To my understanding it is a commandment of God that those who live among jews observe Shabbat. Historically, slaves owned by jews must have lived among them. Does Gods commandment apply to slaves, if so - was the commandment observed/practiced?

I have become curious about Jewish slave ownership in part because of the centrality of the exodus story to contemporary jewish belief. Discovering that Jews owned slaves has been quite puzzling to me considering I have eaten many passover dinners growing up with Orthodox Jewish grandparents. I am having difficulty understanding how a jew could observe passover celebrating freedom from slavery on Seder night, while at the same time legalize the ownership of slaves, would someone please explain the difference.

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    You seem confused about the message of Passover. It's not "slavery is bad". Passover celebrates the Jews being chosen by God to serve Him. (Lots of people don't know this but Moses never actually says "let my people go free"; he says many times "let my people go serve God".)
    – Double AA
    Jul 21, 2019 at 1:37
  • I’m very saddened by this interpretation if true. Kind of ruins the whole being jewish thing for me.
    – Nephilim
    Jul 21, 2019 at 1:41
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    Did you think being jewish was just about opposing slavery? Judaism still opposes mistreating slaves fwiw.
    – Double AA
    Jul 21, 2019 at 1:48
  • @DoubleAA That there is a whole month where all followers are instructed to ritually reenact the deliverance of their people from oppressive slavery (enleavened bread etc.) I thought the position was closer to “slavery is bad”, than “slavery is great, as long as your enslaving others and not enslaved yourselves.” Somewhat disappointing, no?
    – Nephilim
    Jul 21, 2019 at 1:57
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    To be clear there's a week where we ritually enact our transference from slavery under Pharaoh to becoming honored slaves of God. And you've presented a false dichotomy. The position is more like slavery exists and don't be a jerk. And it's not just others; Jews can enslave other Jews (called "eved ivri"). As usual, Judaism is more nuanced than simplistic moral platitudes. Kind of like how real life is.
    – Double AA
    Jul 21, 2019 at 2:02

2 Answers 2


A Canaanite slave (who's mother is Canaanite and father is foreign) is obligated in all negative Mitzvot which includes keeping Shabbos just like a Jewish woman (and some positive Mitzvot including Kiddush Bentching eating matza and Korban Pesach). He cannot become a slave to a Jew unless he fully accepts the Mitzvot and has to do Mila (circumsision) voluntarily and Tevila (immersion for the sake of servitude) Yevamos 48a

The Rabeinu Bacheye (13th Century kabbalist) in Exodos 21,26 explains that the Canaanite slave is a Tikkun (spiritual rectification) for the soul of the Canaanite forefather Cham who acted immorally with his father Noach and was cursed to be enslaved by others. This is the Kabalistic meaning why a Kenaanite slave goes free when his eye or tooth gets knocked out, since Cham sinned by seeing his father's nakedness, and by speaking using his teeth to his brothers about the act which he had done with his father, when the tooth or eye gets knocked out he has atoned for the sin of Cham and may go free.

וכי יכה איש את עין עבדו. מצות התורה בעבד כנעני שיצא בשן ועין, והטעם בזה מפני שלא נשתעבדו אלא בשן ועין, שנאמר (בראשית ט) וירא חם אבי כנען את ערות אביו ויגד לשני אחיו בחוץ, ראה בעיניו והגיד בפיו ונתקלל על זה ארור כנען עבד עבדים יהיה לאחיו וכיון שלקו האברים החוטאים נפטר הגוף מעונש עבדות.

So in answer to your question there is no forced subjugation as the slave has to accept Judaism otherwise cannot be a Slave. The reason why someone would do this is because of the spiritual need to Rectify his soul by accepting the Mitzvos (commandments)of G-d and realising that he can atone for his previous incarnation's sins and ultimately become a servant of G-d just like Eliezer Avraham's servant (a decendant of Cham) who was eventually freed and enterred Gan Eden alive (Derech Eretz zuta 1,5).


Both Hebrew and non-Jewish slaves must observe Shabbos:

The Hebrew slave is not actually a slave, he's a full-time day and night employee lodging by his master for 6 years or till the Jubilee year (Exodos 21, 2-11), so he's obligated in all Mitzvos including 3 daily prayers and keeping Shabbos.

Non-Jewish slaves are considered an "extension" of their Master's souls and are obligated to keep Shabbos as the verse says (Exodus 20,10):

וְיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבָּת לַה"א לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה כָל מְלָאכָה
אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ וּבִתֶּךָ עַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתְךָ וּבְהֶמְתֶּךָ וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ.

"but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God: you shall not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements. "

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    "an 'extension' of their Master's souls": I've no idea what this means. Can you explain and source this claim?
    – msh210
    Jul 20, 2019 at 23:24
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    The quote of Exodus 20 10 is on point, though.
    – Ilja
    Jul 21, 2019 at 16:19

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