Recently, a senior rabbi ruled that a man can take a "pilegesh," a concubine, if the couple is barren and the wife refuses to accept a divorce.
When did we turn into the Republic of Gilead?
For those who missed the reference, I was alluding to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. The story takes place in the Republic of Gilead, a future society run according to a strictly fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. (Sort of the like the X-tian version of sharia law, complete with public stonings.) In this society, women are under complete control of the male-dominated society. They are not allowed to vote, work, have access to money, speak publicly or read even so much as a street sign. Needless to say, "be fruitful and multiply" is a big deal. However, because of ecological blight and nuclear war, there are copious quantities of radioactive waste on the outskirts of the Republic of Gilead. As a result of all this pollution, most people are sterile. Most of the babies that are born are deformed, and destroyed at birth. However, a few women are still able to bear healthy children. These women, dubbed "Handmaids," are expected to mate with the husbands in a bizarre coupling ritual that involves the Handmaid literally lying between the Wife's legs while the husband (dubbed a "Commander") attempts to impregnate her. Needless to say, the Handmaids are thought of as little better than whores.
Look at the similarities. A pilegesh is a woman dependent on the man she's with. Her job is to be available for s*x and bear children. Her presence may be both tolerated and resented by the man's wife. Also, it's up for debate who would be considered the child's actual mother. (In Atwood's tale, a Handmaid who successfully bore a child would nurse the child for three months, and then be sent to another family. She would never see the child again.) If it's the pilegesh, would the child have the same rights as a child born of marriage? And if not--what then?