Monday, 28 March 2016

Kiddushin 17: A Slave/Maidservant's Time Served and the Valuation of Severance

A slave must serve six years before being released, unless the Jubilee year interrupts those six years, ending the slave’s service early.  But what if a slave is sick for part of his/her time in service?  The rabbis agree that if a slave is sick for up to four years of his/her time in service, s/he is considered to have worked the full six years.  If the slave is sick for four or more of those years in service, then the six years has not been fulfilled and the time unserved must be repeated.  If the slave was able to work, for example, sewing, but not for hard labour, the time counts as having been served. 

When a slave leaves service, s/he is given severance from one’s flock, threshing floor, and winepress, and from all that with which the Lord has blessed you (Deuteronomy 15:14).  The rabbis argue about what this means.  Rabbi Meir argues that each of these gifts is worth five sela and thus the slave is given fifteen sela in severance.  Rabbi Yehuda argues that the slave is given thirty sela, like the fine that is paid for a slave (Exodus 21:32). Rabbi Shimon believes that the slave is given fifty shekels, which is the valuation of a man – regardless of whether or not he is a slave.

The remainder of the Gemara examines possible proofs for each of these opinions.  One of the more interesting arguments suggests that “if you grasped too much, you did not grasp anything.  If you grasp a bit, you grasp something”.  This was a folk saying that the rabbis used to explain why a slave should not be given the larger amount of payment in severance. 

Another interesting argument suggests that severance of cattle, wheat, and wine all increase in value or add to the quality of life of the emancipated slave.  These things cannot be substituted for money, which could decrease in value over time. 

The Gemara moves on to explore why a Hebrew slave could serve the master’s son and not his daughter.   A Hebrew maidservant could serve the master alone.  A pierced or Hebrew slave sold to a Gentile could only serve that master.  All of these statements are understood to mean that in the case of the master’s death, the slave might be either emancipated or permitted to complete his/her service through inheritance to a daughter or son (or brother, in the case of levirate marriage).

Using the juxtapositioning of different directives from this Mishna, the Gemara discusses possible meanings and connections between different pairs of guidelines.  One reminder that results from this conversation regards the rights of the convert.  A convert is permitted to inherit from both his Gentile father and any other Gentile, but this ruling is based on rabbinical law rather than on Torah law.

Our daf ends with a more detailed conversation regarding the relationship between those who have converted and their first families.  How should they deal with the question of inheritance of idols, or the inheritance of wine used for the sanctification of idols?  Who is considered to be the rightful heir of Gentile whose son and grandchildren are converts?  How might this extend to money that is owed when a convert died?

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