Eved Kenaani

February 5, 2014

The Eved Kenaani – the non-Jewish Servant of a Jew – must become a member of the Jewish People. A male must be circumcised, and males and females must be immersed in a Mikvah. The Non-Jewish male servant is obligated in the same Positive Torah Commands as is the Jewish woman; namely, the non-time-dependent ones and in all of the Negative Torah Commands, including the Prohibition of working on Shabbat; thus he and she enjoy a built-in weekly “day off.”

In some respects, he is treated as chattel. For example, he is passed in inheritance from father to son. There is a mechanism for release of the “Eved Canaani,” but in general, Judaism is not enthusiastic about the release of “Avadim,” except in cases where a “Mitzvah” is involved, such as obtaining a quorum for prayer. The Torah speaks in praise of the Non-Jewish servant of Avraham, Eliezer (though Avraham lived before Har Sinai and the birth of the Jewish People), who was the trusted care-taker of the master’s estate, was entrusted to find a mate for Yitzchak and who fought with Avraham in the War of the Kings (Bereshis 14:14-15). And the Talmud speaks highly of Tevi, the Non-Jewish servant of Rabban Gamliel, described by his master in the Mishnah in Berachot 16b as “kasher,” upright, and of righteous and even scholarly maidservants. But the basic outlook of the Torah that the accumulation of servants should be minimized, because of the inevitable consequences, is expressed by Hillel, in Pirkei Avot 2:8, “…He who accumulates maidservants, the more lewdness, the more manservants, the more thievery…”

As mentioned in the general comments on Slavery in Judaism, the Jewish master is permitted to work his “Eved Kenaani,” or non-Jewish servant by having him perform “avodat parech,” abusive work practices. However, the Rambam (Hilchot Avadim” 9:8) says “…BUT, even though the Law prescribes that, the Attributes of Kindness and the Pathways of Wisdom require that a person be merciful and pursue righteousness and not make his yoke heavy upon his servant, and he should not cause him pain, and that he should feed him and give him to drink from every kind of food and drink …”

“Does not Scripture say, ‘…as the eyes of servants are turned towards their masters and the eyes of the handmaidens towards their mistresses.’ And similarly, he should not humiliate him by striking him with his hand or by words of the mouth. Scripture has assigned these individuals to servitude, but not to humiliation. Neither should he shout at him nor should he be excessively angry; rather he should speak with him with a mild voice and listen to their complaints. And so it is demonstrated in Iyov’s good ways in which he prided himself, ‘If I would reject the judgment of my servants and my handmaidens, in their complaints against me’ (Iyov 31:13), ‘Did my Creator not also Create them, and we all entered the world through the womb.’ (Iyov 31:15)”

“Cruelty and mean-spiritedness can be found only among star worshippers and those who serve idols, but the Seed of Avraham our Father, the People of Israel, whom the Holy One, Blessed is He, favored with the Goodness of the Torah, and commanded them Righteous Decrees and Laws, are merciful to all. And so it is with the Attributes of the Holy One, Blessed is He, Whom we were commanded to emulate, it says, ‘and His Mercies are upon all that He created…’ ”