I know that Abraham had sex with his slave who acted as a surrogate for Sarah and I understand that to have been standard practice (even though God did not intend for his promise to be fulfilled through a slave) but what about simply using the slave woman for sexual favors? Was that within the rights of a Jewish slave owner? I'm not particularly concerned with ANE norms in general (though I suppose that would be interesting and useful) but rather what the Torah provided for or forbade.

  • how are you using the word "slave"?
    – rosends
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 23:50
  • A bondservant (עֶבֶד).
    – Ruminator
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 23:57
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    Oh, because Hagar seems often to be called a shifcha. I'll keep checking.
    – rosends
    Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 0:02
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    I still haven't found where Hagar is called an eved. Do you have a citation?
    – rosends
    Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 0:51
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    Eved & shifcha are the same, aside from the fact that one is male & one is female.
    – Ze'ev
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 16:58

2 Answers 2


The master of a female Hebrew slave has the option to marry her either to himself or to his son (with her consent). If he (or his son) does marry her, it is not his right, but in fact his obligation to have relations with her, since a husband is obligated to have relations with his wife (Exodus 21:10; Maimonides, Laws of Slaves, 4:7-8).

A Jewish slave owner is permitted neither to marry nor to have relations with a non-Jewish slave (Targum to Deuteronomy 23:18; Maimonides, Laws of Forbidden Relations, 12:11).

However, since Abraham lived before this law was given, it would be anachronistic to apply these rules to his relationship with Hagar.

  • 1
    Additionally, Rabbi Hertz points out that the relationship with Hagar was treated as a surrogate for Sarah so that the child (Yishmael) would have been treated as the child of Avraham and Sara. When he was told to send her away so that Yishmael would not be his heir, he had to free her and treat her as (in a sense) divorced. See the essay on the subject in the Hertz chumash. When Yaakov took the two maid servants of Leah and Rachel, he actually married them and their children were his heirs in the same way as the children of Leah and Rachel. Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 1:52
  • You should address whether the female Jewish slave remains in the status of being a slave if the Jewish slave holder marries her. It is also important to address whether the female Jewish slave can be compelled to marry him against her will. Regarding the subject of Avraham, according to many, the Patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaacov, kept all the 613 mitzvot even before they were obligated. So it wouldn't necessarily be anachronistic. Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 14:45
  • @YaacovDeane If you think more information needs to be added, you can edit it in with a source. Your second point is addressed in the words "with her consent" which comes from the given source (4:8)
    – b a
    Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 15:12
  • @ba If you read the Rambam you quote, it says that she is no longer in the status of a female Jewish slave. She is like all other betrothed or later married Jewish women. Rambam emphasizes the comparison of marrying her to that of redeeming her from slavery and says that marriage takes precedent to redemption. So the answer you provide doesn't really address what the OP has asked. Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 15:35
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    @ba Concerning the non-Jewish slave you quote from Laws of Forbidden Relations 12:11, the prohibition there seems to be limited only to a non-Jewish slave who has accepted the seven laws of Noach. And that prohibition is only to the slave holder. His Jewish slave is permitted to have relations with her, like a pilegesh. Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 15:37

I do not answer the clear prohibition of having relations with a Gentile servant - it is answered in the previous answer. I just explain Avraham's behavior the question is based on:

  1. According to our Sages view in the Gemmorah, Abraham had dual qualities as a Gentile and a Jew simultaneously. We use it interchangeably to justify his behavior. So it is completely Halachic to say that he was a gentile and was allowed to reproduce through his servant.

  2. Another excuse we use is that it happened before the Jewish nation was commanded on those laws. So the forefathers kept the Torah "optionally" and could deviate if needed.

  3. Another way to justify Avraham is to claim that Hagar was converted prior to her "marriage" to Avraham - why not?. As we don't see any explicit mentioning of conversion for all of the forefathers, we assume they did it privately.

  4. Interestingly, as the commentators notice that Keturah was Hagar, Avraham took her back after Sarah's death. So it wasn't about sexual flavors at all.


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