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The Music of Halacha-Pesach-Four Forms of Slavery I

Before we begin the holiday of freedom it would be worthwhile to consider the different meanings of servitude and slavery in Halakhah, how each is addressed Pesach night, and what our freedom from each manifestation of slavery grants us and demands from us. I would like to present four different meanings of slavery, and show how each relates to one of the four terms of redemption, and to one of the four cups of wine of the Seder.


There are two general categories of slaves in Halakhah; Eved Ivri and Eved Kanani. We will focus this evening on those laws pertaining to an Eved Ivri. In this major category there are two subcategories; makhruhu bet din u’mokher et atzmo. The are numerous laws pertaining to each. The one that will be of most concern to us this evening is that of shifchah kananit, there are times when the master of an eved ivri may force him to marry a non-Jewish maidservant in order to father more slaves for the master.

The Ritva, Kiddushin 69a, Yevamot 46a,  states that the laws of an Eved Ivri are only practiced when Yovail is being observed. When Yovail is not celebrated, the Biblical laws of an Eved Ivri, such as numbers of years, freedom upon death of the master etc. are not in effect. However, one may sell himself to a Jew or Non-Jew, and will be Qanui b’qinyan haguf, and in order to leave his master will need a document of freedom. The Ritva holds that the practical definition of Qinyan haguf is the necessity of a shtar shichrur, and an oral declaration will not suffice to free the slave.

In Kiddushin 16a,  he states in the name of the Ramban that the master of an Eved Ivri has two Qinyanim; a Qinyan Haguf, which is defined as a Qinyan Isur, meaning that the owner has acquired the slave to such an extent that the prohibition against marrying a Shifcha Kannanit is suspended. If the law of shifchah that is proof positive that the Qinyan is not a Qinyan haguf.

The other type of Qinyan is a Qinyan Mamon, the acquired rights to the maase yadaim of the slave. The Ritva continues and says that mechilah without a contract of release is insufficient to release the Qinyan Haguf shel Isur. Any monetary rights can be released with mechilah alone.

It appears that the Ramban contradicts the first Ritva we quoted. The Ramban defines Qinyan haguf as a Qinyan Isur, specifically the right of the master to give his slave a shifcha kannanit. Based on that definition we would say that a slave who sells himself in our times that Yovail is not observed, leading to the suspension of many of the laws of Eved Ivri, including his ability to marry a shifchah cannanit, would not be considered to have been acquired with a Qinyan haguf, and therefore would not need a contract of release in order to leave his master. Yet, in the former quote, the Ritva says that even in our times of no Yovail observance a self sold slave would need a shtar shichrur!

The Gemara, Baba Kama 113b,  presents another problem for the Ritva, according to whom we have said that if the slave is prohibited from marrying a shifcha he was not acquired with a Qinyan haguf. Therefore, an eved who had sold himself to a non-Jew, who may not marry a shifcha, would not be considered to have been procured with a Qinyan Haguf. Yet, the Gemara says that according to Rava who is the one who introduced the concept of Qinyan Haguf in general, even a Jew who sold himself to a non-Jew would have been engaged with a Qinyan Haguf.

The Gemara Baba Kama is difficult to understand in light of two other Gemarot, Yevamot 46a ,(4) Gittin 38a, (5) that state explicitly that an eved sold to a non-Jew is not acquired with a Qinyan haguf, but only for maase yadaim.

To answer these questions on the Ritva we can turn to what he has written in Gittin 38a (hashmata b’sof haperek) (6) that develops a theme of differentiated Kinyanei haguf inferred by necessity from the contradiction between the Gemarot, Baba Kama v’Yevamot. The Ritva will show that the qinyan isur is not the definition of qinyan haguf, but symptomatic. The Ritva is describing a Qinyan haguf by referring to it as a Mashkon, in the sense of going beyond the financial obligation itself. When money is borrowed with a Mashkon the loan cannot end with a simple mechilah. The lender must return the mashkon. So too, says the Ritva, the slavery cannot end with a simple mechilah, a forgiving of the loan. The master, or lender, so to speak, must return the security, in this case, the slave. When it says in Yevamot that even one sold to an akum must receive a shtar shichrur, the Gemara was not being specific, even Mechilah would suffice. However, do not look at this transaction simply as a loan that must be paid off, and that once no more money is owed, the slave has completed paying off his loan and can simply walk away free. The master’s Qinyan extends beyond the value of the loan of the purchase price, he now owns enough of the guf of the slave to demand the right to release the slave. What began as a simple loan/transaction, grew. The master purchased more than the work that will pay off his loan. The slave is his to free. A ceremony of sorts is necessary to free him. A formality somewhere in between mechilah and a shtar shichrur.

When the Gemara Baba Kama describes the Qinyan of the non-Jewish master as a Qinyan Haguf, its intention is to stress that the worker is not simply a worker. For him to walk away, without a ceremony of freedom, even after working the fiill value of his purchase price, would be to steal from his master.

The Gemarot Yevamot, Gittin are simply stating that the non-Jewish master does not have the typical Qinyan Haguf which is a Qinyan Isur. The slave in his possession may not marry a shifchah kananit.

We have seen that there are actually three types of qinyanim that a master may have in his eved ivri; qinyan mamon, a monetary interest, a right to usufruct and labor, qinyan haguf I’isur, substantive rights determined by the permissibility or prohibition of giving his slave a shifchah kananit to marry, and qinyan haguf k’mashkon, substantive financial interest resulting from the original monetary arrangement.

We have answered the questions we had on the Ritva, Ramban and the gemarot using these three qinyanim as our guidelines.

We have seen the relationship between a qinyan mamon and qinyan haguf slavery. One leads into the other. Servitude begins by taking away someone’s possessions. “Kol mah sheqana eved qana rabo”,all that is acquired by a slave is owned by his master. When we deprive someone of his property not only have we taken away his money we have robbed him of his dignity. Money is such a sensitive issue that the verse in Mishlei states”Eved loveh L’ish malveh”,the borrower feels as a slave to the lender. In a society of free people the question of economic well being is not only a question of comfort and convenience. Those who live below the poverty line live at the brink of the abyss of slavery and servitude.

We begin the seder with the declaration of kol dikhfin , whoever is hungry, let him come and eat. This is not an empty invitation behind closed doors, but a declaration that we recognize the all too short distance from penury to slavery. “Kol d’tzrich yaisai v’yifsach”, “all who need should come and celebrate the Korban Pesach with us. The Torah prohibits last minute invitations to share the korban pesach, one had to own part of the animal before it was slaughtered! Yet, we are recalling the demand of ownership, “takhosu al haseh”, we had to be owners in order to lift ourselves out of slavery.

The eved ivri doesn’t leave his master’s home empty handed. The master has one last obligation to his slave before sending him home; ha’anakah, the master must present the now former slave with an abundance of gifts. Although the master paid full price for the years of labor, he must now pay more. Not as salary. That was the purchase price. With the ha’anakah the master transforms a mere payoff to granting dignity and freedom. Just as the servitude began with the loss of money, so too the reformation from servitude to freedom must begin with monetary gain.

“v’acharei khen yaitz’u b’rkhush gadol”, “at the end of their servitude they will leave with great wealth.” The bondage that began with Yaacov and his family moving to Egypt for food they didn’t have, ended with the same family leaving with great wealth. God fulfilled the mitzvah of ha’anakah]

They had difficulty even with that. “They borrowed.” it says in the verse. They didn’t take. They had lost any sense of being able to own something.

We, who imitate their transformation from slaves to free people begin with, Ha Lachma Anya, the Bread of Poor People, but we act as wealthy people, reclining, dipping our foods, eating generous portions of Matzah.

This financial servitude and freedom are represented by the third of the four cups of wine, Bareich, thanking God for His bounty and generosity, for the land that is ours, for all that we own that keeps us away from becoming slaves again.

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