י״ד בשבט ה׳תשע״ו (January 24, 2016)

Gittin 42a-b: Damage to a Half-Slave

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, both Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel agree that a non-Jewish slave cannot be left in a situation where he is half owned and half free, and that in such a situation the remaining owner will be obligated to make the slave a fully free man. Our Gemara asks what such a person’s status is until the master formally sets him free. For example, if a slave is gored by an ox, the ox’s owner pays a penalty of 30 shekalim to the slave’s owner (see Shemot 21:32). If a half-free slave is gored, does the master who owns half of him receive payment?

The Gemara tries to bring a proof that the owner deserves nothing in a case where a slave’s owner knocks out his tooth and then blinds his eye (whereby, according to Shemot 21:26-27, either of these actions will allow the slave to go free). In this case we find that the slave is set free and paid for the loss of his eye. This appears to be a case – similar to ours – where the slave is technically free and is missing only his formal release papers, and the ruling is that the owner must pay for the loss of his eye. Yet if the owner deserves to receive payment for the slave’s injuries until the time of his formal release, then we would have the absurd situation in which the owner would be paying himself!

The rishonim point out that in the case of a slave becoming free because of loss of shen va-ayin (tooth or eye), it is only after formal court proceedings that the change of status takes effect. Until the completion of those proceedings the slave remains in his original situation; thus, why would the second injury be viewed as taking place when he was already a free man? Some suggest that in the case under discussion the second injury must take place after the slave had already been declared free by the court, but is still waiting for his formal discharge papers. The Ramban and Rashba disagree, explaining that once the court decision is made it takes effect retroactively, and the second injury will be seen as having taken place after the slave had already been declared free.

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