Rambam provides the different ways how a Jew could purchase a Canaanite slave.

He may be acquired through the transfer of money, the transfer of a deed of purchase, the manifestation of one's ownership, a kinyan chalifin or by drawing him after oneself.

It sounds like he is already a Canaanite slave and you are purchasing him. But how does he initially become a Canaanite slave? Or is this referring to a transaction between the Canaanite and the Jew in which the Canaanite is selling himself to the jew?

  • Presumably, some slaves could also have been sold by other gentiles to Jews. How did gentiles acquire slaves? Some were kidnapped, some were prisoners of war, some had to pay off debt.
    – Harel13
    Jun 1, 2020 at 18:44

2 Answers 2


The Rambam is referring to both points. You can acquire a slave- i.e. someone who is already a slave- by purchasing them etc. Or can you can acquire a slave- i.e. a free non-jew who is becoming a slave- by purchasing them etc. The term "acquiring" refers to both aspects.

FWIW, I heard from a dayan that this is still relevant nowadays.

There's a big problem of how mamzerim can become married practically.

Besides the prohibition against marrying a "regular" jew, even with those jews with whom a mamzer may marry (another mamzer, a convert tc.) the children will still remain mamzerim.

The solution to "purify" mamzerim- let them marry a shifcha canaanis (female slave) which is permissible for a mamzer. The children born are considered avadim, (non-Jewish) slaves, not mamzerim. Then the father can convert his children, and they are regular converted jews- not mamzerim.

The dayan told me that contemporary poskim will use this leniency even today. They will approach a non-Jewish woman who wishes to convert and offer her to become a shifcha instead, for the purpose of marrying a mamzer to "purify" his lineage. (A shifcha has the same halachic responsibilities as a Jewish woman would anyway.)

Then, any children born are converted. After the woman is beyond child-bearing age, she converts at that point. The whole thing is kept a secret; no one realizes that the "convert" was actually a non-Jewish shifcha the whole time!

The dayan mentioned that there's a machlokes between gedolim (he mentioned Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Moshe Feinstein, the Satmar Rav and "others") about how to create the "shifcha" status. The issue is- since nowadays in Western society slavery is outlawed, there is no way to actually "buy" a slave since the sale would be void.

According to some poskim the couple would need to travel to a country which actually allows slavery (like many African or S.E. Asian countries) and live there. Others held it was enough for the marriage to take place in that foreign country, and then afterwards return to the US (or other western country without slavery). (Even though the sale becomes void when they return to the US, once the sale was valid the woman became a "slave." Even though the US will negate his ownership of her, she still remains halachically a slave.)

Apparently today, it's done by entering the Embassy of such a country. Since it's under foreign jurisdiction that's considered enough.

All this I heard from a dayan in a talk. I unfortunately was unable to ask him for sources, though he mentioned that the poskim discuss it in their teshuvos.


I believe that you quoted the answer yourself.

"...manifestation of one's ownership"

When person loses he's\she's freedom and becomes a property of other person, that's when the owner 'manifest his ownership' and the subject turns into a slave.

  • Theoretically then could I walk up behind a Canaanite chloroform them, stick them in the trunk of my wagon, drag them off to my plantation and if I could force them to work they legally become my property?
    – mroll
    Jun 1, 2020 at 14:56
  • @mroll Theoretically? Read the Tora, parashat Ki-Teze. What do you think happens to the women in the captivity that are not taken to be Eshet Yefat Toar? How do you think people become slaves? They volunteer? Jun 1, 2020 at 17:30
  • @mroll That would more likely be only by Jewish law, not secular law.
    – Dani
    Jun 1, 2020 at 20:56
  • @AlaychemRememberMonica I was thinking that was in the context of war.
    – mroll
    Jun 2, 2020 at 0:29
  • @Dani Jews had slaves long after exile, probably from gentile slave traders, and there is no rule that says you should do a background check on your slave. Jun 2, 2020 at 6:28

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .