ט״ו באדר ב׳ ה׳תשע״ו (March 25, 2016)

Kiddushin 15a-b: Acquiring a Hebrew Slave

The second Mishna in Massekhet Kiddushin (14b) leaves the realm of marriage and focuses on the status of an – a Jewish slave – and specifically on how such slaves are acquired and how they are granted their freedom. Ordinarily, a male Jewish slave is acquired by means of kesef or shetar, and leaves slavery after six years of work, or when the yovel arrives or by paying back the value of his remaining years.

Although the common perception today is that slavery is inhumane, the situation of an eved ivri is more similar to a long-term contract, in that the slave must be treated with great respect. The Gemara understands from the passage ki tov lo imakh – that some slaves choose to remain beyond their assigned years because they find their situation to be a good one (see Shemot 21:5) – that the master is obligated to ensure that the slave join him in eating and his drinking. At the same time, the eved ivri is a slave who is obligated to work at his assigned tasks. The baraita even requires him to work day and night, and Rabbi Yitzhak explains that his work at night would be to sleep with a non-Jewish female slave and that the offspring that would be produced from this relationship would belong to the master.

The Me’iri explains Rabbi Yitzhak’s teaching as follows. Since it is impossible to accept the fact that a Jewish slave should really be obligated to work a 24 hour day, we must find a service that he can perform for his master at night that does not involve labor or toil. Thus we conclude that he must perform this service, which he will be obligated to do in his position as an eved.

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