ט״ז בשבט ה׳תשע״ו (January 26, 2016)

Gittin 44a-b: The Case of One who Sells his Slave to Gentiles

The Mishna on the last daf taught that a person who sells his non-Jewish slave to a non-Jew – or even to another Jewish person living in the Diaspora – loses ownership of the slave and the slave becomes a free man. The basis for this is that a “non-Jewish” slave is actually obligated in a variety of commandments – generally speaking, the same mitzvot in which women are obligated – and selling him to a non-Jew will keep him from fulfilling these mitzvot.

On our daf the Gemara brings the ruling of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi that someone who sells his slave to a non-Jew is penalized up to one hundred times his value. Most of the commentaries explain this to mean that if an owner sells his slave to a non-Jew we force him to redeem the slave. In the event that the buyer is unwilling to sell the slave at the market price, the original owner should pay up to one hundred times his value and set him free. In the responsa of the Ge’onim we find a different explanation. They do not understand Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s ruling as obligating the original owner to buy back the slave, but rather that a penalty of one hundred times the value of the slave is imposed and paid to a community fund that will be used for pidyon shevuyim – redeeming captives – or other important needs.

The Gemara asks whether the amount – one hundred times – is to be taken literally. Rashi explains that the question is whether the penalty is to be understood as it is written or if it just means “a large amount.” Tosafot understand it differently. According to them the question is whether one hundred times is the upper limit, or perhaps the original owner will have to pay even more, if necessary.

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