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1  These are the rules that you shall set before them:

v’-AY-leh ha-mish-pa-TEEM a-SHER ta-SEEM lif-nay-HEM

א  וְאֵלֶּה הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם׃

 21:1   These are the rules

Following the giving of the Ten Commandments, the Torah discusses numerous civil laws dealing with honest and ethical business practices and interpersonal relationships. These laws precede the dictates regulating our relationship with Hashem, teaching us that religion demands not just belief, but ethical conduct as well. In fact, there is an oft-quoted adage, “derech eretz kadma laTorah” (דרך ארץ קדמה לתורה), which means that ‘ethics precedes Torah.’ Decency and common courtesy serve as the foundation for keeping the rest of the Torah’s commandments.6 comments

2  When you acquire a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years; in the seventh year he shall go free, without payment.

ב  כִּי תִקְנֶה עֶבֶד עִבְרִי שֵׁשׁ שָׁנִים יַעֲבֹד וּבַשְּׁבִעִת יֵצֵא לַחָפְשִׁי חִנָּם׃

3  If he came single, he shall leave single; if he had a wife, his wife shall leave with him.

ג  אִם־בְּגַפּוֹ יָבֹא בְּגַפּוֹ יֵצֵא אִם־בַּעַל אִשָּׁה הוּא וְיָצְאָה אִשְׁתּוֹ עִמּוֹ׃

4  If his master gave him a wife, and she has borne him children, the wife and her children shall belong to the master, and he shall leave alone.

ד  אִם־אֲדֹנָיו יִתֶּן־לוֹ אִשָּׁה וְיָלְדָה־לוֹ בָנִים אוֹ בָנוֹת הָאִשָּׁה וִילָדֶיהָ תִּהְיֶה לַאדֹנֶיהָ וְהוּא יֵצֵא בְגַפּוֹ׃

5  But if the slave declares, “I love my master, and my wife and children: I do not wish to go free,”

ה  וְאִם־אָמֹר יֹאמַר הָעֶבֶד אָהַבְתִּי אֶת־אֲדֹנִי אֶת־אִשְׁתִּי וְאֶת־בָּנָי לֹא אֵצֵא חָפְשִׁי׃

6  his master shall take him before Hashem. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall then remain his slave for life.

ו  וְהִגִּישׁוֹ אֲדֹנָיו אֶל־הָאֱלֹהִים וְהִגִּישׁוֹ אֶל־הַדֶּלֶת אוֹ אֶל־הַמְּזוּזָה וְרָצַע אֲדֹנָיו אֶת־אָזְנוֹ בַּמַּרְצֵעַ וַעֲבָדוֹ לְעֹלָם׃

7  When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not be freed as male slaves are.

ז  וְכִי־יִמְכֹּר אִישׁ אֶת־בִּתּוֹ לְאָמָה לֹא תֵצֵא כְּצֵאת הָעֲבָדִים׃

8  If she proves to be displeasing to her master, who designated her for himself, he must let her be redeemed; he shall not have the right to sell her to outsiders, since he broke faith with her.

ח  אִם־רָעָה בְּעֵינֵי אֲדֹנֶיהָ אֲשֶׁר־לא [לוֹ] יְעָדָהּ וְהֶפְדָּהּ לְעַם נָכְרִי לֹא־יִמְשֹׁל לְמָכְרָהּ בְּבִגְדוֹ־בָהּ׃

9  And if he designated her for his son, he shall deal with her as is the practice with free maidens.

ט  וְאִם־לִבְנוֹ יִיעָדֶנָּה כְּמִשְׁפַּט הַבָּנוֹת יַעֲשֶׂה־לָּהּ׃

10  If he marries another, he must not withhold from this one her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights.

י  אִם־אַחֶרֶת יִקַּח־לוֹ שְׁאֵרָהּ כְּסוּתָהּ וְעֹנָתָהּ לֹא יִגְרָע׃

11  If he fails her in these three ways, she shall go free, without payment.

יא  וְאִם־שְׁלָשׁ־אֵלֶּה לֹא יַעֲשֶׂה לָהּ וְיָצְאָה חִנָּם אֵין כָּסֶף׃

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