Why throughout Judaism (starting from Parashat Mishpotim - Shemos 21:2 a Jewish slave is called Eved Ivri כִּי תִקְנֶה עֶבֶד עִבְרִי?

Why does it not call him an Eved Yisroeli, instead? The last mentioning of this term was before the Exodus ("אלקי העברים שלחני") and after Exodus the Jews are called exclusively Bney Isroel.

closed as not a real question by Isaac Moses, msh210 Feb 7 '13 at 21:26

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    Why should he be called an Eved Yisroel? – Isaac Moses Feb 7 '13 at 18:07
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    You could improve this question by citing where the phrase "Eved Ivri" comes up and explaining why you feel that a different term would make more sense. – Isaac Moses Feb 7 '13 at 18:09
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    Well, first of all, 'Eved Yisrael would be "slave of an Israelite", not an "Israelite slave". Second, what is the motivation behind this question? – Seth J Feb 7 '13 at 19:03
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    @GershonGold Questions about erections, time zones, lulavs, brachot, money, technology can all have more upvotes if they are phrased as good questions for our format, which is not every question ever. An exact formulation of what kinds of questions are ideal is still being worked out on MSO (here), but questions are generally expected to include motivation for asking. Since this was intended as a self-answer, see this post for more about the potential pitfalls of such questions. – Double AA Feb 7 '13 at 19:41
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    Just a thought...alliteration? – Seth J Feb 7 '13 at 19:46

See אמת ליעקב by Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky who explains that this has to do with the teachings Yeshiva of Ever (Eber) whose students were unaffiliated by family or origin, only by their actions and beliefs, like a slave who is unaffiliated in his low stature. The term Yisroel denotes an exalted person and all people who bear that name are related by affiliation to the Jewish people. I'm not doing his words justice, see it inside...


Around the time of the Exodus, the Jewish people were known as "Hebrews", certainly as individuals. (Take a look at some Ellis Island records and you'll see a lot of people listing their nationality as "Hebrew, Polish"). As a whole they become known as "Bnai Yisrael." Similarly, Joseph is described as a Hebrew, and Jonah introduces himself as such as well.

It's several hundred years later, when the southern kingdom of Judea is the remaining one, that individual Jews become known as "Yehudim", technically "Judeans." Thus Mordechai in the Megillah is a "Yehudi", generic for "Jew" (as we say in English today, "Juda-ism"), though his actual tribe of ancestry was Benjamin.

The term "Yisrael" to refer to an individual Jew -- "he is a Yisrael" -- much later, Talmudic terminology.

  • See though Vayikra 24:10 – Double AA Feb 7 '13 at 18:21
  • Hmmm perhaps also Shmuel II 17:25 – Double AA Feb 7 '13 at 18:31
  • Also, Shifrah and Puah are the "מילדות העבריות". (Shemos 1:15) – jake Feb 8 '13 at 1:04

Ohr HaChaim HaKodosh explains that since the word Ivri is from the root עבר meaning 'to pass', and a Eved Ivri only remains an Eved for 6 years, therefore he is called Eved Ivri.

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    If you accept your own answer on this, I think @DoubleAA might lose it. Could be fun to watch. ;-) – Seth J Feb 7 '13 at 19:05
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    @SethJ Me or the three others who upvoted my above comment? The answer isn't bad, it's more the question that's the problem. – Double AA Feb 7 '13 at 19:20
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    @DoubleAA, i was one of the 3. – Seth J Feb 7 '13 at 19:37

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