Concubines, Marriage and Islam: Definitions…What Exactly is a Concubine? Part 2

Figure 1.1a: An example of a modern day pilgesh or concubine according to the Halachah.  There are even services one can use to utilise such women.

Figure 1.1a: An example of a modern day pilgesh or concubine according to the Halachah.
There are even services some Orthodox Jews can use to procure such women.


Orthodox Judaism defines a concubine as, “a marital companion of inferior status to a wife.”[1] Orthodox authorities further state, “The term in Hebrew is pilgesh, the equivalent of the Greek pallakis and Latin pellex.

Among the Assyrians the concubine (esirtu) gained the rank of a wife only after the veiling ceremony conducted by her spouse, if he so chose to elevate her (Assyrian Code A, 41). The legal formalities, if any, are not described in the Bible.” [2]

A further interesting explanation is given in the same source, “A concubine may be defined by Jewish law, as a woman dedicating herself to a particular man, with whom she cohabits without a kiddushin (see *Marriage) or *ketubbah.” [3]

Having received the up to date understanding from Orthodox Jewish sources, we will need to now define our terms to get a better picture of (1) a wife and (2) a concubine in the Halachah (Jewish Law).


This can be defined as a betrothal. This is the first stage of the Torah-mandated wedding process. Kiddushin is accomplished beneath the chupah (wedding canopy) when the groom giving the bride the ring.

Kiddushin actually renders the bride and groom full- fledged husband and wife except that the couple may not live together as husband and wife until the second stage, the nisu’in, is completed.

Nisu’in is the second and final stage of marriage, which is effected by the chupah (marriage canopy) and the recitation of Seven Benedictions[4]

Ketubbah or Ketubah

Louis Jacobs defines it as, “The marriage contract by which the bridegroom obligates himself to provide a settlement for his wife if he divorces her, or his heir if he predeceases her.

Ketubah, from the root katav, ‘to write,’ is the name for both the written contract itself and for the amount the husband is obliged to settle on his wife.

The main purpose of the ketubah is to prevent the husband from divorcing his wife against her will, which in Talmudic times, he had the right to do (see DIVORCE).

The knowledge that he had to pay his wife her ketubah would serve as a check against hasty divorce. In addition to the basic settlement, the husband undertakes in the ketubah to protect his wife, work for her, provide her with her marital rights and with all that is necessary for her due sustenance.

Since it was a legal document and had to be understood by both parties, the ketubah was written in Aramaic, the vernacular in Talmudic times.

This form is still preserved in the traditional ketubah, though in Anglo-Jewry and elsewhere there is an English translation on the back of the document.

The ketubah is essentially a statement of the husband’s obligations. The obligations of the wife to her husband are not recorded in the ketubah.”[5]

Rabbi Yudah was asked the difference between wives and concubines. His answer was the following, “Wives have ketubbah and kiddushin, concubines have neither (Sanh. 21a; Maim. Yad, Melakhim 4:4; Lehem Mishneh and Radbaz, ad loc).”[6] However, a difference of opinion has been confirmed in the Halacha regarding the matter.[7]


When looking at the above from the Halachah, let us conclude the following:

Firstly, the marriage must be solemnised with a kiddushin, which involves the bride and groom standing beneath the chupah (wedding canopy) with the groom giving the bride the ring. The second stage of the marriage is completed after the solemn proclamation under the chupah and the recitation of the seven benedictions.

Secondly, the ketubah is proclaimed by the husband to the bride to secure her rights and outline the responsibilities that he owes to her.

Thirdly, the concubine possesses neither of the above. This therefore means that there is no standing under the chuppah or chupah, no declaration, seven benedictions and there is no protection for the concubine through the ketubah; the one in the position of concubinage has neither of the above protections.

In this case, the woman occupying the position of concubine is of the same status as “girlfriend,” “lover,” “friend with benefits” or “significant other.”



The Catholic Church also has discussed this matter. By Catholic, we mean the Roman, Byzantine, Chaldaen, Coptic (which includes Ethiopic) rites and so forth.

The statement on concubines from the Catholic Church is somewhat murkier and less well defined than its’ Jewish counterpart, “For a long time the only type of concubinage among the laity that received special condemnation was adulterous and incestuous.

Not until the Council of Trent was there a general condemnation of concubinage in all its’ forms (sess.24, c.8). This decree states that anyone who would not dismiss his concubine, after having received three warnings from the ordinary, was to be excommunicated and the concubine expelled from the city with the aid of the secular authorities. ”[8]


Concubinage is therefore explained by the Catholic Church as:

  1. Adulterous behaviour inside the marriage, with the object of adultery being the concubine.
  2. Incestuous behaviour in which the object of incest is a concubine.
  3. A man and woman living together without a sacramental marriage or vow, whether temporary or permanent, are engaging in a form of concubinage, with the woman being in the role of a concubine. This final point was the case in Roman law, with both temporary and permanent concubines being recognised in law as well as the fact that in the absence of a wife taken in Roman law, a concubine of long standing could act in place of one. The issue of offspring is a different matter and hotly contested.



As we are defining terms, the only way to accurately put things together is to compare and contrast. When referring to the Revealed Law and contrasting it with Halachah, the ketubah and the kiddushin are one event,

thus the Nikah gives the sacramental state of the marriage conferred by the official (Ar. imam or khatib) and the ketubah is the gift to the bride (Ar. mahr), falsely referred to in some circles as the “bride price.”

The maintenance of the husband and protection of the wife is assumed and the settlement amount is either in the mahr, spelled out or otherwise discussed.

There is no such classification of a woman in the Revealed Law who one takes to cohabit with without a nikah, i.e. sacramental marriage. This will be brought out later, if Allah wills. As for the Catholic doctrine, this brings more questions than answers, but let us examine it in three ways.

  1. Incest is not recognised by Revealed Law and its’ final penalty is execution and not excommunication (or mere shunning).
  2. Adultery is likewise not cohabiting as such and has its’ final end in execution of the perpetrator if all matters come together by way of evidence.
  3. A couple unmarried, living together as husband and wife while not with a valid nikah, are not married and not treated as such, irrespective of what society says when referencing Revealed Law.[9]

The next argument will focus on breaking down the above points in the Revealed Law, the evidences for it, the different types of women in the Revealed Law and case law in perspective.

Until then,

Al-Hajj Abu Ja`far Al-Hanbali

[1] Encyclopaedia Judaica, Second Edition, vol.5, pp. 133-134, Macmillan Reference, USA, in Association with Keter Publishing House, Ltd, Jerusalam, 2007

[2] Encyclopaedia Judaica, Second Edition, vol.5, pp. 133-134, Macmillan Reference, USA, in Association with Keter Publishing House, Ltd, Jerusalam, 2007

[3] ibid

[4] Please see This is one of the best sources for definitions of Halachah terminology in a concise and easy to understand form for both non-Jews as well as converts and such.

[5] A Concise Companion to the Jewish Religion, pp. 123-124, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999.

[6] ibid

[7] ibid

[8] New Catholic Encyclopaedia, vol.4, pp. 119-120, McGraw Hill Book Company, New York, 1967.

[9] This has to do with when the couple are both Muslims; but in the case of other religions, certain considerations are examined. This same flexibility exists with converts to Islam to some degree. We hope to cover this later, if Allah wills.


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