A Woman Left Behind

The legal mind is not supposed to get emotional, but sometimes the Torah laws can cause a sudden surge of feelings. In Exodus 21:4, the Torah discusses a situation of a Hebrew slave given a wife by his master. The man was free to leave the bondage after six years. However, his wife and children born of this union remained in slavery.

The rabbis have long agreed that the situation in question concerns only the slave who is already married to a Jewish woman. The Torah explicitly states that one who has entered slavery as a bachelor should leave it a bachelor. Not even a slave can be forced to marry against his will. Thus the Torah speaks here, quoting Rashi, about “Canaanitish handmaid [who is given] with the object of raising slaves.”

There is a problem concerning a slave who does not want to leave his wife and children behind and thus remain a slave forever. Or HaChaim explains, “Because of such considerations, nearly every slave will want to remain in the service of his master for eternity. The Torah wanted to head off such a situation.”

That’s why only the already married slaves were given “temporary” wives. Why do we know that they were “temporary”? As the same OrHaChaim writes, “If the slave already had a Jewish wife, a free woman, he will find it much easier to abandon the woman assigned to him by his master.”

Spare the thought for all these abandoned women and their children, knowing they will never see their husbands and fathers again.

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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