Volume 29 Number 75
                 Produced: Thu Sep  2 11:35:46 US/Eastern 1999

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Legal Rights of an Eved Canaani
         [Russell Hendel]
Morality of Slavery
         [Chana Luntz]
         [Joseph C. Kaplan]
Slavery and a Higher Moral Authority
         [Joel Goldberg]
Slavery and Conversion
         [David Lloyd-Jones]


From: Russell Hendel <rhendel@...>
Date: Sun, 22 Aug 1999 22:41:31 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: RE: Legal Rights of an Eved Canaani

I seem to have been misquoted by Warren Burnstein in mj-v29n57. Allow me
to re-clarify myself. (The subject under discussion was my assertion
that (a) you are prohibited from beating slaves (b) the eved cnaani is
like a child and (c) the slave has legal recourse in the courts. Let me
now examine Warren's comments and reply using my previous posting.

>>The eved cnaani never "grows up".<<<

Not true. Rabban Gamliel freed his slave to make a minyan--in other
words the slave had his Bar Mitzvah (Cited as law in Rambam Slaves 9 and
referenced to the Gmarrah's incident.)  Furthermore as is clear from the
last law in Slaves 9, slaves were suppose to be treated with kindness,
good food etc so that they could grow up. The only point worth conceding
here is that the slave can't sue for this right. But the owner is
obligated.  On the other hand if the slave can't emancipate himself from
his former habits he can remain the way he is (with the good meals).

>While I agree that the master was not permitted to cause unnecessary
>pain, It was permitted to cause just as much as required to get the
>slave to work.  On the other hand, if one has a dispute with a free
>person an eved ivri, one is not allowed to cause any pain whatsoever
>(unless it's in self-defense).

That proves my point. I never said a slave was a free person. I said he
was like a child and the above paragraph is the way you treat a child.

>Why should the master get any work at all out of a slave who he doesn't
>feed?...And the obligation to help the Canaanite slave live is the same as
>tzedaka --....the slave has no more recourse than a poor person who
>doesn't manage to collect sufficient donations for his needs.  Slaves 9:7

That is exactly why I cited Gitin 12, the Shulchan Aruch and Kesef
Mishnah--the slave has a right to go to court and demand "Feed me or
free me." The master can only force him to live off charity IF there is
a market for his work.

To sum it up---a canaanite slave while not a free person (I never said
he was) has the rights of a child---he can sue for the right not to be
tortured or starved to death and has the option to "grow up" and be

Russell Hendel;Moderator Rashi Is Simple;http://www.shamash.org/rashi/


From: Chana Luntz <Chana/<Heather@...>
Date: Mon, 30 Aug 1999 23:19:45 +0100
Subject: Morality of Slavery

In a previous post, I brought some of the basic halachas relating to an
eved c'nani.  But that post did not address the fundamental issue under
discussion - namely the morality of the concept of such slavery, and
particularly of the prohibition on freeing slaves (whether you hold it
is an issur Torah, d'rabanan or midus chassidus).

Those who take the view that that slavery is morally problematic, and
hence are grappling with the concept of "l'olam bahem ta'avodu" may find
some comfort in the discussion of the Chatam Sofer in Gitten 38b.  While
he has a long discussion on the question of freeing slaves, in the final
paragraph on the topic "Rabbi Eliezer omer chova" he says that it is an
obligation not to free them in a way that means they go out without a
shtar shichrur [a bill of freedom] which means they are not sanctified
with the sanctification of Israel, therefore the mitzva is l'olam bahem
ta'avodu but if he wishes to free them to make them a complete Yisroel
there is no issur in this [he then has a whole discusson on Shmuel, and
why this reading may be difficult in light of his position, and provides
a different resolution specifically for the case of Shmuel].

[NB my reading of the Pnei Yeshua is that he is learning along the same
lines, but the Chatam Sofer is certainly clearer].

But the issue, as discussed by the Chatam Sofer points us towards a
consideration that has not been raised previously.  An eved c'nani has
the mitzvos of a woman, but does not perform mitzvos dependant on time.
However, on being freed, a [male] eved is a full Jew and obligated in
such mitvos.  That means that, if you, as the master of such an eved,
does not free him, you are preventing him from being obligated in mitvos
[not to mention receiving appropriate schar].  How is this permissible?
Without some specific permissibility in the Torah, it would seem logical
that one would have to immediately free one's slaves, because otherwise
one must be liable for all the mitvos not performed (and as only a
master can free a slave,  it is not as though if you didn't do it, you
could leave it to somebody else).

But perhaps the major part of the problem is that people today are just
so distant from the socio-economic reality that prevailed at the time of
the giving of the Torah and after. 

In those times, labour was difficult to access.  There were not hordes
of itinerent or migrant workers who would turn up for the plowing or
harvesting season in their pick up trucks and then disappear again.
Movement of people was not itself a common occurrance - nor was the
technology to achieve it readily available.  People could not move
easily between place to place and country to country.

Thus engineering the movement of people was a major operation (and very
expensive).  And once people moved, moving away again was very unlikely.

So what happened in those days if you had a farm but you could not
manage to farm it with the labour of you and your family?  Today, you
hire itinerent workers, who move on in the slack season (much more
economically efficient), but what if they could not do so.  In those
days, the only source of necessary labour so as to ensure that
sufficient food was grown so that people had enough to eat was the slave

But because of their relative rarity, and the fact that transportation
was a difficult and hazardous undertaking, slaves were expensive.  A
purchaser of a slave made a major capital purchase, one that they
expected to amortise over say 20 years.  It was often the case that a
slave was the most valuable piece of property the master owned, even
more than his land. This can be seen from various aspects of the Torah,
including that of arechin [making vows to pay to the beis hamikdash the
value of yourself a person].  These were in the same category as
pledging your land or more.  That is, if you want to pledge that which
had the highest value, go for a human being.

In such circumstances, no owner is going to:

- not feed his slave properly (no owner is going to not feed their ox
properly, if the ox died, how can he plow?  And the slave was worth an
lot more than an ox.  That would be the equivalent today of taking an
expensive diamond ring and throwing it away, a person who did so would
be regarded as crazy).  The only time this might have been a danger was
in time of famine, when the owner might be tempted to put his family
first.  That of course is precisely the time that the Torah steps in and
forbids such action. (I did not include that halacha in my summary, but
RJH brought it from the Rambam, and it is also contained in the Shulchan

- beat him to death (the owner has just lost his entire capital - ie
same as  pulverising a valuable diamond).  Even maiming seriously is
going to affect the owner's return.  What might an owner be tempted to
do? Possibly maim in ways that do not affect the work performance (eg
lop off the tip of a finger or the) tip of an ear - But that the Torah
prohibited by putting his whole capital at risk by such action.

- set his slave free while he or she is adequately performing the
job.  Again he would lose what he had paid for.  Economically it does
not make any sense to do this.  When would an owner be tempted to free
his slaves? When they are old and weak and no longer of any value to
him. That is why not freeing a slave is at least midus chassidus.  In an
era without a welfare state, freeing a slave is the equivalent to
washing one's hands of him/her and leaving him/her destitute. Hence
l'olam bahem ta'avodu becomes a protective measure.  Not necessary in
the case of a healthy slave, but important for a sick or elderly one.
And hence the exceptions also make sense - where the purpose is a
mitvah, even a rabbinical one, as opposed to an abandonment of
responsibility, then naturally it becomes permissible.

That was then.

What has happened in the meantime?  Something called technology.
Technology has made the movement of peoples that much easier.

To see what happens with changes in technology, just look at the
difference between my grandparents' attitude to clothing and mine.  I do
not darn socks.  Why? Because mass production and the advances in
technology have been such that it is now so cheap to buy socks, if they
get a hole in them, it makes economic sense to throw them out and get
another pair.  I also am not nearly as careful of my clothing as my
grandparents were of theirs. Why? Because if it gets wrecked, technology
has made so that there is so much in the shops at low low prices that I
can afford to go and buy some more.

A similar thing happened due to the technology of moving people.

When technology occurred in the form of ocean going ships, the
slave trade suddenly became much, much easier - you could suddenly
transport millions of people, and people did.  Now, with so many more
people on the market, that meant that the price of a slave went down,
and as a consequence, other people began to find and regard slaves as
cheap to purchase.  Once that happened, there was no economic [as
opposed to moral] reasons to worry about beating a few slaves to death,
because there was plenty where that one came from.

But see what happened when technology moved on from ocean going ships.
17th century ships cost a lot more than putting people on trains (that
anyway were in place for other reasons). And what if people are then
being transported on these trains for free? Well the economic [as
opposed to moral] position would be not only not to worry about beating
the odd slave to death, but not to make the expense of really feeding
them either, because it makes more economic sense to work first one to
death, and then just to move on to using the next.  That is what
happened in the Nazi slave camps.  If you were a german corporation, you
had free slaves provided, so it made economic sense to work one lot to
death, as the trains just kept rolling in with further supply.

So from a society whose economics made it clear that human beings were
the most valuable item there was, and therefore, paradoxically,
affirmed the value of human beings, technology has mass produced
movement to make human beings cheap, and hence an economic, as opposed
to a moral, stand would be to regard them as readily disposable.  

I have no particular insight into the messianic era, but I do not
imagine that we will suddenly abandon aeroplanes, trains and buses to
return to the donkey and the camel.  Unless we do, then, leaving the
question of morality aside, slavery makes little economic sense  as it
is far more economically efficient to only have to provide for one's
workers while one actually needs them, than for the entire year when one
may have no more use for them.  And the ease of transport means that the
economics and morality work against one another, rather than together.

I personally, therefore, see no contradiction in saying that slavery was
a necessary component of the original Torah environment and saying that
morality dictates that slavery will not and should not return.  Nor does
the concept of l'olam bahem ta'avodu, if understood as I have explained
it, go against today's morality.

Kind Regards



From: Joseph C. Kaplan <penkap@...>
Date: Wed, 25 Aug 1999 22:31:28 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Slavery

Would some please explain how the fact that a master can force his eved
ivrei (male Jewish slave) to have sexual intercourse with his shifcha
cana'anit (female gentile slave) comport with our current Jewish (not "pop
culture" whatever that means) sense of sexual morality? No class, book or
lecture that I have ever heard or read on Jewish (again, not "pop
culture") sexual morality could be in any way construed to include a male
Jew (i.e., the eved ivrei) having sexual intercourse with any women not
his wife, much less a non-Jewish women.  I would like to know from those
who speak about the "morality" of slavery if they, themselves, could, if
halachically and legally permitted, actually own slaves, and if they
could, whether they could direct a fellow Jew to have sexual intercourse
with a woman he did not love and who was not Jewish too boot. Let's be
honest about slavery, even under halacha; it's not simply indentured
servitude, and it's not simply a method of punishing thieves or treating
the poor. (Again, I urge those who see it as rehabilitation of the poor to
study the laws of tzedakah (charity) which is how we Jews handle that
issue.) Rather, there are real ownership issues involved; people owning
other people. I'll say it frankly; I could  never do it, and I could never
respect anyone who did, notwithstanding the argument that the Torah allows
for slavery.  It's true that it took Western civilization a long time to
fully realize the evils of slavery, and in our own country it took too
long and a dreadful war to eradicate that evil from our midst. But
understanding that history and the blood that was shed to ensure that
while we may be slaves to God we are not slaves to other men, it is
terribly frustrating to hear frum Jews writing approvingly about an
institution that modern civilized humanity have almost unanimously agreed
is a gross immorality.

Joseph C. Kaplan


From: Joel Goldberg <joel@...>
Date: Thu, 26 Aug 1999 10:13:00 +0200
Subject: Re: Slavery and a Higher Moral Authority

Zvi Weiss <weissz@...>, writing about slavery, expresses the heart
of the matter about whether Halacha should take notice of external moral
standards that, on the face of it at least, are higher than the Torah's
moral standards:

>  It appears to me that the
>"invocation" of Kiddush Hashem here is an act of desperation.  People --
>conditioned by "American Society" are uncomfortable that the Torah does
>not appear to share those lofty sentiments and so a way is sought to
>hamronize Torah with America (as opposed to the other way around)...

I note that halachically, a brother and sister who convert to Judaism
are allowed to marry each other. Nevertheless, such a marriage is
forbidden rabbinically. The prohibition is so that the non-Jews will not
be able to say that "they (the brother and sister) have gone from a
higher level of holiness (k'dusha) to a lower level."

Joel Goldberg
<joel@...>  (formerly joel@cst.com)
Beit Shemesh, Israel


From: David Lloyd-Jones <icomm5@...>
Date: Fri, 27 Aug 1999 03:58:25 -0400
Subject: Slavery and Conversion

Warren Burstein writes:

>With regard to the suggestion that slavery would be a "back door" into
>Judaism in the Messianic Era, I would suggest that anyone so determined

>to become Jewish that he's willing to enslave himself should be an
>exception from the rule against conversion in this era.

An odd and interesting data point: the African-American radical Bob
Moses, a very decent man, converted, "reconverted" in his own words, to
Judaism in 1996 or '97. Until then he had been a member of Catholic
Worker, a Roman Catholic anarcho-politico-religious sect, and a
practicing Catholic. I do not know what his parents were, though they
could have been Roman Catholic, communist, or both. His grandparents,
however, were slaves in the South, and were owned by a Jewish plantation
family. They adopted Judaism as their own faith upon their manumission.
That is what Moses was "re-converting" to.

I don't know any more details than that: I just happened to see a
neutral announcement in the Catholic Worker newspaper. From my knowledge
of both the group and of Bob Moses's reputation, however, I think it is
safe to say that the whole thing was done with great seriousness and



End of Volume 29 Issue 75