Having used the word “for a slave” to teach that a father may not stipulate that his daughter not be designated, R. Meir needs a source for allowing the father to designate her to those unfit for her. This is a halakhah agreed to by all. To do this, R. Meir can use the verse that R. Eliezer used, “if she is found not pleasing to her master [so that he has not designated her].” And when it comes to relatives, he can agree with the sages that the father may not sell her to relatives.
The Talmud continues to discuss whether a father can sell his daughter to his relatives.
The baraitot both agree that a father may not sell his daughter to his son (I can just imagine how this would play out in my family!). But one baraita says he may sell her to his father.
At the end of last week’s daf we saw a dispute between the rabbis and R. Eliezer—the former hold that he may not sell her to his relative, while the latter holds that he may. So the second baraita agrees with the rabbis, but with whom does the first baraita, the one that distinguishes between the father and the son, agree?
The baraita that allows a man to sell her to his father can even agree with the rabbis who do not allow her to be sold to relatives. If a man sells his daughter to his father, the father can designate her to his other son, who is her uncle. Uncle-niece marriage is allowed according to Jewish law. Thus he may sell her to his father because designation is possible. This would not be true when it comes to selling her to his son, because she is not allowed to marry her nephew.
The Torah states, “If he came in ‘begapo”, he shall leave ‘begapo’; if he had a wife, his wife shall leave with him.”
What does the word “begapo” mean?
There are two positions here as to the meaning of “be-gapo.” But even these interpretations are difficult to understand. The Talmud will explain them as we proceed.
The first opinion in the baraita read “begapo” is if it said “begufo” (the Hebrew letters are the same. But what does this mean?
Rava interprets it to mean that if his master strikes him and he loses a limb, he does not go free as does a non-Jewish slave.
Abaye finds another place to derive the law that a Jewish slave does not go out with loss of major limb. The Torah explicitly states that a female Jewish slave does not go out “as slaves do” and this can be interpreted to refer to the law that a non-Jewish slaves go out at loss of major limb.
If the Torah had only stated that he does not go out as do Canaanite slaves, I might have thought that when it comes to Jewish slaves, if the master causes a loss of limb the master must pay for the loss and then he goes free. This would be different from a Canaanite slave who simply goes free without compensation.
R. Nahman b. Yitzchak interprets R. Eliezer’s opinion to mean as follows: If he came in without a wife, the master cannot force him to take a wife (“if he came in single, he goes out single”). But if he came in with a wife, the master can force him to take another wife.
I should note that the “pshat” of the verse is almost certainly that if the slave came in unmarried, he goes out unmarried, and if he came in married, his wife and children go out with him. But this is a hard verse for the rabbis to countenance for it is too obvious. If he came in single, why would he go out anything but single? He has no wife! And if he came in married with his kids, of course his kids and wife go out with him! They were not bought as slaves. Therefore, the rabbis have to find alternative meanings for this verse.
Today’s section deals with the slave buying his own freedom (or someone else redeeming him). The idea is simple—if he is sold for 240 dollars, that’s 40 dollars a year. So if he is redeemed after two, he needs to pay back 160 dollars. But what if his value changes? If it goes up, does he pay more? If it goes down, does he pay less?
If his value goes up, when he redeems himself he need only take into account his purchase price.
If his value goes down, he can redeem himself at the lower value. Note that the rabbis are clearly rigging the game in favor of the slaves.
Leviticus 25:51-52 refers to a Jew sold to a non-Jew. Such a Jew may be redeemed by his relatives. But how do we know that the same is true of a Jew being sold to another Jew who comes to redeem himself? The answer is our old favorite word comparison (I’m hoping you still remember this one). The Torah uses the word “sakhir” in this context, and in Leviticus 25:40, in the context of a Jew being sold to another Jew. This allows for the transference of halakhot from one context to the other.
In yesterday’s sugya we saw that a midrash was lenient with regard to redeeming a Jewish slave—if his value goes up, he is redeemed at the original lower value. If his value goes down, he is redeemed at the new, lower value. But we could have read the verses in the exact opposite way, to the master’s advantage. So why read them so tendentiously?
Abaye is walking down the streets feeling like a great scholar, in the grand old city of Tiberias, when some rabbis come up to him with the question I presented above.
Abaye responds that the Torah is lenient with the Hebrew slave. And if the Torah is lenient when it comes to the slave’s comforts, it clearly wishes us to be lenient when it comes to his redemption. Therefore he is always redeemed for the lower amount.
The other rabbis push back, and note that we could use another baraita to prove that we should rule stringently against one who sells himself into slavery. This baraita describes a long chain of events set into motion by a person who “sells sabbatical produce.” This is relatively small transgression, but nevertheless, it can lead to financial ruin. The baraita is based on the juxtaposition of verses. First the laws of the sabbatical year, and then laws describing a person selling his property. Later we will get to the context of selling oneself into slavery.
This is a small digression in the baraita. The Talmud picks up on the different language in describing his repeated sin. They explain it as referring to a concept that once a person becomes accustomed to sin, he will continue to do so as if the act was permitted. Now that he has begun down the path of selling sabbatical year produce, he will continue to do so.
This next stage, having to sell one’s daughter, is from elsewhere in the Torah. So what is it doing here? The Talmud says that it is here to teach that it is better to sell one’s daughter than borrow with interest. In our minds, this probably sounds quite exaggerated, but borrowing money at very high interest rates, which was certainly the case in the pre-modern world, could easily lead to financial ruin. Selling one’s daughter can always be fixed by buying her back. Once one is in debt to a loan shark, the interest compounds and there is nothing one will be able to do to get out of debt.
The next thing he will have to do is borrow with interest, which is a dangerous endeavor.
Ultimately, he will come to sell himself off to idolatry itself. The midrash here expounds on some of the superfluity in Leviticus 25:47 reading into it three categories—a convert, a righteous non-Jew, a non-Jew, and then adding in even to be a slave for a Temple.
This is the end of the midrash. The question therefore has been asked—why is the law lenient when it comes to the redemption price when we can see that someone who sells himself into slavery must have, at one point, committed the serious sin of violating the Sabbatical year.