The Gemmorah links the Hebrew slavery to the [idea of] Yovel (Gitin 65, Kidushin 69, Erchin 29, Rambam Avadim 1, 10):

"אין אמה העבריה נוהגת ולא עבד עברי נוהג אלא בזמן שהיובל נוהג.
בין עבד עברי שמוכר עצמו בין זה שמכרוהו בית דין. "

Yovel itself is the 50th year from the beginning of counting (Rambam Yovel 10,2):

"ומאימתי התחילו למנות. מאחר ארבע עשרה שנה משנכנסו לארץ"

The first question - did slavery start on the first year of the Yovel, when they decided on keeping Yovlot, or after the last year when they actually performed the Mitzvah of Yovel and counted it once?

The Yovlot ended with the destruction of the first temple, which was on the 36th year of the cycle:

"שבעה עשר יובלים מנו ישראל משנכנסו לארץ ועד שיצאו. ושנה שיצאו בה שחרב הבית בראשונה מוצאי שביעית היתה ושנת שש ושלשים ביובל היתה."

The second question - how exactly slavery ended relative to Yovlot? Was there a Rabbinical decree of cancelation of Yovlot? Once they left Israel on their way to Babylon?

The third question - what happened to the existing slaves - were they automatically freed or stayed forever?

1 Answer 1


In answer to your first question, the Torah had decreed a term of six years for anyone who became a slave. Thus if someone stole and became a slave or became that impoverished in the first fifty years after the conquest, then the first yovel would have freed those who had become slaves during the previous six years. However, the whole point is that someone would not become a slave unless he had been forced off of his ancestral land. The yovel would return the land to him so he would no longer be poor enough to become a slave. I doubt that this loss of ancestral land would have occurred so soon.

To answer your second question:

Ever since the tribes of Reuven and Gad were exiled from their land. Rashi says on Yeshayahu 8:23 that they were exiled in the twelfth year of Ahaz. Ahaz started his reign in the year 3190 Twelve years later would be 3202. The first temple was destroyed in the year 3338 one hundred twenty eight years after that exile.

Your third question would be answered as follows:

Theoretically, without a yovel, every slave would have to serve a full six year term. The torah explicitly decrees that no eved Ivri can serve more than six years. However, we learn that the people had kept slaves past the correct term as we see in Yirmiyahu 34:8 - 11


after King Zedekiah had made a covenant: In the seventh year of his reign. So we learned it in Seder Olam (ch. 26): “And it came to pass in the seventh year… men came of the elders of Judah (sic) to inquire of the Lord” (Ezekiel 20:1). They said to Ezekiel, ‘The slave of a priest whom his owner sold what is the ruling regarding whether he may eat of the priest’s due?’ That is to say, because they wanted to say that they should not be punished for infracting the commandment by returning the slaves.

The pesukim then continue that the people then kidnapped their former slaves and re-enslaved them.

That every man should let his manservant and every man his maidservant, a Jew and a Jewess go free, that none should hold his Jewish brother as a slave.

Now all the princes and all the people who had entered into the covenant hearkened that every one should let his manservant and everyone his maidservant go free, no longer holding them in slavery; then they obeyed and let them go.

But afterwards they turned and brought back the manservants and the maidservants whom they had let free, and forcibly made them into manservants and maidservants.

Hashem then sent Yirmiyahu to castigate them in Yirmiyahu 34:15 - 17

And now this day you turned and did what was right in My sight by proclaiming liberty every man to his neighbor, and you made a covenant before Me in the House upon which My Name is called.

But then you turned and profaned My Name, and you took back, each man his manservant and each man his maidservant, whom you had let free to themselves, and forced them to be manservants and maidservants to you.

Therefore, so says the Lord: You have not hearkened to Me to proclaim freedom, every one to his brother and every one to his neighbor; behold I proclaim freedom to you, says the Lord, to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine, and I will make you an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.


behold I proclaim freedom to you: from Me, that I am not your master to save you, and you shall be free to the sword and to the famine.

Once the temple was destroyed four years later, the Bnai Yisrael no longer had the power to enslave anyone and the institution of slavery ended.

  • Some very interesting points! But I am confused: 1. A Jew gets a piece of land. Sometime later he's broke, but he knows his land will return to him at Yovel. Agreed! So when did the Jews start selling themselves - in the first year of the first counting of Yovel or after Yovel was proclaimed once?
    – Al Berko
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 0:43
  • 2. Nice calculations! When the tribes of Reuven and Gad were exiled did it lead immediately to theoretical abandoning of slavery? My questions were specifically about when did slavery start and end. Were both proclaimed somehow by a Beis Din?
    – Al Berko
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 0:48
  • 3 it appears to me that the reason for G-d's revenge had nothing to do with Yovel, only with 7th year of slavery. Where do you find a connection to the abandoned Yovel?
    – Al Berko
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 0:50
  • I was using this as showing that once the yovel no longer applied, the normal term of six years was still required. Even though they should have released slaves after six years, they did not and when they were caught and forced to do so, they re-enslaved the people causing the punishment. I was pointing out that the institution of slavery did not depend on the existence of yovel. While everyone had their ancestral land (just after the conquest or just after each yovel) there was no need for slavery. As time went on and some people became so poor and were sold slavery was six years @AlBerko Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 1:49
  • After yovel ended, every slave served for the maximum of six years until the temple was destroyed and the institution was abandoned because of the destruction of the state. @AlBerko Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 1:50

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