Shabbat Parashat R'ei | 5770
Parashat Hashavuah: “Also for Your Maid-Servant” – Could it Be?Harav Yosef Carmel
The Torah, after teaching the law of a Jewish servant who wants to stay on after the six-year stint and needs his ear pierced, says: “… and also for your maid-servant (amah)shall you do so” (Devarim 15:16-17). This is hard to take at face value, for the Torah speaks in several contexts against the overuse of the institution of a Jewish maid-servant. Don’t we remember what Pirkei Avot (2:7) teaches, that one who increases the number of maid-servants increases promiscuity and that Hashem reacts particularly negatively to promiscuity (Sanhedrin 106a)? In truth, the laws of the Jewish amah transmit the message that the Torah tried to limit the practice as much as possible and worked to keep abuses in check. We will mention some of these laws:
1. A father is not allowed to sell his daughter as an amah unless he is totally out of resources. If in the meantime, he acquires resources, he is to redeem her right away.
2. Her sale cannot be done or last beyond the time she is old enough to marry.
3. She goes free after six years or when the yovel comes, whichever is earlier.
4. The owner may not sell her to anyone (if he does, she goes free). She is acquired by inheritance by his descendants.
5. There is a mitzva for the owner to take her as a wife for him or his son, which can only be done with her acquiescence.
6. One who cannot take her as a wife cannot take her as an amah.
7. One cannot take two such women as wives.
8. If she is taken as a wife, the former amah receives the status and privileges of a normal wife.
Therefore, the pasuk we began with cannot be understood according to the simple meaning. Rather, the gemara in Kiddushin explains, it refers to the previous concept of a slave receiving parting gifts upon being freed, that the maid-servant is also entitled to such gifts. Interestingly, this is the model for the modern Jewish practice of severance pay. In any case, the whole institution of the Jewish amah is just to save the daughter of a destitute family from hunger. This is a better option than what we hear in the media about Jewish girls “selling their bodies” in other ways for a falafel to avoid hunger. It is the responsibility of the State of Israel to find more proper alternatives, as we are not going back to that of amah, which no longer exists in our time. We hope that the Chief Rabbinate will be at the forefront of the struggle to save the children of destitute families.
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