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Shulchan-Aruch

Part II: Yoreh De'ah

Chapter 21 - SLAVES AND PROSELYTES

Jews may have Jews as indentured servants and may subjugate Jews who behave illegally, but may not own Jews as slaves (see 267:14-16); however, they may acquire non-Jews (of both sexes) as slaves (see 267:17-18). A slave is acquired by payment, by exchange, by bill of sale, by being made to do personal work, or by being led (267:23-25). A slave is freed by payment (267:26); by written bill of manumission (267:41-44); or if intentionally and permanently injured by his owner (see 267:27-40). A bill of manumission is required when a slave is freed because of injury or for a slave whose owner has abandoned him or has indicated a desire to free him; see 263:40,64-67,69-78. Bills of manumission are similar to bills of divorce in many respects; see 267:45-54. On other laws involving bills of manumission see 267:55-59. Freeing a slave is irreversible (see 267:78) and invalidates any liens on him (see 267:68). On methods of partly freeing a slave see 267:60-63; since such a slave is not allowed to marry either a female slave or a free woman, the court can compel his owner to free him entirely.

A woman may own female slaves but should not own male slaves (267:19). It is forbidden to free a slave without a good reason; see 267:79. A slave who is sold to a non-Jew must be freed; see 267:80-81. On taking a slave into or out of the land of Israel see 267:82-84; an escaped slave who flees to the land of Israel must be freed (267:85). Everything acquired by a slave belongs to his owner; see 267:21-22. It is proper for an owner not to treat a slave harshly even though he is legally allowed to do so; see 267:17,20.

An adult non-Jewish slave purchased by a Jew should immediately be given the option of converting; see 267:3-5,11. This conversion remains valid even if he is resold to a non-Jew (267:8), but it does not make him a full-fledged proselyte (see 267:9-10), and if he is later freed he requires an additional immersion (267:7). A minor non-Jewish slave should be converted as soon as he is purchased (see 267:6), but a child born to a converted slave mother does not require conversion (see 267:1-2). On circumcision of slaves see 267:1-2,12-13. A converted slave must observe all the commandments that women observe (267:17).

A non-Jew who wishes to become a proselyte requires circumcision (if he is male) and immersion (268:1). He must be taught about (and accept) the basic principles of Judaism, the punishments for violating the commandments and the rewards for observing them (268:2), and he should be questioned about his motives for becoming Jewish (268:12). These things should be done in the presence of three qualified judges, on a weekday in the daytime (268:3-4, 12). On circumcision of proselytes see 268:5,9. If a pregnant woman becomes a proselyte her child does not require conversion (268:6). A minor may be converted at the request of a parent or by direction of the court, but if he objects when he becomes an adult and has not observed the commandments his conversion is invalid (268:7-8). On a person who claims to have converted see 268:10-11. A repentant apostate should attest to his return to Judaism in the presence of a court and should be immersed (268:12).

The sages forbid proselytes to marry (or remain married to) close relatives on the mother's side (see 269:1-8), but they are not regarded as related for other legal purposes (269:10;374:5). A married couple who convert may separate without the need for divorce, but if they remain married they must abstain from relations for three months so it can be determined whether any children were conceived before or after they converted (269:9). A person may not serve as a judge unless one of his parents was Jewish; see 269:11.

Shulchan Aruch, Copyright (c) 2000 ProjectGenesis, Inc.

 

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