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73. Slaves - Avadim

During the period when the Jubilee year was in effect Jews could become slaves. A man could sell himself, as it says "And if your brother becomes poor and is sold to you"1; and the courts could sell a thief for six years if he was unable to pay for what he stole, as it says "If you buy a Hebrew slave [he shall work six years]",2 and it says "If your Hebrew brother is sold to you [he shall work six years for you]".3 He must not be sold publicly, as it says "They shall not be sold as slaves are sold".4 It is forbidden to give him excessive or degrading work to do, as it says "You shall not oppress him harshly",5 and it says "You shall not work him [at] slave's work; he shall be like a hired laborer, a resident, with you".6 If he sells himself to a non-Jew he should be redeemed and it is forbidden to allow the non-Jew to give him excessive work, as it says "[If your brother becomes poor and is sold to a stranger...] he shall have redemption... he shall not oppress him harshly before your eyes".7,a

A Jewish slave goes free at the end of the period of sale; but if he was sold by the courts and wishes to remain a slave he can do so after having his ear pierced [as it says "And if the slave says... `I will not go free' his master shall take him to court... and pierce his ear with an awl and he shall serve him forever",8 and it says "And if he says to you `I will not go out'... you shall take the awl and put it in his ear and in the door and he shall be your perpetual slave"].9 In any case, he goes free when the Jubilee year arrives or when his owner dies, as it says "He shall work with you until the Jubilee year",6 and it says "In this Jubilee year you shall go back each to his possessions",10 and it says "And if he shall not be redeemed thus he goes out in the Jubilee year".7 It is forbidden to let him (or a maidservant) go free empty-handed (except when he redeems himself); we are commanded to be generous to him, as it says "[And when you send him free from you] you shall not send him empty; you shall load him with gifts...".11,b

During that period a man could also sell his daughter (below the age of 12) as a maidservant [as it says "And if a man sells his daughter as a maidservant..."12]. She goes free at the end of six years or at the Jubilee or when her owner dies or when she reaches puberty, and if possible she should be redeemed [as it says "and redeemed her"].13 Preferably the owner should affiance her to himself or to his son [as it says "Her master who affianced her... and if he affiances her to his son..."13], upon which she is no longer a servant but is like any betrothed woman. It is forbidden to sell her or give her to anyone else, as it says "He shall have no power to sell her"13; nor can a male Jewish slave be sold.c

Non-Jews acquired as slaves must normally accept Judaism; thus when they are freed they are proselytes. [Non-Jewish slaves do not go free in the Jubilee year or at the death of the owner, as it says "But your slave and your maidservant that you have from the nations... they shall be an inherited possession to your sons after you; you shall enslave them perpetually".14 However, they go free if the owner does them a permanent, visible injury [as it says "If a man strikes his slave's eye or his maidservant's eye and destroys it he shall send him free on account of his eye; and if he knocks out his slave's tooth or his maidservant's tooth he shall send him free on account of his tooth"15]. If a man sells his slave to a non-Jew he must buy the slave back and free him. If a man sells his slave outside the land of Israel the purchasers must free him; and a man cannot take his slave outside the land of Israel without his consent. If a slave escapes and flees to the land of Israel his owner must free him and accept compensation, and there is a special prohibition against cheating such a freed slave, as it says "[You shall not turn a slave over to his master...] he shall dwell with you in your midst in the place that he chooses in one of your gates as he sees fit; you shall not cheat him".16,d


1. Lev. 25:39 a. 1:1,4-7,10; 2:2
2. Ex. 21:2 b. 2:2-3,6; 3:6-7 (but see 2:12),14
3. Deut. 15:12 c. 4:1,4-5,7,10
4. Lev. 25:42 d. 5:4; 8:1,6,9-12
5. Lev. 25:43,46
6. Lev. 25:39-40
7. Lev. 25:47-53
8. Ex. 21:5-6
9. Deut. 15:16-17
10. Lev. 25:13
11. Deut. 15:13-14
12. Ex. 21:7
13. Ex. 21:8-9
14. Lev. 25:44-46
15. Ex. 21:26-27
16. Deut. 23:16-17



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