Friday, April 11, 2014

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Exodus 21:1-11 etc.

Your assignment was to read Exodus 21:1-11, Leviticus 25:39-40, and Deuteronomy 15:12-18
The Exodus portion starts like this.
When you buy a Hebrew bondsman six years he shall serve and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.
If he came in single he shall go out single, if he was married his wife goes out with him.
If his master gives him a wife and she bears sons or daughters to him [the servant], her children shall belong to her master and he will go out single.
If the servant absolutely declares I love my master and my wife and my children, I will not go out free
His master shall cause him to approach Gd and the door or the doorposts and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl and he shall serve him forever.
What they say is that when a man becomes poor, he can bond himself out.  In fact, it also says that when you know somebody is poor and he offers to bond himself, you have to buy the bond.
A bond was an exclusive services contract.  The bondsman couldn’t work for anybody except the bondholder.  But the bond couldn’t last more than six years unless the bondsman explicitly refused to let the bondholder cancel the contract.  And even then it had to end in the yovel, which happened every 50th year.  If you bought somebody’s bond in year 46 of the yovel, it could only last 3 years even if the work provided wasn’t the same value as the bond.  That’s in the verses from Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
But somebody had to buy the bond so that the poor man could live through the next three years instead of dying of want.  That’s in the verses from Leviticus.
The next clue is that the services provided could not be menial.  They had to be substantial and contribute in a meaningful way toward paying off the bond. 
The family tie was inviolable.  The wife still belonged with her husband, even if he was under bond.  Also, since the bondsman couldn’t work for anybody else, the bondholder had to support not only him, but also his wife and children.  That’s implied by the verses from Leviticus.
Next, a married man might be given a non-Jewish concubine – yeah, right, I can really see his wife allowing that! – but not a non-married man.  This was to prevent the chance that he would decide not to let the bond expire, which is discussed in the verses from Exodus and Deuteronomy.
These are more Jewish laws that the slaveholders in America ignored.  They didn’t free people after 6 years, or even after 50 years.  They violated the marriage bond.  If they hired out their slaves, the money didn’t count toward freeing the slave, which Jewish law requires.
Next week we’re going back to the subject of battery to finish it off, so look at Exodus 21:20-21, which I skipped over before, because here is where that rubber meets the road, and then 26-27 in the same chapter.  Also read Leviticus 25:42-46.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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