Introduction to Hilchos Avadim

They contain 13 mitzvot: five positive mitzvot and eight negative mitzvot. They are:

1) The laws governing the acquisition of a Hebrew servant;
2) Not to sell him in the manner that servants are usually sold;
3) Not to make him perform excruciating labor;
4) Not to make him perform servile tasks;
5) Not to allow a resident alien to make him perform excruciating labor;
6) To grant a Hebrew servant a severance gift when he attains his freedom;
7) Not to let him go free empty-handed;
8) To redeem a Hebrew maid-servant;
9) To designate her as a wife;
10) Not to sell her a second time
11) To have a Canaanite servant work forever, unless his master causes one of his primary limbs to fall;
12) Not to return to his master a servant who fled from the Diaspora to Eretz Yisrael;
13) Not to oppress this servant who has fled to us.

These mitzvot are explained in the chapters that follow.

הלכות עבדים

יש בכללן שלש עשרה מצות: חמש מצות עשה, ושמונה מצות לא תעשה. וזהו פרטן:
(א) דין קניין עבד עברי.
(ב) שלא ימכר ממכרת עבד.
(ג) שלא יעבדנו בפרך.
(ד) שלא נעבוד בו עבודת עבד.
(ה) שלא נניח גר תושב לרדות בו בפרך.
(ו) להעניק לו בצאתו חפשי.
(ז) שלא יצא ריקם.
(ח) לפדות אמה העבריה.
(ט) ליעדה.
(י) שלא תמכר.
(יא) לעבוד בעבד כנעני לעולם אלא אם כן הפיל לו אדוניו אחד מראשי איבריו.
(יב) שלא להסגיר עבד שברח מחוצה לארץ לארץ ישראל.
(יג) שלא להונות עבד זה הניצל אלינו.
וביאור מצות אלו בפרקים אלו:


The term "Hebrew servant" used by the Torah refers to a Jew whom the court sells by compulsion, or a person who sells himself willingly.

What is implied? When a person steals and does not have the resources to repay the principal, the court sells him, as we have explained in Hilchot Geneivah.

No other Jewish person is sold by the court, except a thief. Concerning such a thief sold by the court Exodus 21:2 states: "When you acquire a Hebrew servant." And concerning this person, Deuteronomy 15:12 states: "When your Jewish brother will be sold to you."

To what does the term "a person who sells himself" refer? When a Jew becomes sorely impoverished, the Torah gives him permission to sell himself as a servant, as Leviticus 25:39 states: "When your brother will become impoverished and be sold to you."

A person is not allowed to sell himself as a servant and stash away the money, use it to buy merchandise or utensils, or give it to his creditor. He may sell himself only when he needs the money for his very livelihood. A person is not permitted to sell himself unless he has no property remaining at all - i.e., even his clothing no longer remains. Only in such a situation may he sell himself.


(שמות כא ב) "עֶבֶד עִבְרִי" הָאָמוּר בַּתּוֹרָה זֶה יִשְׂרְאֵלִי שֶׁמָּכְרוּ אוֹתוֹ בֵּית דִּין עַל כָּרְחוֹ אוֹ הַמּוֹכֵר עַצְמוֹ לִרְצוֹנוֹ. כֵּיצַד. גָּנַב וְאֵין לוֹ לְשַׁלֵּם אֶת הַקֶּרֶן בֵּית דִּין מוֹכְרִין אוֹתוֹ כְּמוֹ שֶׁאָמַרְנוּ בְּהִלְכוֹת גְּנֵבָה. וְאֵין לְךָ אִישׁ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁמּוֹכְרִין אוֹתוֹ בֵּית דִּין אֶלָּא הַגַּנָּב בִּלְבַד. וְעַל זֶה שֶׁמְּכָרוּהוּ בֵּית דִּין הוּא אוֹמֵר (שמות כא ב) "כִּי תִקְנֶה עֶבֶד עִבְרִי". וְעָלָיו הוּא אוֹמֵר בְּמִשְׁנֵה תּוֹרָה (דברים טו יב) "כִּי יִמָּכֵר לְךָ אָחִיךָ הָעִבְרִי". מוֹכֵר עַצְמוֹ כֵּיצַד. זֶה יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁהֶעֱנִי בְּיוֹתֵר נָתְנָה לוֹ תּוֹרָה רְשׁוּת לִמְכֹּר אֶת עַצְמוֹ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא כה לט) "כִּי יָמוּךְ אָחִיךָ עִמָּךְ וְנִמְכַּר לְךָ". וְאֵינוֹ רַשַּׁאי לִמְכֹּר אֶת עַצְמוֹ וּלְהַצְנִיעַ אֶת דָּמָיו אוֹ לִקְנוֹת בָּהֶם סְחוֹרָה אוֹ כֵּלִים אוֹ לִתְּנֵם לְבַעַל חוֹב אֶלָּא אִם כֵּן צָרִיךְ לְאָכְלָן בִּלְבַד. וְאֵין אָדָם רַשַּׁאי לִמְכֹּר אֶת עַצְמוֹ עַד שֶׁלֹּא יִשָּׁאֵר לוֹ כְּלוּם וַאֲפִלּוּ כְּסוּת לֹא תִּשָּׁאֵר לוֹ וְאַחַר כָּךְ יִמְכֹּר אֶת עַצְמוֹ:


We have already explained that a woman is never sold because of a theft. Similarly, she may not sell herself as a servant, nor may she purchase a Hebrew servant or a Canaanite slave, because of the suspicion of immoral behavior.

A convert may not be purchased as a Hebrew servant. This is derived from Leviticus 25:41: "And he shall return to his family" - i.e., it is speaking about someone who has a family within the Jewish faith.


כְּבָר בֵּאַרְנוּ שֶׁאֵין הָאִשָּׁה נִמְכֶּרֶת בִּגְנֵבָתָהּ וְכֵן אֵינָהּ מוֹכֶרֶת אֶת עַצְמָהּ וְאֵינָהּ קוֹנָה לֹא עֶבֶד עִבְרִי וְלֹא עֶבֶד כְּנַעֲנִי מִפְּנֵי הַחֲשָׁד. וְאֵין הַגֵּר נִקְנֶה בְּעֶבֶד עִבְרִי שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא כה מא) "וְשָׁב אֶל מִשְׁפַּחְתּוֹ" מִי שֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹ מִשְׁפָּחָה:


A Hebrew servant who is sold by the court is sold only to a native-born Israelite or to a convert to Judaism. Similarly, a person who sells himself as a servant is not permitted to sell himself to a gentile, not even to a resident alien. If he transgresses and sells himself, even to a gentile, even to the service of a false divinity itself, the sale is binding, as indicated by Leviticus 25:47, which speaks of a person's selling himself: "to what must be uprooted from a sojourner's family." "What must be uprooted" refers to a false divinity.


עֶבֶד עִבְרִי שֶׁמְּכָרוּהוּ בֵּית דִּין אֵין מוֹכְרִין אוֹתוֹ אֶלָּא לְיִשְׂרָאֵל אוֹ לְגֵר צֶדֶק. וְכֵן הַמּוֹכֵר עַצְמוֹ אֵינוֹ רַשַּׁאי לִמְכֹּר עַצְמוֹ לְעַכּוּ''ם וַאֲפִלּוּ לְגֵר תּוֹשָׁב. וְאִם עָבַר וּמָכַר עַצְמוֹ אֲפִלּוּ לְעַכּוּ''ם וַאֲפִלּוּ לַעֲבוֹדַת כּוֹכָבִים עַצְמָהּ הֲרֵי זֶה מָכוּר שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא כה מז) "אוֹ לְעֵקֶר מִשְׁפַּחַת גֵּר". לְעֵקֶר זֶה הַנִּמְכָּר לַעֲבוֹדַת כּוֹכָבִים עַצְמָהּ:


If a person says: "I am going to sell myself to a gentile," you are not obligated to do anything for him until he actually sells himself. Once he sells himself to a gentile, however, although he transgressed and acted improperly, it is a mitzvah to redeem him, so that he does not assimilate among them, as Leviticus 25:48 states: "After he is sold, redemption should be granted him."


בָּא וְאָמַר לְךָ הֲרֵינִי מוֹכֵר עַצְמִי לְעַכּוּ''ם אֵין אַתָּה זָקוּק לוֹ עַד שֶׁיִּמָּכֵר אֲבָל לְאַחַר שֶׁנִּמְכַּר לְעַכּוּ''ם אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁעָבַר וְעָשָׂה שֶׁלֹּא כַּהֹגֶן מִצְוָה לִפְדּוֹתוֹ וְלֹא יִטָּמַע בָּהֶם שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא כה מח) "אַחֲרֵי נִמְכַּר גְּאֻלָּה תִּהְיֶה לּוֹ":

Mishneh Torah (Moznaim)

Featuring a modern English translation and a commentary that presents a digest of the centuries of Torah scholarship which have been devoted to the study of the Mishneh Torah by Maimonides.


Neither a person who sells himself, nor one who is sold by the court, should be sold in public on an auction block, nor in an alley, as slaves are sold, as Leviticus 25:42 states: "He shall not be sold as a slave is sold." Instead, he should be sold in a private and honorable manner.


אֶחָד הַמּוֹכֵר אֶת עַצְמוֹ אוֹ שֶׁמְּכָרוּהוּ בֵּית דִּין אֵינוֹ נִמְכָּר בְּפַרְהֶסְיָא עַל אֶבֶן הַמִּקָּח וְלֹא בְּסִמְטָא כְּדֶרֶךְ שֶׁהָעֲבָדִים נִמְכָּרִין שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא כה מב) "לֹא יִמָּכְרוּ מִמְכֶּרֶת עָבֶד" אֵינוֹ נִמְכָּר אֶלָּא בְּצִנְעָה וְדֶרֶךְ כָּבוֹד:


It is forbidden to make any Hebrew servant perform excruciating labor. What is excruciating labor? Labor that has no limit, or labor that is unnecessary and is asked of the servant with the intent to give him work so that he will not remain idle.

Based on the above, our Sages said that a master should not tell a Hebrew servant: "Hoe under the vines until I come," for he has not placed a limit on the work asked of him. Instead, he should tell him: "Hoe until this and this time," or "until you reach this and this place."

Similarly, he should not tell him "Dig in this place," if he has no need for that activity. Even telling him to warm a drink for him, or to cool one off for him, if he does not need it, is forbidden, and reflects the violation of a negative commandment, as Leviticus 25:43 states: "Do not impose excruciating work on him." Thus, a Hebrew servant may be compelled to perform only a limited and necessary task.

Similarly, if a Hebrew servant is sold to a gentile, who imposes excruciating labor upon him, the Jews are commanded to prevent him from doing so. If they allow him to continue, they transgress a negative commandment, as Ibid.:53: "He should not impose excruciating work upon him before your eyes." We are not, however, required to enter the gentile's domain and check to see that he is not imposing excruciating labor upon him. This is implied by the term: "before your eyes" - i.e., when you see.


כָּל עֶבֶד עִבְרִי אָסוּר לַעֲבֹד בּוֹ בְּפָרֶךְ. וְאֵיזוֹ הִיא עֲבוֹדַת פָּרֶךְ זוֹ עֲבוֹדָה שֶׁאֵין לָהּ קִצְבָה וַעֲבוֹדָה שֶׁאֵינוֹ צָרִיךְ לָהּ אֶלָּא תִּהְיֶה מַחְשַׁבְתּוֹ לְהַעֲבִידוֹ בִּלְבַד שֶׁלֹּא יִבָּטֵל. מִכָּאן אָמְרוּ חֲכָמִים שֶׁלֹּא יֹאמַר לוֹ עֲדֹר תַּחַת הַגְּפָנִים עַד שֶׁאָבוֹא שֶׁהֲרֵי לֹא נָתַן לוֹ קִצְבָה. אֶלָּא יֹאמַר לוֹ עֲדֹר עַד שָׁעָה פְּלוֹנִית אוֹ עַד מָקוֹם פְּלוֹנִי. וְכֵן לֹא יֹאמַר לוֹ חֲפֹר מָקוֹם זֶה וְהוּא אֵינוֹ צָרִיךְ לוֹ. וַאֲפִלּוּ לְהָחֵם לוֹ כּוֹס שֶׁל חַמִּין אוֹ לְהָצֵן וְאֵינוֹ צָרִיךְ לוֹ אָסוּר וְעוֹבֵר עָלָיו בְּלֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא כה מג) "לֹא תִרְדֶּה בוֹ בְּפָרֶךְ". הָא אֵינוֹ עוֹשֶׂה לוֹ אֶלָּא דָּבָר קָצוּב שֶׁהוּא צָרִיךְ לוֹ. וְכֵן הָעַכּוּ''ם שֶׁנִּמְכַּר לוֹ אִם רָדָה בּוֹ בְּפָרֶךְ הֲרֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מְצֻוִּין לְמָנְעוֹ. וְאִם הִנִּיחוּהוּ עוֹבְרִים בְּלֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא כה נג) "לֹא יִרְדֶּנּוּ בְּפֶרֶךְ לְעֵינֶיךָ". וְאֵין אָנוּ נִזְקָקִין לִכְנֹס לִרְשׁוּתוֹ שֶׁל עַכּוּ''ם וְלִבְדֹּק אַחֲרָיו שֶׁלֹּא יַעֲבִידֶנּוּ בְּפָרֶךְ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר לְעֵינֶיךָ בִּזְמַן שֶׁאַתָּה רוֹאֶה:


Whenever a Jew purchases a Hebrew servant, he may not make him perform debasing tasks that are relegated only for servants - e.g., to have him carry his clothes to the bathhouse or remove his shoes - as Leviticus 25:39 states: "Do not have him perform servile tasks." Instead, one should treat him as a hired laborer, as Ibid.:40 continues: "He shall be like a hired laborer or a resident among you."

It is, however, permitted to have the servant cut the master's hair, launder his clothes and bake his dough. He may not, however, make him the manager of a public bathhouse, a public barber or a public baker. If, however, this was his profession before he was sold, it is permitted. Indeed, at the outset, he should not teach him any profession at all. Instead, he should work at the profession at which he worked previously.

When does the above apply? To a Hebrew servant. For his self-image is depressed because of his being sold. When, however, a Jew has not been sold, he may be hired to perform servile tasks. For he is performing this work out of his own desire and his own consent.


כָּל עֶבֶד עִבְרִי אָסוּר לְיִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁקָּנָהוּ לְהַעֲבִידוֹ בִּדְבָרִים בּוֹזִים שֶׁהֵם מְיֻחָדִים לַעֲשׂוֹת הָעֲבָדִים כְּגוֹן שֶׁיּוֹלִיךְ אַחֲרָיו כֵּלָיו לְבֵית הַמֶּרְחָץ אוֹ יַחְלֹץ לוֹ מִנְעָלָיו שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא כה לט) "לֹא תַעֲבֹד בּוֹ עֲבֹדַת עָבֶד". אֵינוֹ נוֹהֵג בּוֹ אֶלָּא כְּשָׂכִיר שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא כה מ) "כְּשָׂכִיר כְּתוֹשָׁב יִהְיֶה עִמָּךְ". וּמֻתָּר לְסַפֵּר לוֹ שְׂעָרוֹ וּלְכַבֵּס לוֹ כְּסוּתוֹ וְלֶאֱפוֹת לוֹ עִסָּתוֹ. אֲבָל לֹא יַעֲשֶׂה אוֹתוֹ בַּלָּן לָרַבִּים אוֹ סַפָּר לָרַבִּים אוֹ נַחְתּוֹם לָרַבִּים. וְאִם הָיְתָה אֻמָּנוּתוֹ זֹאת קֹדֶם שֶׁיִּמָּכֵר הֲרֵי זֶה יַעֲשֶׂה. אֲבָל לֹא יְלַמְּדֵנוּ בַּתְּחִלָּה מְלָאכָה כְּלָל אֶלָּא אֻמָּנוּת שֶׁהָיָה בָּהּ הוּא שֶׁעוֹשֶׂה כְּשֶׁהָיָה עוֹשֶׂה מִקֹּדֶם. בַּמֶּה דְּבָרִים אֲמוּרִים בְּעֶבֶד עִבְרִי מִפְּנֵי שֶׁנַּפְשׁוֹ שְׁפָלָה בִּמְכִירָה. אֲבָל יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁלֹּא נִמְכַּר מֻתָּר לְהִשְׁתַּמֵּשׁ בּוֹ כְּעֶבֶד שֶׁהֲרֵי אֵינוֹ עוֹשֶׂה מְלָאכָה זוֹ אֶלָּא בִּרְצוֹנוֹ וּמִדַּעַת עַצְמוֹ:


When people do not conduct themselves in an appropriate manner, it is permissible to impose one's authority over them by force and subjugate them.

When a king decrees that anyone who does not pay the fixed head tax should be enslaved to the person who pays the head tax for him, a person who pays the head tax for someone may use that person for labor beyond the ordinary measure. He may not, however, use him as a Canaanite slave. If, however, that person does not conduct himself properly, he may use him as a slave.


אֲנָשִׁים שֶׁאֵינָן נוֹהֲגִין כַּשּׁוּרָה מֻתָּר לִרְדּוֹתָן בְּחָזְקָה וּלְהִשְׁתַּעְבֵּד בָּהֶן. מֶלֶךְ שֶׁגָּזַר שֶׁכָּל מִי שֶׁלֹּא יִתֵּן הַמַּס הַקָּצוּב עַל כָּל אִישׁ וְאִישׁ יִשְׁתַּעְבֵּד לְזֶה שֶׁנָּתַן הַמַּס עַל יָדוֹ הֲרֵי זֶה מֻתָּר לְהִשְׁתַּמֵּשׁ בּוֹ יוֹתֵר מִדַּאי אֲבָל לֹא כְּעֶבֶד. וְאִם אֵינוֹ נוֹהֵג כַּשּׁוּרָה מֻתָּר לְהִשְׁתַּמֵּשׁ בּוֹ כְּעֶבֶד:


A master is obligated to treat any Hebrew servant or maid servant as his equal with regard to food, drink, clothing and living quarters, as implied by Deuteronomy 15:16 "for it is good for him with you." The master should not eat bread made from fine flour while the servant eats bread from coarse flour. The master should not drink aged wine while the servant drinks fresh wine. The master should not sleep on cushions while the servant sleeps on straw. Nor should the master live in a walled city while the servant lives in a village, or the master live in a village while the servant lives in a walled city, as implied by Leviticus 25:41: "And he shall leave you."

On this basis, our Sages said: "Whoever purchases a Hebrew servant purchases a master for himself."

A master must treat his servant with brotherly love, as implied by Leviticus 25:46: "And with regard to your brothers, the children of Israel." Nevertheless, the servant himself must conduct himself as a servant with regard to those tasks he must perform.


כָּל עֶבֶד עִבְרִי אוֹ אָמָה הָעִבְרִיָּה חַיָּב הָאָדוֹן לְהַשְׁווֹתָן לוֹ בְּמַאֲכָל וּבְמַשְׁקֶה בִּכְסוּת וּבְמָדוֹר שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים טו טז) "כִּי טוֹב לוֹ עִמָּךְ" שֶׁלֹּא תְּהֵא אַתָּה אוֹכֵל פַּת נָקִי וְהוּא אוֹכֵל פַּת קִבָּר אַתָּה שׁוֹתֶה יַיִן יָשָׁן וְהוּא שׁוֹתֶה יַיִן חָדָשׁ אַתָּה יָשֵׁן עַל גַּבֵּי מוֹכִין וְהוּא יָשֵׁן עַל גַּבֵּי הַתֶּבֶן אַתָּה דָּר בִּכְרַךְ וְהוּא דָּר בִּכְפָר אוֹ אַתָּה דָּר בִּכְפָר וְהוּא יוֹשֵׁב בִּכְרַךְ. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא כה מא) "וְיָצָא מֵעִמָּךְ". מִכָּאן אָמְרוּ כָּל הַקּוֹנֶה עֶבֶד עִבְרִי כְּקוֹנֶה אָדוֹן לְעַצְמוֹ. וְחַיָּב לִנְהֹג בּוֹ מִנְהַג אַחְוָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא כה מו) "וּבְאַחֵיכֶם בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל". וְאַף עַל פִּי כֵן צָרִיךְ הָעֶבֶד לִנְהֹג בְּעַצְמוֹ מִנְהַג עַבְדוּת בְּאוֹתָן הָעֲבוֹדוֹת שֶׁהוּא עוֹשֶׂה לוֹ:


The institution of a Hebrew maid-servant and that of a Hebrew servant is not practiced except in the time when the Jubilee year is observed. This applies both to a Hebrew servant who sells himself, and to one who is sold by the court. We have already explained when the observance of the Jubilee year was nullified.


אֵין אָמָה הָעִבְרִיָּה נוֹהֶגֶת וְלֹא עֶבֶד עִבְרִי נוֹהֵג אֶלָּא בִּזְמַן שֶׁהַיּוֹבֵל נוֹהֵג. בֵּין עֶבֶד עִבְרִי שֶׁמּוֹכֵר עַצְמוֹ בֵּין זֶה שֶׁמְּכָרוּהוּ בֵּית דִּין. וּכְבָר בֵּאַרְנוּ מָתַי בָּטְלוּ הַיּוֹבְלוֹת: