Monday, 28 March 2016

Kiddushin 16: An Additional Way to Emancipate a Hebrew Slave/Maidservant

We continue to learn about the rabbis’ understandings of our Mishna (Kiddushin 14).

The rabbis interpret the possible meaning of “She shall not go out as the men slaves.”  For the rabbis, this refers to a Hebrew maidservant’s acquisition and release from slavery compared with those of a Canaanite slave.   They consider, for example, whether or not a document is required in all circumstances.

When it comes to a slave’s release through the purchase of his own freedom, the rabbis agree that money is not the same thing as a promissory note.  Interesting that the promissory note is not permitted in this circumstance when it is allowed in other situations that do not involve the potential freedom of a human being.

The rabbis then consider the ‘signs of puberty’ as a maidservant’s additional reason to be released from slavery.  Perhaps there is another way that a maidservant is released from slavery: the death of her father.  Would this include the death of her master?  Perhaps the Mishna only included possible incidences that have a set time.  Because we cannot know when a person might die, that would not be included in the Mishna’s reasons for early emancipation.

The rabbis speak of a nine year-old boy who develops two pubic hairs.  As in the case of a girl under the age of twelve, these are considered to be hairs of a mole rather than signs of puberty.  For boys, two pubic hairs that develop before the age of thirteen not considered to be signs of sexual maturity.

The rabbis agree that there are six ways to leave slavery – for a maidservant, working six years, reaching the Jubilee year, death of her master, and reaching puberty lead to her freedom.  For a Canaanite slave, working six years, reaching the Jubilee year, emancipating himself through money or an object worth money, piercing his ear, and the death of his master lead to his freedom. 

A severance gift is given to these slaves upon their emancipation.  Because that gift is given by the master of the maidservant to the father of the maidservant, questions arise regarding the severance gift when a maidservant’s master has died.  Might this suggest that the maidservant might be freed from service when her father dies, as well?  The rabbis wonder why the gift would not be given to the maidservant herself.  They look at the potential transfer of gifts from a maidservant to her brothers or to other family members.  And if a person flees from slavery, s/he is not given the severance gift.   However, buying one’s freedom allows for the gift.

Interestingly, the rabbis use the phrase “yod keret”, a yod into a large city.  This refers to the letter yod which is the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet.  A yod in a large city speaks to the unnecessary elaborate examination of a particular examination. 

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