I'm trying to compare the status and duties of a Hebrew slave that sells himself to slavery versus a man that agrees to work for 7 years (שכיר שבוע), as in B"M 9,11: "שְׂכִיר שַׁבָּת, שְׂכִיר חֹדֶשׁ, שְׂכִיר שָׁנָה, שְׂכִיר שָׁבוּעַ, יָצָא בַיּוֹם, גּוֹבֶה כָל הַיּוֹם".

Here are some points of similarity:

  1. They both don't work on Shabbos and Yom Tov
  2. They both own their property, and their body is not their master's property
  3. While at work (practically for all the time) their profits (incl. lost and found) belong to the master
  4. They stay married with kids
  5. They stay obligated in all Mitzvos
  6. All negative commandments toward one's fellow Jew hold for both (Ona'a, beating etc)
  7. The master pays money to both

Here are some points of differences:

  1. Master pays in advance vs after the work
  2. Master can't force him to do a disregarding job, one that will "reveal his slavery"
  3. Master has to equal his conditions to his own
  4. Master is obligated to pay him some extra on freeing, and some more.

The last list in comparison to the first does not justify, in my opinion, the "essence of slavery" - to call this Jew a slave, especially in comparison to a real slave - Eved Knaani, whose body is his master's property!

As usual, unfortunately, I couldn't find an official definition of a "slave" - what qualities make one a Hebrew slave. Hence the question: why a Hebrew slave is called really a "slave" and not, for example, a persistent/diligent/enduring employee?

  • Because that's how someone translated it?
    – msh210
    Feb 4, 2019 at 17:55
  • @msh210 In Hebrew it's still עבד. Why? What exactly (what qualities) make him an עבד?
    – Al Berko
    Feb 4, 2019 at 17:56
  • 3
    IMSMC an eved is actually owned and cannot back out of his commitment without paying his way out, whereas a worker can back out at any time.
    – Loewian
    Feb 4, 2019 at 17:58
  • 3
    A slave can not leave without the master's permission. In our modern world, there are many examples of people called employees who are actually slaves. Including situations where the more you work, the more in debt you are to your employer, and you can't leave until your debt is paid, which is impossible (see the history of coal mining in America).
    – Cyn
    Feb 4, 2019 at 18:05
  • 1
    5. what @Cyn said 6. his master can make him marry a non-Jewish slave
    – Heshy
    Feb 4, 2019 at 18:26

1 Answer 1


One major point of distinction between a hired worker and an eved ivri is that the worker has the right to simply walk away, which the eved does not (without first purchasing is freedom from his master).

In Bava Metzi’a 10a we find Rav’s rule that a hired worker is allowed to renege on his contract, even part way through the agreed working day.

Rav Nachman there explains that while the worker is still working for the employer, his hand is viewed as an extension of the hand of the employer, to the extent that any ownerless item the worker picks up belongs to the employer. Note that the same rule applies to an eved ivri.

However, says Rav Nachman, because the worker is not a slave, he has the right to unilaterally walk out of the arrangement, at which point he ceases to be viewed as an extension of the employer.

Thus, one major point of distinction between a hired worker and an eved ivri is that the worker has the right to simply walk away, which the eved does not (without first purchasing is freedom from his master).

  • Thank you, but what happens if the HS just walks away? As his body is his, the master can't force him to stay, what then? I would V your answer, but I just don't understand this "walk away" part.
    – Al Berko
    Feb 4, 2019 at 20:15
  • I’m not sure. That’s an interesting point. Maybe ask it as a new question...
    – Joel K
    Feb 4, 2019 at 21:00
  • @AlBerko why wouldn't it be the same thing that happens if he drives away in his master's car? He owes his master work and the beis din can make him do it, just like they can make him give the car back.
    – Heshy
    Feb 4, 2019 at 21:06
  • @Heshy corporal punishment for monetary debt, you mean?
    – Al Berko
    Feb 4, 2019 at 22:12

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