Re: Slavery

Hillel E. Markowitz (hem@hrb.com)
Sun, 17 Nov 1996 11:45:41 -0500 (EST)

Akiva Miller in Torah-Forum V2 #82 wrote:
> But there is still a common thread between the two which bothers me very
> much emotionally. And that is the concept of *ownership*.
[...]
> This concept of "ownership" is what distinguishes a slave from an
> employee. How can a person sell himself? Suppose someone is in debt, or
> had stolen and needs to pay it back. Why must he sell himself? Why can't
> he just offer himself as an employee for the same price, same length of
> time, and same conditions of employment? Why is that insufficient, that
> he must also sell his body?

The "ownership" decree can be thought of as a knas (fine) for the lack of
middos (is there a good translation?) [good character, perhaps?] which
leads to someone being able to steal in the first place. Similarly,
offering oneself as a "slave" to a human being is a sign of a lack in the
person. Had the person been able to control himself or to offer himself as
an employee, surely he would have. Note that many of our sages (Hillel
hazakain [the elder] for one) passed the test of poverty. I should also
point out that the thief does not sell himself but is sold by bais din (the
court) as part of the punishment.

It is hoped that the condition of living in a Jewish home under the
influence of a proper master will lead to the thief's rehabilitation.
This rehabilitation cannot be accomplished as an employee as the influence
would be lacking. Consider the difference between the prison chain gang
and someone who takes a job with the state highway department doing the
same tasks. It is not the job itself but the surrounding conditions that
are important.

| Hillel (Sabba) Markowitz | Im ain ani li, mi li? |
| H.E.Markowitz@hrb.com | V'ahavta L'raiecha kamocha |