Kiddushin 18 - 24
- Differences between a Hebrew male slave and a girl minor sold into bondage by her father
- When a Jew is sold into slavery for lack of funds to compensate the victim of his thievery
- Limitations on father's ability to sell daughter
- Marriage of Hebrew maid to her master
- Treatment of a Hebrew slave and method of redemption
- How one violation leads to selling himself to idol worshipper
- Rules regarding redemption of slave and of property
- Piercing of the ear of slave who insists on remaining in bondage after six years
- Some laws concerning the female captive of war taken for marriage
- When the slave cannot stay in bondage beyond six years
- The master's obligation to support the slave's family
- Why the ear and doorpost were chosen
- How a heathen slave is acquired and how he becomes free
- The ability of such a slave to acquire funds
- Freedom for such a slave as a result of his master causing him to lose an eye, tooth or limb
The Errant Ear
"Why is it that the ear of all parts of the body is pierced when a Hebrew slave chooses to remain in bondage after his six-year period of servitude has ended?"
In answer to this question Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai provides a fascinating insight:
"The ear that heard My voice at Mount Sinai declare 'The children of Israel are my servants' (Vayikra 25:55) — and not the servants of servants — and went and sold himself as a slave to another deserves to be pierced."
Although this explains only the case of the Jew who voluntarily sold himself into slavery, the same applies to the thief sold by the court into bondage in order to compensate the victim of his crime. Rashi (Shmot 21:16) quotes the Mechilta, which states that the ear is pierced in this case because it ignored what it heard at Sinai that it is forbidden to steal.
The significance of the ear in regard to slavery takes on a special dimension when we reflect on what the gemara (Bava Kama 85b) rules in regard to payment for physical damages. Such compensation is always based on how much the value of the victim theoretically on the slave market has been reduced by the damage caused. If he caused the victim to become deaf the damager is obligated to pay the total amount. This is so because a deaf slave will fetch no buyer at all since it is virtually impossible for him to receive orders from his employer.
It then follows that the sin of ignoring the instructions of the Ultimate Master and the consequences of hearing the instructions of a mortal one all revolve around the ear to be pierced.
- Kiddushin 22b
What the Sages Say
"A person who sins and repeats his sin no longer considers such an act as sinful."
- Rabbi Huna - Kiddushin 20a