“And if your brother becomes destitute with you, and is sold to you, do not work him with slave labor.“ (Leviticus 25:39)In the NJPS (New Jewish Publication Society) the word kinsman is used. A brother/kinsman is one from your own country, as opposed to a slave that you would get from another land. It appears that slaves (from other lands) wouldn’t go free in the Jubilee year.
How is it that a group of people who placed justice as one of their highest values would have slaves? It is more understandable if the slave worked for you because they were indebted to you... but taking slaves in war? Is that right?
We know that Jews had a big role to play in the Civil Rights Movement. So this acceptance of slavery didn’t prevail. The idea of treating well your brother/kinsman slaves points to the beginning of realizing that we shouldn’t treat (some) as slaves even if we could. But what about those from another land?
Later we read that if you poke out the eye of slave or knock out a tooth you should let him go. So there is some movement toward ending slavery altogether. Maybe this was economically and morally as far as this ancient civilization could go.
I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, but didn’t post it because I hadn’t done a drawing for it. Now I think about something a rabbi said a few years ago, and something that Buddhists ascribe to their vows. It isn’t that we don’t follow the commandments (vows). It is that we don’t follow them yet. Doing the right thing is a path. We should try to improve. That’s the best we can be and/or do.