י״א בשבט ה׳תשע״ו (January 21, 2016)

Gittin 39a-b: When One Consecrates His Slave

The Gemara on the previous daf discusses a case where someone who owns a non-Jewish slave declares him to be kodesh – holy. Under ordinary circumstances, when such a statement is made about an animal or property, they are understood to have been consecrated to the Temple where they may be brought as sacrifices or sold by the Temple treasurer and the proceeds used for the needs of the mikdash. In our case, when dealing with a slave, Rabba quotes Rav as saying that the slave becomes a free man. The logic behind this ruling is that his body cannot become kodesh (i.e., he cannot be brought as a sacrifice) and the owner did not say that he was donating the slave’s value to the Temple. Thus we understand his statement to mean that the slave would become a member of the am kadosh – of the holy people – i.e. he will become a full-fledged Jew.

In contrast to this view attributed to Rav, our Gemara quotes a baraita that a person who declares his slave to be kodesh can continue to have him work, since his only intention was to donate the slave’s value to the Temple. This position is identified by the Gemara as Rabbi Meir, who believes that when a person makes a statement we are obligated to interpret it in a meaningful way.

Rashi explains – and perhaps even has this as part of the text of the Gemara – that Rabbi Meir’s rule applies specifically to cases of hekdesh, so that when a person makes a statement consecrating something to the Temple, we must interpret it to mean something significant. Thus, if a person offers the erekh – the estimated value – of a utensil to the Temple, we interpret it to mean the damim – the actual value of the utensil, since the laws of erekh apply only to people (see Vayikra 27:1-8). Similarly in our case, we understand the owner’s statement to refer to the value of the slave.

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