Polyamory and Religion Round Up

As my regular readers know, I’m finally fixing a lot of mistakes and errors in my early blog posts. The religion series was one of the more problematic parts of the blog as I was writing about religions that I am not a part of and in many cases have not taken the time to learn about in depth. I am seeking followers of various faiths who are interested in writing about polyamory and their religion. Until I can get better posts up to replace the old ones, the polyamory and religion series will be unavailable.

There are a huge number of religions that I haven’t covered yet, but I’m also reaching the point of having covered the most commonly talk-about religions in the US, and having trouble getting solid info on any others. Plus, personal stuff getting out of hand of late (as in my paying work isn’t paying and I have massive legal fees to deal with) and I just don’t have the time to spend hours digging into the background of religions I really don’t know anything about. So as and when I have time I may add a new religion to the list, but for now here is the “Not-Yet-Complete List of Polyamory and Religions”

(list is alphabetical)
Polyamory and Buddhism
Polyamory and Christianity
Polyamory and Hinduism
Polyamory and Islam
Polyamory and Judaism
Polyamory and Paganism/Neo-Paganism
Polyamory and Taoism

So there it is for now, as I said, more will probably come in time, and if anyone knows about a religion not on the list and would like to either tell me about it or do a guest post about it, please let me know. If you have info that I missed about a religion already on the list, please feel free to add it to the comments section or send me a message and I’ll edit as appropriate.

Also – I’m rather ignoring the holidays myself this year, given the outcome of my custody case, but I do want to wish a belated Happy Hanukkah, a Merry Christmas, and a good New Year to all of my readers.

Polyamory and Judaism

In theory, all Jews are subject to the same Torah laws. In reality, there are different interpretations, traditions and history have informed those laws, and contrary to the assumptions of many Americans, there is a great deal more variety in Jewish tradition then Reform/Conservative/Orthodox.

The Torah (first five books of what Christians call the Jewish Scripture or Old Testament) is very clear on allowing polygyny (multiple wives) under specific conditions. Among other things, a man must be able to provide all his wives with the same level of care when it comes to their physical, and sexual needs, and he must be equally affectionate/loving/caring with all of them. Additionally, his first wife must agree before he can take a second wife, the first two must agree before he can take a third, and etc.

Additionally, the specifics of Torah law define adultery as a man sleeping with a woman who is married to someone else. He can sleep with as many unmarried women as he wants, and it’s frowned on, but not adulterous. Presumably the reverse is true (as long as a woman is unmarried she can sleep with any man she wants). Once the woman is married, it is adultery and against the law for both parties.

By extension polyandry (one woman with multiple husbands) would be considered adultery and is against Torah law.

Now, getting to those varieties of Judaism – some Jewish traditions consider the decisions of what is known as the Rabbinic period to be law one step below Torah law in importance. (Think of violating Torah law as on the level of murder and Rabbinic law as on the level of accidental manslaughter if that helps). Those who follow Rabbic law include the Ashkenazim (basically all the Jewish traditions Americans are familiar with) and some (but not all) of the Sephardi (Jews who lived in Spain, Portugal and the Ottoman Empire). Mizrahi (Jews from the Mi+ddle East or Asia) generally do not accept Rabbinic law.

This is important because around 1100 CE, it was decided by the Rabbis that polygyny would no longer be acceptable (several sources say that this was because the cultures they were living among didn’t practice polygyny, and it was dangerous to stand out too much). Regardless of the reason, at this point polygyny is considered illegal by the majority of Jewish traditions in Europe and America based on these Rabbinic laws.

Modern Jewish authority is pretty much against polygamy, and Israeli law says that Jews who married polygynously in their old countries can move to Israel, but once they are there they aren’t allowed any more polygynous marriages.This isn’t much of an issue as for practical reasons of civil laws even Jews whose traditions allow polygyny rarely practice it today.

Over all, from a technical reading of the Scripture, polyamory (multiple loves) is fine, because as long as the women aren’t married, it isn’t adultery. Similarly, a mono/poly marriage where the woman is mono and the man is poly could slip through the cracks as the man can have relations with women who are not married and it isn’t adultery.

However, multiple marriages of any variety are pretty much out.

All this depends on a very legalistic interpretation of the Scripture, and most Jewish communities frown on sex outside of marriage, even if it is technically legal. However, an important tenet of Judaism is that each person is responsible for their own interpretation of the law and how they follow the law.

Religion and Your Poly Partners

(First posted in 2009)

A Christian, a Jew, a Wiccan and an atheist buy a home together.

. . .

. . .

. . .

Nope, no way I can come up with a punchline for this one. (Also definitely not giving up my day job.)

Practically every polyamorous person I know has wrestled at one time or another with their religions prohibition on multiple marriage, multiple relationships, sex outside of marriage or some variation on this theme. For those who are interested, and because religion fascinates me, I will eventually do a write up on how different religions view polyamory, what the scriptures say vs what the current leaders say, and ways some polies have found to reconcile their needs and beliefs. (EDIT: Since I don’t have enough on my plate [yeah right!] I’ve decided to start putting up Saturday posts on religious views of ethical non-monogamy and polyamory. First one will be up this Saturday.)

But that’s another day. Because as fascinating as it is, if you are reading this blog, and are polyamorous, you have probably already dealt with this issue in one fashion or another (unless you belong to one of the religions that have no issue with poly relationships [and many don’t, they just aren’t common in the US] in which case, more power to you).

On the other hand, God/gods/Goddess/spirits/angels/WTF ever you believe in help you if you belong to the quad mentioned above. And the more devout you are the worse it will be.

As is becoming usual, I have a whole bunch of potential problems, and not many concrete solutions. For instance, proper Kosher requires there be no non-Kosher food in the house at all (which includes pork, shellfish, and a bunch of other things). It isn’t fair for everyone in the family to be forced to keep religious dietary restrictions of a diet they don’t believe in, but where does that leave the Jewish member of the family who is devout and has always kept strict Kosher?

What is even more difficult is when religions directly conflict with each other – like when a feast day and a fast day fall on the same day. (Islam, Judaism and Christianity all keep different calendars, and the dates move around relative to each other. With the month long Fast of Ramadan in there, any combination of Islam with the other two pretty much guarantees conflicts. I’m sure there are similar problems with any number of religious combinations)

Speaking of scheduling conflicts, Passover falling on Easter doesn’t make for easy holiday planning (though Passover on Holy Thursday actually works surprisingly well!) Thankfully, or regretfully, Christmas and Solistice will never meet, leading to a decision of celebrating 2 major holidays within days of each other, or shifting dates to celebrate them together. (Here, I always vote for shifting Christmas, since the day is fairly arbitrary anyway, and we can’t actually change when the shortest day of the year is, but that’s just me.)

I can’t see UUs having a problem with anyone they would end up with, because, hey, they’re UUs. Jehovah’s Witness with their rules against holidays and celebrations would really put a damper on things for everyone else, but . . . well it’s narrow minded of me, but I just can’t imagine a Jehovah’s Witness poly . . . they are often very good people, but flexibility just doesn’t seem to be their strong suit.

There are several ways religion can be handled in a polyamorous relationship, but the first, crucial, part is you have to be willing to respect and accept each other’s beliefs. Hopefully, I just wasted my time saying that.

Now, option 1 is to each do your own thing, and have no involvement in other’s religious practices. There are two problems with this, as I see it: Most people are used to religious holidays being family time, and the aforementioned issue of Kosher, and similar prohibitions. This option can work reasonably well for people who don’t live together, and are comfortable celebrating alone and/or have other people to celebrate with.

Next up would be bouncing to the other extreme – everyone do everything together. Right, my head hurts just thinking about it – if you can make it work more power to you. Moving on.

The most successful option seems to be a level of compromise. Celebrate a few major holidays together, don’t make meals for the whole family that violate a religious prohibition (plan dinner for an hour or two later during Ramadan, don’t have lobster dinner if someone keeps Kosher,etc), but don’t worry about a few pork rolls in the fridge.

Realistically, if you’ve gotten to the point of moving in together, religion probably won’t be much of an issue for you, but you can expect to get tripped up by minor miscommunications or non-communications. (“Cheryl and Dan said they’d be here next Thursday for the feast for holiday X” . . . “What? I have to fast that day!”) The biggest thing here (aside from the decision of general policy) is to try and keep in mind that the date that looms so large for you may not even register with your partners.

Personally, I found a holiday planning session every three months of so helped keep things from getting out of hand (OK, we have Hanukkah overlapping Christmas this year, Thanksgiving with Anne’s parents and Ben’s grove has invited all of us for Solstice. Everyone on the same page? Great!) Making sure everyone is aware of upcoming holidays and restrictions keeps everyone from being blindsided, and makes celebrating a lot smoother.

And of course, the benefits of keeping a calendar updated with important dates cannot be over emphasized.