most of the sites I find suggest this which is why the one I cited in the OP caught my eye.

I do. Look at post #13.

I was actually trying to learn more about Tamar and Judah per our discussion on the other thread but my Adult ADD took over and got distracted with this lineage business :P

I have ADHD, so I know just what you mean.

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