Does the Bible Believe in Slavery?

How to Study Torah - Behar-Bechukotai

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Does the Bible Believe in Slavery?: How to Study Torah - Behar-Bechukotai

What does the Torah say about this thankfully antiquated practice? If slavery as an institution is recognized by the Bible, how do we reconcile this with the eternality of the Torah?
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Slavery, Behar, Behar-Bechukotai

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Morris NC January 12, 2021

Why doesn't the Bible just say, "thou shalt not practice slavery." Wouldn't that be so much better? It doesn't, because it was written by people about 2300 years ago and their ideas of right and wrong were very different than ours today. So, if we want to hold on to the good beliefs found in the Bible we now have to use apologetics to make ourselves feel better about the bad beliefs. Reply

Rena Goldz tzfat May 16, 2020

To Cory:
I personally translate "eved" as indentured servant, a concept once popular as a way of paying travel expenses to a new country.
To Anonymous:
You're absolutely right. As quoted in Rashi's commentary, one who acquires a servant takes on also all monetary obligations of the servant's family. Reply

Anonymous May 13, 2020

If a court orders a man into slavery -as opposed to a man selling himself into slavery- who assumes the man's obligations to his wife? If she is to bear hardship because of her husband's transgressions, it seems to me, she is being punished along with her misbehaving husband. No? Reply

Abouaf Santa Clarita May 14, 2020
in response to Anonymous:

If servitude is looked on from a 21st century, then you are correct in that such a disaster should not be suffered by the wife and children because of a husband's transgressions. We must remember there was no other system of welfare. Thus, if the husband went into debt because of theft, bad financial decisions or sin, the family would be destitute, hungry and homeless. "Slavery" for 6 years meant the entire family would be saved from hunger, homelessness and insecurity. They would have shelter, food and safety within probably a farming community for a guaranteed 6 years wherein they could also look for other opportunities to make extra money so as to have upon release in the shmitta - 7th year. Some slaves made enough money to purchase themselves out early. As well, family members, especially the "kinsmen redeemer" of the family had the responsibility if he had the means to purchase the brother out of servitude. Reply

Cory Abouaf valencia January 19, 2018

Great points, Rabbi. The way I look at it, even though critics of God or the bible try to say that biblical slavery was immoral. Actually, it is more moral than our present system. This rabbi explains. But recently I've been studying this and found out that actually, though in English bibles have translated the word "aved" into slavery, actually it really is better translated as "a 6 year contractual service to pay ones debt". It turns out that biblical "slavery" was a way to get people: 1. out of debt 2. out of jail 3. out of prostitution 4. out of homelessness 5. out of death in war 6. out of starvation and 7. out of being unemployed or out of being an orphan. Reply

Rena Israel May 20, 2016

I am similarly disappointed I too am disappointed that rabbi Kaplan didn't include the laws of the non Jewish slave in this discussion since he missed a chance to demonstrate the Torah's great kindness and justice in relationship to them as well

No the master may not beat them. Bit he won't be charged with manslaughter if the man, she's or not, walks about after the beating but will merely pay the price the court decides. A Canaanite slave may even be set free if he loses a tooth as a consequence.

Kidnapping is a capital offense by Torah law and no slave may be forced to do work without cause Reply

Yizrael Israel May 9, 2015

Mishneh Torah (2nd part) Similarly, we should not embarrass a slave by our deeds or with words, for the Torah prescribed that they perform service, not that they be humiliated. Nor should one shout or vent anger upon them extensively. Instead, one should speak to them gently, and listen to their claims. This is explicitly stated with regard to the positive paths of Job for which he was praised Job 31:13, 15: "Have I ever shunned justice for my slave and maid-servant when they quarreled with me.... Did not He who made me in the belly make him? Was it not the One who prepared us in the womb?" (Mishneh Torah, Sefer Kinyan, Avadim, Chapter 9) ** Part 2 ** Reply

Yizrael Israel May 9, 2015

Mishneh Torah It is permissible to have a Canaanite slave perform excruciating labor.Although this is the law, the attribute of piety and the way of wisdom is for a person to be merciful and to pursue justice, not to make his slaves carry a heavy yoke, nor cause them distress. He should allow them to partake of all the food and drink he serves. This was the practice of the Sages of the first generations who would give their slaves from every dish of which they themselves would partake. And they would provide food for their animals and slaves before partaking of their own meals. And so, it is written Psalms 123:2: "As the eyes of slaves to their master's hand, and like the eyes of a maid-servant to her mistress' hand, so are our eyes to God." (Mishneh Torah, Sefer Kinyan, Avadim, Chapter 9) ** Part 1 ** Reply

Sid March 6, 2015

Slavery Slavery in the Torah troubles me and I don't know what to make of it.

You said the Torah does not allow beating slaves. It actually does allow beating of slaves which you did not discuss
Exodus 21:20-21
When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property.

You also did not discuss the following which also troubles me:
Leviticus 25:44-46
However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. Reply

Anonymous Vashon, WA, USA May 19, 2012

Slaves of other Nations I am dissappointed similarly as Leigh, in that the possession of non-jews in slavery is perpetual and there is no end to their potential suffering. Reply

Leigh burlington, vt May 17, 2012

What about children born to wife? Can you please explain the following verse? It sounds like non-Jewish women were permanent slaves. Thank you very much.

Shemos 21 verse 4 "If his master will give him a woman and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall go out by himself".
The commentary (Rashi; Ramban) states this refers to a maidservant, who is herself the property of the master. If she were Jewish, neither she nor her children would belong to him. Reply

Daniel Brudno Cleveland, OH May 16, 2012

Frustrating Presentation This broadcast was very disappointing. The speaker focused exclusively on the the Eved Ivri or Jewish servant and made no mention of the Eved Cannani or non Jewish servant. As far as I am aware. none of the beautiful enlightened rules that the speaker quotes concerning a Jewish servant apply to a non Jewish servant. Any discussion of the biblical view of slavery that does not include the laws of a non Jewish servant is extremely disingenuous and comes across as apologetics geared for an ignorant audience. Reply

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