Half Slave and Half Free – Bava Basra 13


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The braisa states: If someone is half slave and half free-man (he was jointly owned by two men, and one of them set him free), he serves his master for one day and then is free for one day (and so on). Beis Shammai says: You have fixed the problem for his master, but you have not solved his own problem. He cannot marry a Canaanite slavewoman (as his free side is a freeman, who is forbidden to marry a slavewoman) and he cannot marry a regular Jewish girl (who cannot be with his slave half)! Should he simply not marry? The world was created to be populated, as the verse says: The world was not created by G-d to be empty; it was created to be populated! Rather, we force his master to free his other half as well, and we have the slave write for the master a document stating that he owes the master the rest of his value. Beis Hillel retracted their opinion, and agreed with Beis Shammai.

The Sfas Emes discusses the verdict regarding a half-slave and half free person that he must go free, and the slave writes a document to the remaining partner for half of his value. This is because the slave has no money. Essentially, by the first partner’s freeing his half, the second partner lost his slave as well, as the law is that he must set him free. Can the second partner demand that the first partner should take the bond from the slave, while the first partner should pay him the monetary equivalent?

The Sfas Emes concludes that being that the damage is not direct, as it is only a consequence of the first person’s action, Beis Din will not force the first owner to pay the second owner. [However, it should be noted that usually indirect damage makes a person liable to pay according to “Heavenly law (meaning what is viewed as right and wrong by Hashem),” despite the fact that Beis Din will not make him pay. Accordingly, if the person freed his half of the slave knowing full well that this would indirectly damage the second owner, he should compensate him to ensure Heaven (Hashem) will not hold it against him.] (13a – 13b)

Half Slave and Half Free

By: Reb Avi Lebowitz

Tosfos (d.h. shene’emar) asks: Why does the Gemora choose to cite the verse of “The world was not created by G-d to be empty; it was created to be populated” to justify the importance for the half-slave half-freeman to be able to procreate, rather than the more well known verse in the Torah of P’ru U’rvu (Be fruitful and multiply)?

My understanding of Tosfos answer in the name of the R”I is that the mitzvah of P’ru U’rvu is really a ma’aseh mitzvah like any other, where we have exemptions for o’nes (a case where he has no choice). Therefore, citing the verse of P’ru U’rvu wouldn’t justify forcing the master to free the slave, since at the present time, the half-free side of the slave is exempt as an o’nes because he is incapable of performing the mitzvah. But by citing the verse of “The world was not created by G-d to be empty; it was created to be populated,” the Gemora is pointing to the root and purpose of the mitzvah of P’ru U’rvu. This verse illustrates that the purpose of P’ru U’rvu is to occupy the world and therefore we don’t follow the regular system that we do by other mitzvos, because even if he is exempt due to o’nes, the world will still remain empty. Although the Gemora means to use the verse in the torah as P’ru U’rvu as the source, it chooses to quote an alternate verse that would justify why P’ru U’rvu should apply even in a circumstance where he is an o’nes.

This approach is very meduyak in the language of Tosfos where the entire focus is on the verse chosen by the Gemora, rather than using language that indicates that P’ru U’rvu isn’t at all applicable since he is an o’nes. Tosfos language implies that P’ru U’rvu is truly the source that compels us to force the master to free the slave, but we cite the verse that explains why P’ru U’rvu should apply even to a circumstance of o’nes.

Furthermore, this approach would compliment, rather than contradict the Turei Even in Rosh Hashanah (29a), who asks that since one who does a mitzvah when they are exempt doesn’t fulfill their obligation, how can the Gemora in Yevamos say that if one had children as an idolater, and then he converts his whole family, he automatically fulfills the mitzvah? The mitzvah was done when he was exempt, so he should have to do it again!?

Turei Even answers that since the purpose of P’ru U’rvu is to populate the world, we disregard when the act of the mitzvah was done, so long as the world is being populated as a result of his actions.

If we were to understand Tosfos simply that only the mitzvah of “sheves” (populating the world) applies, but not P’ru U’rvu, then Tosfos would be holding that P’ru U’rvu is a standard mitzvah like any other, where o’nes is exempt and the ma’aseh mitzvah should have to be done when he is obligated in the mitzvah. But since we are explaining that according to Tosfos, the entire mitzvah of P’ru U’rvu is for the purpose of populating the world, Tosfos is essentially a support for the Turei Even’s novel understanding that the time of the ma’aseh mitzvah is not relevant.

This also explains how in the very next Tosfos, they are able to ask that the mitzvah of P’ru U’rvu should override the prohibition of marrying a kadeish (harlot). How can Tosfos cite the mitzvah of P’ru U’rvu moments after saying that it doesn’t apply here since he is o’nes? Clearly, Tosfos never meant to say that it doesn’t apply here; rather, the meaning is that we wouldn’t have realized that it does apply here, if not for the fact that we quoted the verse of “sheves.”

As a side note, there is a famous discussion whether an o’nes is exempt, or actually obligated but unable to perform. Tosfos here seems to support the former. Tosfos explains that since the half freeman is an o’nes in his obligation of P’ru U’rvu, we wouldn’t force the master to free him. Tosfos supports this claim from the fact that we don’t force masters to free all regular slaves to enable them to keep mitzvos. Now, if o’nes is actually obligated but unable to perform, how can Tosfos prove their case from a standard slave who isn’t even obligated at all in the mitzvos? Perhaps we don’t free regular slaves because they aren’t obligated, but we would free this half slave since his free side is obligated, just that he is an o’nes. Clearly, Tosfos holds that o’nes and not being obligated is exactly the same and can prove o’nes from the case of a regular slave.