Mi Yodeya is a question and answer site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Since there was slavery in the Americas between their discovery and 1865, do we know of any Jewish slave-owners there who observed slavery-related laws of Judaism?

share|improve this question
Great question. You are not the first one to have wondered about it. There seems to be little information addressing this question directly, but check out this book, in which it is at least a minor concern of the author to point out that upstanding Jews may have been slave owners under the law in the Western Hemisphere. – WAF Jul 22 '11 at 14:56
Are there specific laws you are wondering about? – Gershon Gold Jul 22 '11 at 15:38
For that matter, I wonder if there were any Christian American slave-owners who explicitly observed the Torah's laws for slavery. – Isaac Moses Jul 22 '11 at 19:11
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was contrary to the Torah (Devarim 23:15-16). – Daniel ben Noach Jul 24 '11 at 7:29
We know that the laws of an Eved Ivri would not apply to African slaves in America. I doubt any slaves went through a half conversion to become an Eved Knani. What's left is a plain slave to whom, IINM, apply only the laws of the state (Dina D'Malchuta). IMHO the question needs to be a bit more focused. – David Perlman Jul 25 '11 at 11:11

From a conversation with Eli Faber (A professor of history at John Jay College in New York and author of Jews, Slaves and the Slave Trade: Setting the Record Straight):

The only thing I have encountered is a description of how, in Jamaica, the Jewish slave owner gave his slaves all of Saturday (Shabbat) as well as Sunday off. This was very significant because in Jamaica (I believe unlike in the eventual US), slaves were permitted to work parcels of land and sell the produce at markets. Accordingly, the slaves of Jews were able to plant more, sell more, and earn more money than those owned by non-Jews, who gave their slaves only half a day off on Saturdays, as well as Sundays. For my reference to this, as well as the source in which I found it, see the book I wrote, "Jews, Slaves, and the Slave Trade: Setting the Record Straight," page 62. Jews in Jamaica thus adhered to the Biblical prescription that slaves, servants, etc., were to be able to rest on Saturdays, too; see the fourth of the Ten Commandments ("Exodus," chapter 20). The owners in Jamaica clearly adhered to this Biblical command---though the slaves reportedly chose to work on Shabbat.

Based on his extensive research into the matter, I think we can conclude that this was the extent that Jewish slave owners observed slave-related commandments in the Americas.

share|improve this answer
I wonder if this qualifies as a slave law or a Sabbath law. – user6591 Oct 2 '15 at 15:08

My rav says he heard (can't remember from where) that many of the black Jews in B"SD America are descended from manumitted 'avdei kena'anim. I think there was a Moroccan Jew by the name of Lewi (Levy?) who lived in the southern part of the USA then & they may be his freed slaves (there were Jewish slave owners in N. Carolina as well). These dinim are from M. Yevamoth. Jews are NOT allowed to own stam slaves. A gentile slave can have a trial period w/a potential Jewish owner for 30 days, but he must then decide if he wants to leave his gentile master & convert into a kena'ani slave who will then be obligated in the same dinim that Jewish women are obligated (kashruth, shabbath, etc.). If he opts in, his giyur is done in such a way that he will not be able to speak just before, during & after his immersion so that he doesn't announce that his giyur is not for 'avduth, but for complete Yahaduth (in such a case, he'd be a full geir & NOT a slave, but he'd OWE his value as a slave to his former master & there is such an incident as that in M. Yevamoth in Bavel). A 'evedh kena'ani's slavery is a tiqun for him. R. Eli'ezer holds for giyur in general MILAH is enough. If a gentile wished to convert, performed milah, but DIED before his immersion, then he's buried in a Jewish cemetery. Who, then, is more "Jewish?" Such a man or an 'evedh kena'ani (who we say is NOT exactly Jewish!)?

share|improve this answer
Welcome to the site. Answers should generally be sourced. Otherwise they can be presented as comments. Once you have 50 rep. points you will be able to comment. – mevaqesh Oct 3 '15 at 0:50

Slavery related laws that I'm aware of, refer to Jewish slaves.

There are two types of slavery regarding Jewish slaves. One is when one kidnaps a person and enslaves him. I just happened to read in this week's parsha Ki Seitzei 24:7 "If a man is found kidnaping a person of his brethren among the children of Israel, and he enslaves him and sells him, that kidnaper shall die, and you shall remove the evil from your midst."

The other is in Parshat Mishpatim when a man is in debt and pays off the debt through slavery. That is where all the slavery laws I know of are listed. Regarding how to treat him, how and when to release him etc. Does not have relevance to slavery in Americas.

share|improve this answer
the Torah says if a slave runs away You are NOT to return him to his owners – Chalutzhanal Sep 11 '11 at 23:58
when the original questioner asked about slavery-related laws, i'm assuming he meant releasing after 6 years, giving him a pillow, letting him marry etc... jewish slaves... i don't recall what youre saying being in the Torah. Which parsha is that in? Is it referring to an Eved Ivri? or non jewish slaves? – shoshana Sep 13 '11 at 23:43
It's true that there are fewer laws in the Torah about non-Jewish slaves, but they're there; they include Ex. 21:20-21 (capital punishment for beating one's slave to death), 21:26-27 (the slave goes free if his master knocks out his eye or tooth - halachah explains that this also includes various other body parts), and the one that Chalutzhanal is referring to, which is in Deut. 23:16-17. Aside from all of these, there is the halachic requirement to have one's non-Jewish slave undergo a quasi-conversion and accept some of the mitzvos (see David Perlman's comment on the question). – Alex Sep 14 '11 at 2:22

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.