Slavery In The Torah
It’s very interesting when you witness people picking out pieces of the Torah that are ”wrong” because they don’t mesh with modern sensibilities. What these same people fail to realize is that their “modern sensibilities” are really rooted in self-righteousness — in that they are comfortable with how they live their life, and they feel that their own moral code trumps that of ancient people (or even the Creator, G-d forbid). Two of the issues that the Torah sanctions that people adamantly protest are polygamy and slavery. I’ll dedicate this post to the latter.
Nowadays, when you hear the word slavery, your mind automatically conjures up images of Kunte Kinte in Roots, fighting for his freedom from various oppressive White masters. Well this form of slavery, which was a horrific institution that million of Africans and their descendants had to endure in the New World, was a far cry than what the Torah sanctioned. First of all, the situation of slavery at that point in time was one that a thief or a debtor found themselves in when they couldn’t repay a debt. It could also apply to captives of war and conquest.
Most importantly, the status of “slave” was not a lifelong designation. The slave’s spouse and children weren’t automatically deemed slaves as well. You couldn’t be born into slavery. Also there were many conditions where a slave could be freed from there obligation. Slave owners could be executed if he murdered his slave. Exodus 21:20-21 states:
If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod, and the slave dies under his hand, the death must be avenged [the master is punished by death]. However, if the slave survives for a day or two, his death shall not be avenged, since he is his master’s property.
Slavery was utilized by both Jews and non-Jews at that time. However the slaves of Jews were required to rest on the Sabbath; just like the animals and employees of Jews must do. The Torah addresses slavery, just like it addresses other aspects of life…such as marriage, eating, agriculture and business practices…simply as divine reminders of how Jews should conduct themselves in contrast to their neighbors. The Torah stresses that slaves are to be treated justly…with dignity and respect…and their role is to work to repay their debt — not to be physically and emotionally abused by their owners.
So in this context, there is nothing that is “so wrong” about slavery as described by the Torah. What is wrong is to be so presumptuous as to equate that form of slavery with the monstrosity that occured on these shores as the same thing.
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- punk-to-funk said: Wow, justifying slavery. 1. it is plain that millions of (African) slaves could be described as ‘captives of conquest’ 2. Jewish slavery is ok because slaves get a day off for shabbos? Wow. I’m glad UK Reform Judaism has moved on from this…
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- natashavthompson said: THIS.
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