Saturday, 26 March 2016

Kiddushin 15: Methods of Acquisition and Release of Hebrew Slaves

In daf 14, our last Mishna outlined that Hebrew slaves can be acquired in three ways: through money, through a document, or through selling oneself.  He could be emancipated in three other ways: through completing six years of slavery, through reaching the Jubilee year, or through buying his own redemption.  If he decided to stay with his owner, a slave could be freed only on the Jubilee year or through the death of his master.  A Hebrew maidservant could be emancipated through similar means; however, she would be automatically released when showing signs of puberty.

Today's daf outlines the rabbis' attempts to understand a number of different parts of this Mishna.  First, they are comparing the piercing of a slave's ear with other circumstances that mark one's ear.  The leper's right ear is marked with sacrificial blood as part of his emancipation.  The rabbis use this connection to understand that someone who sells himself should not be pierced.    

Other verbal analogies and homiletic analyses are applied to this Mishna.  What does it mean when we learn about a "hired worker"?  What can we learn from the seemingly superfluous phrase, "to him"?  The rabbis use the occurrence of these phrases in other circumstances to prove the accuracy of their interpretations.  Amud (b) is focused on the release of a slave by his relatives.  The Gemara questions when and how family members might release a Hebrew slave from service with a Gentile master.  Clearly the rabbis are concerned about men who would continually sell themselves into slavery knowing that their families might 'buy them out'.  

It struck me today that if a Hebrew maidservant is emancipated before she reaches puberty, that means that she is sold into slavery as a child.  Would she be subject to marrying a Hebrew slave, as would her Canaanite counterpart?  And why does becoming a naara release her from servitude?  There must be a legal reason, but I'm wondering if this was done to protect the virginity of Hebrew girls who would otherwise be at risk of being raped by someone who would change their value/status?

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