Slavery — The Torah True Way (with Reb HaLeiVi)

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    As per HaLeiVi’s suggestion, here is a new thread to discuss, debate and, most importantly, engage in Limud HaTorah to help us learn and understand the Torah view on the proper way for contemporary society to implement and conduct slavery.

    Now yielding the floor to Reb HaLeiVi.

    Little Froggie

    (WOW. A whole thread in HaLeiVi’s name. He made it. He finally made it!!!!)

    If I’d be HaLeiVi, I’d say (or write) that the proper way to engage in limud HaTorah would be in Yeshiva, Shul, or in the home. Over a Gemarah or Rambam, or you own favorite sefer. Maybe the one you yourself wrote too. That is the Torah view. Since contemporary society does not implement it, we too do not. We do not seek to make others uncomfortable or pained. We discuss these aspects in Sevrah as any other Torah related concept, say as Kodshim, Tumah vTaharah, these are Divrei Elokim Chaim. Every word, every sevarah – precious pearls of Torah. But it’s not Nogea for today’s society.

    But I’m not HaLeiVi (unfortunately), so I can’t say (write) it.


    It’s worth mentioning one benefit of slavery that still exists today- facilitating mamzerim getting married.
    A mamzer cannot marry a non-mamzer; and if two mamzerim marry each other, their mamzer status gets passed to their children.

    How can a mamzer get married and raise a family while eliminating the “mamzerus”?

    He marries a shifcha (a female non-Jewish eved who becomes obligated in mitzvos like a regular woman).
    His children then are also his avadim. He then frees his children and they become regular yisraelim, minus the mamzer status.

    I was speaking with a posek once about slavery and he told me about this.
    He mentioned that poskim utilize this lemaase (he mentioned that he knew about Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Aharon Kotler giving this guidance, though I don’t know if it is written anywhere).

    He said they find non-Jewish women who want to convert to Judaism (for legitimate reasons).
    They suggest to them that instead of actually converting, they become a shifcha to the mamzer. (It basically is the same status, since both a female ger and a shifcha need to toivel in a mikvah, and they keep the same halachos.) They just hide her status.

    Since slavery is now outlawed in most of the world, it’s hard to do this.

    Apparently, nowadays the mamzer and would-be convert travel to places in Africa or Asia where slavery is still legal, allow her to become a shifcha and then let them get married.
    Then, even when they return back to the Western world where slavery is not recognized, it still works halachically.

    This posek mentioned that some hold it’s enough if they go into the embassy of the African/Asian nation, even though they are still in America, since the foreign country’s laws are applicable in the embassy. (I don’t remember if he mentioned which poskim allow this).

    I had heard of this “kuntz” to purify the mamzer when learning in yeshiva. But I never thought it would be applicable today!

    Reb Eliezer

    The Torah provides a means to support the homeless by selling oneself into slavery. Also the father can sell his daughter to get married and be supported.


    I believe you are mistranslating the Hebrew word “avdut” (ayin veis daled vav saf) incorrectly. In American English, the work “slavery” includes the requirement (perhaps defining characteristic) that the owner can kill, maim or sexually exploit the slave, without the possibility of ever gaining complete freedom. The Hebrew word has no such meanings. I suggest a better translation would be “servant”, in some cases qualified with the adjective “hereditary” (though until recently many jobs were hereditary – if you were a farmer, your children would be farmers whether they wanted to or not). It is wrong to say that Yidden ever has anything similar to what the Americans call “slavery” (in fact, the only thing similar to it would probably be the Nazi concentration camps or the Communist gulags).

    Reb Eliezer

    There is a hidden Midrash about David Hamelech involving a shifcha described in the Sefer Hatodaah.


    I dont think it is not really possible, halachaclly, to acquire an eved nowadays, as it requires the eved’s participation; see, e.g, (יורה דעה רס״ז:ט׳) and (יורה דעה רס״ז:ד׳) and while there may have been a time in history, long ago, where there may have been some benefit to being an eved (as r eliezer alludes to in his post), in today’s society it is so repugnant that no one will ever cooperate.


    Besalel: The Shulchan Aruch paskens Halacha l’maaisa bzman hazeh that it is very possible to acquire an eved. You don’t necessarily need his approval.


    Jews in America owned slaves though I don’t know how Frum they were. Also, since Jews didn’t really own plantations but lived in cities they generally owned 2-5 slaves that worked around the house, maid, butler, driver, nanny, etc.


    There definitely were frum slave owners. I’ve seen gittin that they wrote when slavery became illegal.


    Shaila: The slaves owned by American Yidden, did they have the Halachic status of being an Eved Knani?


    A person I grew up with here had a house that was around during Slavery. I’m not sure if their family owned Slaves but the garage was converted from Slave quarters, the kitchen was setup not very nice because it was Slaves doing the cooking so they didnt care, and there were buttons to press which would summon the Slaves.


    Torah slavery was very different than the way which it was implemented in America. American slavery involved slaves who had no rights who were cruelly beaten, often to the point of death, without any consequences. Jewish slavery, on the other hand gave the slave many rights. He could not be beaten unjustly, and if he broke any of his limbs then he automatically went free. This served as a deterrent from a master unjustly beating a slave. According to many authorities, there was even an Issur of Onaas Divorim on an Eved Kinaani. The Gemarah is very clear that a slave was only given for slavery, not for humilation, and thus can’t be caused unnecessary embarrassment. Clearly, The Jewish concept of slavery is on a different wavelength than American barbaric practices.

    It is true that Maikar Hadin, there are certain Halachos of slavery which seem unjust. Mayikar Hadin, a master can burden his slave with hard labor. This is not what the Torah wants from a person, however. The Rambam in the end of Sefer Avadim outlines clearly the proper way for a Jew to treat his slave; with compassion, and dignity. He should pay attention all of his slaves complaints, and help him. He should give him from all of his food the way which the Tannaaim and Amoraaim did. According to the Rambam, someone who uses a Halachik loophole to treat his slave unfairly, is a cruel person; the antithesis of Avraham, Avinu.
    One might wonder then, why, certain things are Halachically permissible, in regards to slavery. It is possible that some of the Halachos, are a similar concept to “Lo Dibrah Torah Ela Kineged Yetzer Hara”. in other words, there are occasionally things in Halacha which are permitted not as an ideal but only because of the fraility of human nature. This is reason for the Heter of Eshes Yifas Toar. This is presumably not the reason for the slavery at all, as Avraham Avinu, as well as many of the Tanaaim and Amoraim owned slaves. Possibly this the reason for some of the leniencies in Halacha about slavery though. This seems to be how the Rambam understands it. It is quoted that Rav Aharon Solleveichik ZT”L understood slavery (or at least some of it’s Halachos) this way.

    It is also important to point out the way in which Rav Hirsch understands the institution of slavery. He points out that a Jew can’t create a slave; he can only buy someone who is already a slave. Thus, he views the Torah’s permissibility of slave ownership to be restricted to when there is slavery in a society. Thus, a Jew can buy a slave because he is already a slave, and will presumably be treated better under a Jew than under his previous owner. Rav Hirsch, would however, (presumably) consider it better for there to be no slaves at all.

    Also, Rav Kook ZT”L points out that in a society in which there is a hierchy of rich and poor people, it is actually advantageous for someone on the lower end to be a slave. As a slave, he will be considered the property of the rich servant, and will therefore be fed and taken care of. If not a slave, however, he may be taken advantage of and put in dangerous situations. His only source of income, for example, might be working on a dangerous minefield. His boss won’t care less about him since he can always replace him with someone else. Thus, sometimes, being owned as a slave can be in a poor persons best interest.


    Where in chazal or rishonim is there even a hint that slavery is a vedieved, or lo dibra torah etc type of arrangement? Tannaim had slaves. Tzadikim who are beyond the grasp of tzadikim who we ourselves can’t fathom, had slaves. If there were anything conceivably wrong with it, the tzadikim would not have done it.

    There were rabbis who felt a need to say such things because goyim decided all of the sudden that everyone’s equal and that owning a person is evil, arbitrarily. But there’s zero foundation in chazal or rishonim for such an idea.

    When we understand that Hashem owns everything, and that the purpose of this world isn’t material success, and that everyone is a slave to something, whether it’s Hashem, the yatzer hora, a boss, or whatever else – everyone is a slave. That’s also the name of a very good historical novel on the subject that mostly accurately depicts hashkofo on slavery.

    Where does rav hirsch say that you can only get an eved kanaani from someone who’s already a slave? That’s not the din. The halacha is that any goy can sell themselves to a jew as an eved kanaani.


    I don’t know about chazal, but the Author of Chumash and Navi is clearly limiting slavery among Jews themselves in various ways. Thus, slavery, is not an ideal state for a human being. We have a brocha for that. It seems like a good reason, that if you live in a country that is reasonably good to you, you would not want bad things for them. In our days, most things that slaves used to do, free market, machines and computers can accomplish. So, it is hard to make a case that some human being need to be enslaved to facilitate your Torah learning – beyond those who work in the fields to grow coffee, then those who transport it from overseas, then package it, send it to you and send you a coffee maker. If you really need someone to press a button to brew the coffee, your wife might do it for you.


    AAQ: No one here every suggested unrestricted slavery. Like almost everything in life, slavery is 100% permitted with the relevant regulations.

    We also have a Brocha that we aren’t a woman. Are you suggesting, therefore, that being a woman isn’t the ideal state for humans?


    Avira- When discussing slavery in Behar, The Torah writes that we can’t work our fellow Jew with hard work. Right afterwards, the Torah writes that we can buy a non-Jewish slave and work with them. A case can easily be made from the format of the Pesukim, that the Torah allows acts of servitude in non-Jewish slaves, only so that at least we won’t be doing these things to Jews.
    Also, Hashem punished the Egyptians severely for enslaving us, and he heard our cries from our hard labor. The first few generations of Egyptian converts can’t even marry Jews. If laboring a slave with intense labor, is Lichatchilah, then the first few Parshios of Shemos are not understandable.
    I tried to make it clear that i don’t think it’s likely that the insituition of owning a slave is “Lo Dibrah Torah”. This can be understood, with Rav Hirsch, Rav Kook, or any of the other ways in which people understand it. I think, however, it’s very likely that certain licenses that a master has to a slave are “Lo Dibrah”. This does not contradict the fact that Tzadikkim had slaves, as they treated them wonderfully, and did not take advantage of some of the licenses a master might have. The Gemara talks about how the Tanaaim would give their good food to their slaves and treat them well. Look at Rav Gamliel and his relationship to his slave Tavi. Eliezer was more of a Ben Bayis to Avraham than a slave. To the extent that if Avraham had died childless then his possessions would have went to Eliezer.
    I think it is very likely that the Rambam understands some of the Halachos of slavery this way. This would explain why he considers laboring a slave with hard work to be the way of cruel people, although the Torah itself permits it.
    For Hirsch’s perspective, see Rav Hirsche’s commentary to Chumash, Sefer Shemos, Perek 12, Passuk 44.
    See also Rabbeinu Avigdor, (i believe on of the Baalei Tosafists) who suggests that it’s Assur to be Rodeh Biferech an Eved Kasher.


    I agree that the heter to place heavy burdens etc, is s bedieved, because the rambam says so beferush. I do not accept the assertion that there’s anything remotely wrong with owning a human being, which is what rabbi kook and others attempt to say. Rabbi kook largely had a value system not based on what the torah values and devalues – he also thought it was “wrong” to eat meat, for instance. he and many other modern people let their own biases and preconceived notions dictate their morals and values, and are we to be surprised when that hefkerus leads to distortions in halacha?

    What you described re; tavi and eliezer are exactly the archetype eved kanaani that the torah is talking about. It’s a way of elevating a goy to a level of demi-jewish, as it were. It’s an opportunity to reach levels that without it are impossible to achieve….they keep not 7, but hundreds of mitzvos. And that greatness is lost when we denigrate the mitzvah as “lo dibra” or that the Torah was only talking in “those days”.


    Avira, while I agree that sometimes “modern” movements create bad ideas that we should not follow, still we can’t deny that humanity is creating useful things and ideas sometimes. I understand that one might be careful with internet, music, cars, or COVID vaccine. But I wonder whether we need to insist on things like slavery. We already use many social norms that the world adopted – one-wife-only marriages, elections, corporations, welfare, summer vacations, two-day weekend …


    Avira- Rav Kook doesn’t say it’s wrong to own a human being. To the contrary, he explains how being owned can be in a slaves best interest. Rav Hirsch is the one who seems to assume that it is better for there not to be slavery; it was only permitted for Jews to own if there was already slavery. I get the impression that Rav Hirsch is a person you are Machshiv.
    I think we are mostly on the same page about this. I agree that that owning a human being is not “Lo Dibrah”, but some of the Halachos might be. I think it’s a very good thing that slavery in America was abolished, because it was done in a very cruel way, which was never permitted in the Torah. Instead of being enslaved by merciful, kindhearted masters, who would lead them in the way of the Torah, they were enslaved by vicious monsters who would beat them to the point of death.

    Regarding Rav Kook and meat, i believe Rav Kook’s position was that in an ideal world, we should not be eating meat. In the current world, however, where there is so much cruelty against people, he felt that it’s ridiculous to stop eating meat. We have to focus on the big things, like human bloodshed, before focusing on the less important things. He felt, that at some point after Mashaich’s arrival, when the world would be so perfected, it would be proper to become vegetarian.


    I forgot to address the issue of vayavidu…befarech, that the Egyptians forced the jews to do hard, breaking labor.

    The main issue was a spiritual subjugation. Shalach es ami vayaavduni….the movie left out the main part! “Let me people go” is the biggest fraud – second only to the deletion of matan torah being a national event. hashem said to send out my people that they should serve me…we couldn’t serve Hashem when we were tachas sivlos mitzrayim. There’s no parallel to the relatively empty sufferings of slave folk elsewhere, and that’s why the Torah doesn’t ban even cruel treatment of slaves – that wasn’t the issue. The issue with mitzrayim was that they wanted us to be like them, and to stifle the holy people of Hashem.

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