So You’re a Jewish Sex Slave

We all struggle with questions of identity from time to time: Who am I? Why am I here? Am I a Jewish sex slave? This handy guide will help you find the answers!

But first, let’s explore some things about you.

  1. Are you a Jewish male?

If so, you have nothing to worry about. Unless you steal something and don’t have the means to pay it back, in which case the court may sell you as a slave. At that point (Maimonides, Laws of Slaves 3:3):

When a servant is sold by the court, his master has the option of giving him a Canaanite maid-servant as a wife. This applies to the master who purchased him or the son who becomes his master if the master dies. He may give him a Canaanite maid-servant as a wife and compel him to engage in relations with her so that she gives birth to slaves that he conceived.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to raise those kids you may be compelled to have: like your slave-wife, your slave-children belong to your master. It might be awkward when you see him in shul, though.

2. Are you a Jewish female?

a) How old are you?

b) How does your father feel about you?

Here’s why we need to know (ibid. ch. 4):

A Hebrew maid-servant is a girl below the age of majority sold by her father. When she manifests signs of physical maturity after reaching twelve years of age and becomes pubescent, he does not have the right to sell her… If the father fled, died or did not have the resources to redeem her, she must work until she is released.

So, you might be a Jewish slave, but if you’re in the first grade or younger, at least you’ll be out to prepare for being a bat mitzva after your six years of servitude run out. Of course, your master may decide he wants to marry you. That’s where the sex comes in.

The mitzva of designating a maid-servant as a wife takes precedence over the mitzva of redeeming the maid-servant. How is the mitzva of designating a maid-servant as a wife performed? The master tells the maid-servant in the presence of two witnesses: “Behold, you are consecrated to me,” “You are betrothed to me,” or “Behold, you are my wife.” This may be done even at the conclusion of the six years of her servitude before the setting of the sun. He need not give her anything, for the first moneys were given with the intent that they could serve for the purpose of consecration.From this point onward, he must treat her as a wife, and not as a servant…

How does a master designate a maid-servant as a wife for his son? If his son is past majority and gives his father permission to designate the maid-servant as his wife, the father tells the maid-servant in the presence of two witnesses: “Behold you are consecrated to my son.”

So, your master’s son does have a say. You, not so much. But at least you won’t be a slave anymore!

3. Are you a non-Jewish male?

Then we won’t even bring up sex, because masters are presumed to be male, and we don’t even want to talk about that. But congratulations on being alive! Had you been captured in battle as a) an adult or b) one of the nations we really don’t like, you wouldn’t have made it this far.

4. Are you a non-Jewish female?

Hey, it’s all cool, assuming you’re not from one of the no-no nations. Oh, and you might be “married” off to a Hebrew slave, see above. Oh, and one more thing, as per this week’s Torah portion (Deut. 21:10-14).

From time to time, you men will serve as soldiers and go off to war. The Lord your God will help you defeat your enemies, and you will take many prisoners.  One of these prisoners may be a beautiful woman, and you may want to marry her. But first you must bring her into your home, and have her shave her head, cut her nails, get rid of her foreign clothes, and start wearing Israelite clothes. She will mourn a month for her father and mother, then you can marry her. Later on, if you are not happy with the woman, you can divorce her, and she can go free. But you have slept with her as your wife, so you cannot sell her as a slave or make her into your own slave.

See, sex yes, slave no. Best-case scenario, you live happily ever after with your one-time battlefield rapist. (Unless he’s a priest, in which case rape yes, marriage never.) Or maybe he rejects you, but then he can’t keep you as a slave or sell you. So that’s good, right? You can walk free and clear… bound by the Noahide covenant (Maimonides, Laws of Kings 8:7):

Her captor must be patient with her for twelve months if she refuses to convert. If she still refuses after this interval has passed, she must agree to accept the seven universal laws commanded to Noah‘s descendants and then, she is set free. Her status is the same as all other resident aliens. Her captor may not marry her, for it is forbidden to marry a woman who has not converted.

Okay, you can’t refuse him, but you can refuse his faith… just as long as you don’t keep your own (ibid. 9):

A beautiful captive who does not desire to abandon idol worship after twelve months should be executed. Similarly, a treaty cannot be made with a city which desires to accept a peaceful settlement until they deny idol worship, destroy their places of worship, and accept the seven universal laws commanded Noah’s descendants. For every non-Jew who does not accept these commandments must be executed if he is under our undisputed authority.

You feel better now, right?

About the Author
Yoseif Bloch is a rabbi who has taught at Yeshivat HaKotel, Yeshivat Har Etzion and Yeshivat Shvilei Hatorah and served as a congregational rabbi in Canada. He currently works as an editor, translator and publisher. As a blogger and podcaster, he is known as Rabbi Joe in Jerusalem.