EMEK HEFER, Israel – With eight wives and 67 children, Shahadeh Abu Arrar has given new meaning to the term "family man."
Abu Arrar, 58, is a member of Israel's impoverished Bedouin Arab community. But even in a traditional society where men commonly have several wives and many children, Abu Arrar is exceptional.
"I'm thinking about a new wife, No. 9," he told the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot in a recent interview. "There are many women who wish to marry me and there is no lack of women. I never had a problem with such things."
Abu Arrar, whose oldest child is 37, was photographed by the newspaper in a long Bedouin robe and head cover, surrounded by a dozen of so of his kids.
During a visit to his multistory home in central Israel, The Associated Press spotted 17 of the children milling about, dressed in bright red, blue and green-embroidered Palestinian dresses and headscarves. Four veiled women, including two who said they were his wives, sat on the porch peeling vegetables.
While Islam allows Muslim men to have four co-wives, it is a custom in Bedouin society to flout the already-generous ruling — and an Israeli ban on polygamy — by marrying women one at a time, divorcing them and marrying others, experts on Bedouin culture said.
Culturally, it's understood that the renounced wives are still married to Abu Arrar, the experts said.
It's unclear how Abu Arrar supports his massive family. Camels, goats and a cow were grazing on his property. Yediot said he also receives about $1,700 (euro1,200) in government handouts each month.
According to the Israeli Interior Ministry, Abu Arrar has 53 children registered as Israeli citizens. He has 14 other children born to Palestinian wives in the West Bank and who are not eligible for Israeli citizenship, his other wives said.
Either way, his family size pales in comparison to the size of the average Israeli family: 2.3, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics.
Abu Arrar claims to remember all his children's names, and says they are split almost evenly between boys and girls. And he's still going strong.
"My first wife is my age, and today I hardly spend any time with her. Her children are big, and I leave her alone. I have younger wives to spend time with. Every night I decide which wife to be with," Abu Arrar told the newspaper. He refused to talk to an AP reporter.
Activists said Abu Arrar's story showed the urgency of raising literacy and education among women in the impoverished Bedouin community. Many are pressured into marriage or feel they have no other options beside raising children, said Khadra al-Sani, director of Sidra, a Bedouin women's rights group.
Still, Abu Arrar pales in comparison to others in the region. In August, the Emirates Today newspaper in Dubai ran a story about a one-legged 60-year-old man with 78 children from 12 wives.
Daad Abdul Rahman said he hoped to have a hundred children by 2015.