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April 21, 2014

Andrew Silow-Carroll: Passoverkill? Suggestions to make next year's seders even more culturally sensitive

Sara Israelsen Hartley: Seeking the Divine: An ancient connection in a new context

Christine M. Flowers: Priest's execution in Syria should be call to action

Courtnie Erickson: How to help kids accept the poor decisions of others

Lizette Borreli: A Glass Of Milk A Day Keeps Knee Arthritis At Bay

Lizette Borreli: 5 Health Conditions Your Breath Knows Before You Do

The Kosher Gourmet by Betty Rosbottom Coconut Walnut Bars' golden brown morsels are a beautifully balanced delectable delight

April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review

Does the Bible believe in slavery?

By Rabbi Hillel Goldberg



It's a claim often bandied about by the, ahem, "enlightened" and used to prove the evils that would result from a Bible-based society. But is it true?

JewishWorldReview.com | Does the Hebrew Bible — the Torah — believe in slavery? The answer seems straightforward. This week's Torah portion opens (Exodus 21:2-6):

"If you buy a Jewish eved [the Hebrew may be translated slave, servant, or bondsman], he shall work for six years and in the seventh he shall go free, for no charge. If he shall arrive by himself [unmarried], he shall leave by himself; if he is the husband of a woman, his wife shall leave with him. 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.

"But if the eved shall say, 'I love my master, my wife and my children — I shall not go free,' then his master shall bring him to the court and shall bring him to the door or to the doorpost, and his master shall bore through his ear with the awl, and he shall serve him forever."

WE may note the Torah's limitations on involuntary servitude: It is limited to six years; the family that one brings to the servitude is kept intact; permanent servitude is frowned upon; and, as we shall see, there are other limitations.

Limitations on servitude and condemnations of the permanent eved notwithstanding, the Torah certainly seems to believe in slavery. What gives?

WHAT gives is this: In Jewish civil law, of which the passage above constitutes the opening statutes, the person sold into servitude is a convicted thief, too poor to pay restitution to his victims. His involuntary servitude, initiated by the court to find a way to enable him to repay his victims, is actually one of two types of servitude in the Bible. The other type is voluntary servitude. It is dealt with in a separate passage in Leviticus, to which we shall turn below.

With respect to the thief, why not just imprison him, or put him to work and garnish his wages?

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kuk (the first chief rabbi of Palestine, 1865-1935), offered this explanation:

"Instead of putting the offender in prison, where he will be punished but not rehabilitated, he is sent to live with a decent family until he has readjusted. Far from being a primitive command, this path is the precursor to modern rehabilitation methods.

"The thief was thus exposed to a different type of family than he was used to and learned to take his role and responsibility to the rest of society more seriously.

"In order to guard the eved's rights, guidelines were laid down as to the conduct between master and eved. The master was forbidden to injure the eved. Were he to beat and injure the eved, then the master was forced to free him (Exodus 21:26).

"The desire of the Torah and the Creator was that this unfortunate thief would adjust his ways. He would be positively influenced by the time spent with the family that purchased him. This stage was always intended to be temporary, and the eved was compelled to see it as such [thus, the ear-piercing ceremony] . . .

"The sages even explained the word 'forever' ("the eved shall serve his master forever") as a temporary one, 'until the jubilee year'. . .

"The Torah recognizes the state of society and that, occasionally, it is necessary to amend certain cases. These are the exceptions to the rule that we are servants of G-d. But extraordinary cases must never become the norm. The hope is also that, in so doing, the Torah will eradicate, as much as possible, such instances of theft."*


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ONE question is answered. The thief whom the court assigns to six years of servitude is in a rehabilitation program. It is not slavery. It is, in contemporary terms, a type of halfway house between prison and parole. Even so, the issue of slavery in the Bible remains unresolved.

It is clear that if the eved is married, his wife and children must be supported by their master, and, when the eved is freed, his family is, too ("his wife shall leave with him"). But what is the basis for the distinction between a thief who comes into servitude married, and between a thief who is married during his servitude? When the latter goes free, his wife and children do not ("he shall go out by himself"). Clearly, they seem to be enslaved.

Now, the wife whom the thief brings with him into servitude is a Hebrew woman, and actually is his wife. The woman referred to as the wife whom he is given during his servitude is not a Hebrew woman and is actually not his wife. She is a mistress of sorts, given so that the eved may bear the master more servants.

We have here a web of seemingly contradictory findings:

On the one hand, the limitations on this woman given to the eved during servitude are clear. She is given to one servant only; she is not to be given over for intimacy to either her master or any other servant. Nor is her condition designed to be permanent. Yet, if the relationship becomes a loving one, they may remain together, supported by their master.

(I should interject at this point that Jewish law definitely frowns upon permanent servitude. A famous commentary states that what is most desirable for the thief is to hear G-d's voice at Mount Sinai that said: Do not steal, and that also says, after six years, leave your servitude.)

On the other hand, the offspring of this union are eveds, not thieves, for whose servitude there is no justification of rehabilitation. Is there slavery in the Bible? The answer seems to be yes with regard to the mistress and her children, who seem to be in servitude without any justification.



One might observe that servitude in the Bible is immeasurably more enlightened than the way it was in other ancient societies, in which slaves never went free and could be tortured or molested.

Yet, for me the Hebrew Bible is not valid as a relative instrument, whose value is measured in comparison to ancient societies. For me, the Bible is eternally valid. So, Iremain the uncomfortable the conclusion, which I shall call tentative, that, with respect to some people, there does seem to be slavery in the Bible. I call the concluson tentative in the sense of the traditional conclusion to any difficult question in Torah:tzarich iyyun, or, "the matter bears more investigation."

NOW, the second type of servitude in the Bible stems from poverty (Leviticus 25:25-28): involuntary servitude.

An impoverished person may sell himself to a master in order to be supported, and, again, if a master purchases an eved on this basis, the master must also support the eved's wife and children. The master is forbidden to abuse them physically or sexually.

The master is also forbidden to demean this impoverished eved by having him carry his clothes or put on his shoes. The master can only employ eved in agricultural work or in some craft.

Here, too, there is a famous commentary, a variation on the one above. If the eved chooses not to go free at the end of six years, his ear is pierced with an awl at a door. This is taken to mean that every person should use his ear to listen to the Torah's demand that a person become the servant of G-d alone (Leviticus 25:55), not "the servant of a servant" —the permanent servant of another person (another "servant of G-d").

The door? Jewish slaves in Egypt smeared the blood of the Pascal lamb on their doorposts so that the Angel of Death would pass them over. The doorpost represents the destiny of freedom. By electing to remain in permanent involuntary servitude, the eved in this week's Torah portion debases the message of the doorpost: freedom!

Does the Bible believe in slavery? If the slavery is voluntary, the answer is yes.

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JWR contributor Rabbi Hillel Goldberg is executive editor of the Intermountain Jewish News and the author of several books on biblical and Judaic themes.

© 2013, Rabbi Hillel Goldberg

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