Eved Kena’ani: The Other Jewish Slave

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4 Responses

  1. Glycol says:

    Thank you for that article.nnYour hypothesis is has merit, but one possible problem is that there is language in the Talmud that seems to contradict your hypothesis. For example, Berakhot 16b doesn’t appear to humanize the eved kena’ani at all–quite the opposite.u00a0 The rabbis almost entirely (and strongly) concur in ruling that the loss of even an upstanding slave is to be treated as a loss of property indistinguishable from the loss of a beast of burden.u00a0 This is opposed to the notion that the slave, particularly the trustworthy slave, was regarded as a subservient member of the community.u00a0 Bava Kama 88au00a0 seemingly denigrates the notion that a non-Jewish slave can be considered simply a subordinate in the Jewish world.u00a0 Its language suggests that the non-Jewish slave is still seen as an outsider.u00a0 There are similar statements elsewhere in the Talmud.u00a0 Additionally, Shabbos 32b and Eurvin 43b both seem to speak of slavery in or near the advent of the Messianic era.u00a0 Saadia Gaon, in his Emunoth ve-Deoth, also spoke of slavery during this time.u00a0 Certainly, few indications are given to suggest an eventual abolition of slavery.nnAnother possible problem is that the rabbis place rather severe restrictions on freeing a slave in the event of abuse.u00a0 Slaves would have been particularly vulnerable to situations where there would have been insufficient qualified witnesses under halakha to punish an owner who maimed or murdered them.u00a0 The chances for an abused slave going free appear small.u00a0 As I recall, and I may be a little fuzzy on this point, the rabbis reduced opportunities further by ruling that the maiming of a slave had to be intentional (something difficult to ascertain) and the damage had to be total.u00a0 An eye, tooth or other non-regenerable body part had to be completely destroyed.u00a0 Much of this appears aimed at protecting the interests of slave owners at the expense of an already vulnerable and dependent caste in Jewish society.nnFinally, few of the many protections and benefits that could have been extended to the eved ivrit are formally extended to the eved ken’ani under halakha regardless of the slave’s behavior.u00a0 Nor is any such allowance given for a non-Jewish slave whose family may have served Jewish owners for many generations.u00a0 The best Judaism offers are exhortations by rabbis like the Rambam to avoid cruelty in dealing with non-Jewish slaves. nnYou’re probably better informed than I about how all these statements are interpreted in later rabbinical literature.u00a0 It would be interesting to get your opinion on them.u00a0 Thank you once more.

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