י״ב בשבט ה׳תשע״ו (January 22, 2016)

Gittin 41a-b: The Case of One who is Half Slave

The Mishna on our daf discusses the case of an individual who was half-slave and half-free: the slave was owned in partnership by two people, one of whom freed him. At first, Beit Hillel ruled that the slave should simply work for himself half the time and for his owner half the time. Beit Shammai objected to such an arrangement, arguing that it solves the issue of work but not the half-slave’s personal issues. To solve those, Beit Shammai ruled that, “Mipnei tikkun ha-olam to ensure the proper working of the world,” we force the remaining owner to free the slave fully, and we will require the slave to pay his value to the owner over time. In this case Beit Hillel found the issues raised by Beit Shammai so convincing, and his solution so attractive, that they changed their ruling and agreed with Beit Shammai.

What are the half-slave’s personal issues that concerned Beit Shammai?

The Mishna relates that the problems related to marriage. According to the halakha, his half-slave part could not marry a regular Jewish woman, but his half-free part could not marry a non-Jewish female slave. The option of celibacy is rejected because the purpose of the world is to populate it, based on the passage in Yeshayahu (45:18) “He did not create it for naught; He formed it to be inhabited.”

Rashi explains this pasuk as teaching that the will of God is that the world should not remain in its original, pristine form, rather that it must be settled, obligating people to have children. Tosafot raises the question why this passage from the Prophets is brought, rather than the commandment in the Torah to “be fruitful and multiply” (Bereshit 1:28). Among the answers that are offered is the suggestion that wanted to emphasize how essential it is to bring children into the world; it is not merely a commandment, it is the fulfillment of the very purpose of creation.

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