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TRACTATE SOTAH, CHAPTER FOUR, MISHNAH ONE:

A fiancée and an woman waiting for levirate marriage do not drink and do not collect their Ketubah, for it is said, "when a wife, being under her husband, goes astray": this excludes a fiancée and an woman waiting for levirate marriage. A widow married to a High Priest, a divorcee or Ĥalutzah married to an ordinary priest, an illegitimate Israelite woman married to an Israelite, and an Israelite woman married to an illegitimate man - none of these drink nor do they collect their Ketubah.

EXPLANATIONS:

1:
The main thesis of Chapter Four in general, and of our present mishnah in particular, is that there are certain women who may not be submitted at all to the 'ordeal of the cursing waters'. While the exegesis may appear to be pejorative, its ultimate conclusion is to limit the number of women who may be forced to take the test, as we shall see.

To be continued.

DISCUSSION:

In our last shiur I wrote: In conditions such as these it becomes apparent that there is no real connection between the institution of slavery in ancient Israel with any other known community. Derek Fields writes:

I think that there is a difference between a Jewish servant and a non-Jewish servant, particularly captives of war. My understanding is that the Torah and later writings distinguish between the two and while there are certain rights that even the non-Jewish slave enjoys, this servitude is much closer to what we have traditionally understood as slavery than the Jewish time-bound servitude. So, I am not sure that I would agree that "there is no real connection between the institution of slavery in ancient Israel with any other known community."

Others have written in the same vein.

I respond:

While I concede that the situation of the non-Jewish servant is different from that of the Jewish bonded servant, I still believe that his situation could not be equated with what in other societies is called slavery. When we studied Tractate Pesachim I wrote:

The Eved Kena'ani [Canaanite servant] was a person born as a non-Jew who was sold into slavery and bought by a Jew. At the end of the first year of his being with his Jewish master he had to decide whether he was prepared to be circumcised and to accept those mitzvot that were incumbent upon Jewish women or to be resold to a non-Jew. Our mishnah refers to an Eved Kena'ani who has opted to remain with his Jewish master and has thus accepted Judaism. Until he might possibly regain his freedom he is required to observe all those mitzvot that Jewish women are required to observe. Upon his possible manumission he would be required to observe the totality of Jewish law like any other Jewish male.

I also noted, in response to a query, that

it would seem that the sages were very liberal in their views on this matter... there are several examples of servants being manumitted by their masters purely for reasons of convenience, such as the famous example where one sage manumitted his servant in order to have a tenth for a minyan [prayer quorum].

When we studied Tractate Kiddushin I gave further information and wrote:

I append three quotations from Rambam (Mishneh Torah):-
  1. Hilkhot Milah 1:1

    If one buys an adult non-Jewish slave and the slave did not wish to be circumcised [i.e. convert], he may be held for a twelvemonth; for a longer period it is forbidden to hold on to him in his uncircumcised state, and he must be resold to a non-Jew. However, if while he was still with his original non-Jewish master, he agreed to become the slave of the Jew on condition that he not be circumcised, it is then permissible for the Jew to continue to hold on to him in his uncircumcised state, provided that he accepts the seven mitzvot of the sons of Noah...

  2. Hilkhot Shabbat 20:14

    Just as a person is required to see that his animals rest on Shabbat so he is also commanded to see that his male and female servants observe Shabbat. Even though they are [halakhically] considered to be responsible for their own [religious] actions, it is nevertheless a mitzvah to prevent them from doing a melakhah [forbidden act] on Shabbat, based on Exodus 23:12. Servants whom we are required to make observe Shabbat are those who were circumcised and bathed and accepted those mitzvot that slaves are required to observe; but servants who were not circumcised and did not bathe, but only accepted the seven Noahide laws, are only considered to be Ger Toshav [a non-Jew with the right to reside among Jews in Eretz Israel - S.R.], and they are permitted to do a melakhah on Shabbat for themselves in public, like a Jew on a weekday... (This is complicated by the note appended to this text by Ravad [Rabbi Abraham ben-David]: "This is not correct! If they were circumcised and bathed in order to become slaves [le-shem avdut], they are to be considered fully-fledged Jews in all respects and fully responsible for their own actions...")

  3. Hilkhot Issurei-Biah 12:11

    Servants who were bathed in order to become slaves [le-shem avdut] and accepted those mitzvot that slaves are required to observe, no longer have the status of non-Jew, but have not achieved the status of full Jew...

A person who has the right to decide whether they wish to remain someone's servant, who is required to observe the same mitzvot as a Jewish woman, who is required to observe Shabbat and so forth can hardly be the same as what the world generally calls "a slave". Someone who has rights and privileges, surely, by definition is not truly a slave.

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