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Rampant Rabbi: Seven wives, eight children and one very happy 'messiah' - meet Britain's most unorthodox family

Daily Mail 8th October 2008

Philip Sharp emerges from his farmhouse kitted out in jodphurs, a thick red sweater and boots, and strides purposefully towards the stables to take his racehorses for their morning gallop.

Before arriving, I had not formed a clear impression in my mind of what a 'rampant rabbi' looks like, but the man in jodphurs before me  -  albeit one with a rascal-ish gleam in his eye  -  is definitely not it.

Nonetheless, this is the man himself, the man who has found infamy across the land for living with his 'harem' of seven 'wives' and their many children.


Togetherness: From left, Judith, Tracey, Chava, Vreni, Philip, Margo, Hannah and Karyn

Togetherness: From left, Judith, Tracey, Chava, Vreni, Philip, Margo, Hannah and Karyn

Perhaps 'harem' is a little misleading. The women concerned are not seductively lying about the farmhouse waiting for the return of their master from the gallop; they are out and about working hard on his farm. The rampant rabbi is nothing if not practical.

He does not go for a particular type of woman, rather, lots of different types.

Margo, a 39-year-old New Zealander, is already the mother of three of Philip's children, and is expecting her fourth any day now. She is a tall, fresh-faced outdoorsy sort who has spent the morning mucking out the horses and shows no sign whatsoever of fatigue.

Vreni is a 38-year-old Swiss national who is also pregnant and is expecting her second child by Philip in January.

Vreni is the first to admit her situation is not conventional. She is very tall and carries herself with a regal demeanour, but is friendly and engaging when you chat to her.

At 64, Chava is the eldest of the seven 'wives', a small, gentle widow who joined the wives a couple of years after her late husband died ten years ago.

She cheerfully admits having had issues with sex, specifically that her marriage to her late husband was not consummated, and says that Philip is her first lover.

Then there is Hannah, a 51-year-old former secondary school teacher from Austria.

Hannah is an elegant lady with a quiet but approachable manner whose family can't figure out what she's doing at Philip Sharp's farm.

Judith, a 50-year-old former marketing manager, was the first of the women to share Philip's life here, and at the outset, quite reasonably, expected it to stay that way.

Tracey is a 42-year-old from Hampshire who became a single mother after splitting from her 14-year-old son's father. She has a five-year-old child with Philip.

Sharp with his seven wives and seven of his children

Sharp with his seven 'wives' and seven of his children

The youngest is Karyn, a 29-year-old former university student who is mother to three more of Philip's children. Her mother, Maureen, lives with Philip and the others, but is the exception to the rule in that she does not share Philip's bed.

All the women have changed their surnames by deed poll to Sharp and wear wedding bands. But there is no marriage ceremony when they become part of this extraordinary community: they are judged to have become Philip's 'wife' when their particular relationship is consummated.

The wives' personalities broadly fall into two categories: the 'softer' ones  -  Chava, Hannah, Karyn and Margo  -  and the 'harder' types  -  Tracey and Judith. Vreni falls somewhere in the middle.

There are eight children aged from five months to six years. And confusingly, Margo's three children are being raised by Judith, and call her 'Mummy', not Margo.

Philip also has five children, aged 13 to 22, from his first wife  -  the only one recognised as such by law  -  from whom he is estranged.

Two of his sons from that marriage also live with him, along with his eldest son's wife and their own two young children.

It is, you might say, an eclectic mix. But one big happy family? We shall see.

They all live together in a former oasthouse set in 27 acres of paddocks and fields near Battle in East Sussex.

They own about 40 horses, many of them thoroughbreds, as well as chickens, two black labradors and a few cats. Scattered about the farm are various outbuildings and barns.

Happily married: Sharp insists he would never have a mistress

Happily married: Sharp insists he would never have a mistress

It's a typical scene of pastoral life. And that's what's so odd about this place. It seems so normal that it's almost spooky.

Philip and his wives are followers of Messianic Judaism, which Philip explains is essentially being Jewish, but believing in Jesus Christ as the son of God.

Contrary to recent reports, Philip says he is not the reincarnation of an Old Testament king, but simply 'a king' specially selected by God.

Before we go into what part religion and kings have played in this tale, let us first address the nitty gritty of polygamy.

How does it work? Does Philip flit from bed to bed at night, creeping in and out of his wives' respective rooms? Are they allotted an equal share of their 'husband'? Who does he cuddle up to on the sofa when they're all watching telly?

'There is no system as such,' explains 48-year-old Philip.

'It's an evolving thing, it just happens. I might spend a week or so with one wife, then spend another week with another wife.'

He has his own little flat in one of the outbuildings, to which the favoured wife of the moment is 'invited' to share his bed.

When he feels it's time to give someone else a turn, he will tell the present incumbent so, in the nicest possible don't-take-it-personally kind of way.

Judith explains, 'Philip will say something like: "I think this should be our last night together." Obviously, you'd rather that wasn't the case, but you accept it as the way it is.'

You might say these couplings are mini-marriages, as opposed to lascivious wanderings from bed to bed.

According to Judith, however, the marriages are not entirely equal, and some wives are more favoured than others.

'We don't get an equal share of Philip, and there a couple of wives at the moment, not naming names, who don't get their share at all.'

But surely this must provoke jealousies among the women in the house?

'These are periods of what we call separation, and I have been through that situation myself. The relationships are not static, there is a constant ebb and flow.'

So who is the wife currently sharing Philip's bed? He's coy about it, but Judith tells me that Karyn is the lady of the moment, although Hannah later tells me that she was with him at the weekend.

Judith's quite matter of fact about it, but admits she has wrestled with terrible jealousy, especially at the beginning  -  as have all the other wives.

Sharp with Vreni and Margo

Sharp with Vreni and Margo

But you may not be surprised to learn that they keep their husband happy. Twenty-five years ago, the rampant rabbi, the son of a Jewish clothes manufacturer for C&A and his wife from Stanmore in Middlesex, was a well-known radio DJ called Phil Sharp.

'I was quite famous for a time,' he says. 'It was wine, women and song, and a bit of dope.

'But even though I'd achieved what I wanted, I felt increasingly depressed and I turned to God.'

In 1982 he married his first wife, Hadass, and five children followed. In the early Nineties he began to become involved in an American religious organisation called the Messianic Jewish Alliance.

In 1994 he was ordained as a rabbi by the organisation (a qualification which would not be recognised by traditional Jews) and began preaching in a number of synagogues.

'Jesus was Jewish, his disciples were Jewish, the people he healed were Jewish, yet the Church turned anti-semitic,' says Philip.

His marriage began to deteriorate, with increasing differences between the couple.

The fatal rupture occurred in 2000 when he decided he wanted to take his children out of State education.

'They were being taught sex education and about homosexuality and I wanted them out of there,' he says.

His wife objected and took him to court; the judge ordered him to send his children back to school. Philip refused and was sent to jail for two weeks for contempt of court, serving a week.

After this, he says, he couldn't go back to his wife. He doesn't want to go into why the marriage failed but does say his wife was 'rebellious' and would 'do things without communicating'.

He turned to Judith, his secretary at the synagogue, and asked her to 'share his life'.

She accepted and believed she was going to be the only wife.

'I had deep feelings for Philip, she says. 'He is good-looking and charismatic and has those superficial qualities, but it went much deeper than that. When I first heard Philip preach, it was like music to my ears, that's the only way I can put it.'

Judith wanted Philip for herself, and not unreasonably expected that that would be the case.

But an atmosphere of religious fervour was taking hold at Philip's synagogue in Hove, which was to lead eventually to his belief that he should take more wives.

'God was telling me I was a king. Not the Messiah, as has been suggested, but a Messiah. What God was showing me was that I would have a significant role in a Jewish revival, that a true nation of Israel would rise up and the world as we know it today was going to be severely judged.

'There would not be democracy, but kings throughout the world  -  humble, righteous kings.'

And Philip would be one of them. As well as bearing the responsibility of being a king, Philip was beginning to worry about the welfare of the women in his congregation.

'The Bible says God is the head of the man, and man is the head of the woman,' he says.

'And I was thinking: "I've got all these women in the congregation and none of them of them has a head." This had to be a true covenant, not just a Saturday morning get-together. God was telling me I was like a patriarch.'

And so from this Philip came up with the idea of making these women without heads his wives. He would be their head, their protector  -  their 'husband'.

He found passages in the Bible which seemed to give the all-clear. So was this the guiding hand of God, or a terrific scam by someone who wanted to have sex with lots of women?

'If I'm doing this in a prideful, devilish way, then it's awful what's going on,' says Philip.

'But it's not the case  -  I'm not that clever.'

He began to sound out his idea to women in the congregation. Some fled, but, remarkably, other women warmed to the idea, though not apparently the religious authorities.

He was later 'derobed' by the Messianic Jewish Alliance

It began in 2001. The first was a lady called Sue, who, having joined Philip and Judith, left after a couple of months, finding the arrangement not to her liking. But Sue was quickly followed by Tracey, Margo, Vreni, Hannah and then Karyn.

Judith was more than a little miffed at first. 'But I appealed to God to help me through it and He did,' she says. 'It wasn't that I accepted it, just that it was right and that it was right for me to stay.

'We all have our fears and hang-ups and there is a huge safety in our family, this environment allows you to be humble. Don't get me wrong, sex is important to all the wives, but this is not just about being married to Philip. It's a spiritual, Godly set-up.'

They settled into a house near Brighton before moving into the current place two years ago. Now, the women take it in turns to cook and help around the farm. Karyn works on Philip's haulage business. Philip concentrates on his horseracing and horse breeding.

We're a normal family,' says Philip. 'In the evenings we'll have dinner and watch TV, or we'll sometimes play Scrabble.' Sometimes they troop down to the garden centre in their mini bus.

When the women go out, they all wear hats, which is an arresting sight, but around the house they go bare-headed.

'It's been said I make them wear hats, that I make them do this and do that, but that's rubbish,' says Philip.

'And I don't keep them under lock and key or have a magic potion I give them. They're free to go if they choose.'

But they don't want to. The women are all civil and even friendly towards one another.

But if you scratch a little deeper than the cheery 'Kibbutz' type atmosphere, as Philip describes it, one wonders what's going on.

How can they bear to share the man they love with six other women? Has it become an unspoken contest between them to become Philip's favourite?

According to Hannah, having to confront their jealousy helps to remove it.

'I believe we are here to be delivered from jealousy,' she says. 'My sister has a husband and can be jealous. She is not challenged like we are.'

Margo says she has found jealousy hard to cope with, and admits that her relationship with Philip is not particularly brilliant at the moment.

'I was with Philip a couple of weeks ago but we're not really together because I'm thinking about the baby,' she says. 'Sometimes it's not right to be together.'

Margo has three children with Philip, but they are looked after primarily by Judith.

'With my children I couldn't give them the mothering they needed; I had various blocks which I'm overcoming,' she explains. 'Judith has been very supportive. But I want to bridge that gap and step into the role. My relationship with Judith is now much better than it has been.'

And what of Chava, whose real name is Dianne. 'I have always been very religious and that made me inhibited,' she says.

'My previous marriage was not consummated, which was my fault. I went to the doctor and she said not to worry, there were lots of people out there like me.'

Chava and her late husband, John, who was 30 years older than her, were regulars at Philip's synagogue, and Philip officiated at her husband's funeral.

'It was made out in the media that I'd got together straight away with Philip, but I loved John, and when I became Philip's wife two years later I was still grieving for him.'

Her life must by very different now. 'It's a complete turn-around,' she says, with some understatement.

'Philip is my first lover. I have been jealous in the past about other women, but I feel a new peace.'

Unfortunately, this has not been bestowed on Tracey, who admits she is 'cantankerous' and has already been thrown out of the 'family' three times by Philip, who says he 'kicked her out because she was bringing a lot of division'.

Tracey says: 'I have found it very hard and there have been times when I've wanted to walk away from it, but you have to go back to what's right.'

Vreni, the other pregnant wife, also admits there have been problems relating to their extraordinary domestic arrangement. She says her family have struggled to accept her situation.

'They do not understand it and we have agreed to disagree,' she says.

'My parents were afraid of what was happening, but I took Philip to visit them and when they met him they never doubted his sincerity.'

Karyn, the current favoured wife, had been living with a partner at university in Birmingham when her mother, Maureen, told her about Philip.

'I'd been struggling to make sense of my life and she said how he was helping her and suggested I come down to see them.

'She then told me about the wives, which was a bit of a shock, and the general consensus was that I was going to be a wife, too. When I met Philip I started to develop feelings for him and within three weeks we were married.

'I used to be an incredibly jealous person and it was a struggle at first, but somehow being in the family gave me a release from jealousy.'

Regardless of any divisions that might have grown up between the 'wives', Philip is happy to reassure them he would never be unfaithful to them. He wouldn't dream of taking a mistress.

'My wives know I am totally committed to each and every one of them,' says Philip.

'If I took a mistress it would cheapen what we have.'

While such pronouncements might make some people smirk with the whole delicious unintentional irony of it all, it must be said that every one of the wives says they do, indeed, feel that Philip's love is directed fully at each of them. How exhausting for him.

Having spent a day with the rampant rabbi and his seven wives, I still don't feel I have had a satisfactory answer as to why the women stay with Philip.

All I can be certain of is that they do, that they want to and they aren't going to walk away.

It's not from the ancient scriptures, but might the old adage 'treat 'em mean to keep 'em keen' go some way to explaining it?

  A version of this article appears in this week's Closer, on sale now

1 comment:

Anders said...

There is only one way to follow the historial Jesus.

A quote from James H. Charlesworth – The historical Jesus:
“[Ribi Yehoshuas] devout Jewishness. [Ribi Yehoshua] was a very devout Jew. [p.48] (..) [Ribi Yehoshuas] devotion to Torah and Judaism is evident also in his actions. During his last week alive, [Ribi Yehoshua] was in Jerusalem. Why? Ha had ascended to the Holy City to celebrate Passover, as required by Torah. During this week, [Ribi Yehoshua] taught in the Temple and, quoting the revered prophet Isaiah, called the Temple “a house of prayer” (..) Thus, [Ribi Yehoshua] should not be imagined as the first Christian. He was a very devout Jew who observed Torah (the Law [Instruction is the correct translation] recorded in the Bible). Perhaps, as previously mentioned, he was so devout that he wore the religious garment of a conservative Jew, the sitsit [ציצית ; tzitzit], which pours outside the outer garment with fringes (..) “
The commentars in brackets are mine.

James H. Charlesworth is George L. Collord Professor of New Testament Language and Literature and Editor and Director of the Princeton Theological Seminary Dead Sea Scrolls project.

The way is to live as him.. That is by practising Torah non-selectively!

Ribi Yehoshua said:

"Don't think that I came to uproot the Torah or the Neviim [prophets], but rather I came to reconcile them with the Oral Law of emet (truth). Should the heavens and ha-aretz (the land, particularly referring to Israel) exchange places, still, not even one ' (yod) nor one ` (qeren) of the Oral Law of Mosheh shall so much as exchange places; until it shall become that it is all being fully ratified and performed non-selectively. For whoever deletes one Oral Law from the Torah, or shall teach others such, by those in the Realm of the heavens he shall be called "deleted." Both he who preserves and he who teaches them shall be called Ribi in the Realm of the heavens. For I tell you that unless your Tzedaqah (righteousness) is over and above that of the Sophrim (Torah Scribes), and of the [probably 'Herodian'] Rabbinic-Perushim (corrupted to "Pharisees"), there is no way you will enter into the Realm of the heavens! “
Netzarim Reconstruction of Hebrew Matityahu 5:17-20.


“Take heed against false Neviim who come to you in wool like sheep, but inside they are wolves who extort. You shall recognize them by their works. Do men pick grapes from a stinging-nettle? Or figs from a thistle? So, every green tree is unable to produce evil fruit, and a dried-up tree is unable to produce good fruit."”

For words that you don’t understand; se ; the link to Glossaries at the first page.

The persons in this article needs to practise Torah non-selectively. They don't do that!

From Anders Branderud
Geir Toshav, Netzarim in Ra’anana in Israel ( who are followers of Ribi Yehoshua – the Messiah – in Orthodox Judaism


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