If a man sells his daughter to be a maidservant…” (Shemot 21:7). The laws of Jewish slaves are difficult to deal with, especially for women. We wonder how it can be fair that a father has the right to sell his daughter to become a maidservant. Which transgression made her deserve such a degrading position? It is, however, an unfortunate fact of life, that the social position of parents often affects their children.
The Hebrew Maidservant
Ralbag explains that a man is not allowed to sell his daughter unless he has absolutely no other way to support himself. Rambam concurs that the father may only sell his daughter, in case he becomes so destitute that he loses all his possessions including the shirt off his back. Although he sold her because of destitution, the father should be forced to redeem her, and avoid a blemish on the family. According to Rashi, the father dealt deceitfully with her by selling her to a man who was unwilling to marry her when she reached maturity. Her father would, therefore, not be permitted to sell her again. This is alluded to in the end of the following verse, “…seeing that he has dealt deceitfully with her” (Shemot 21:8), which according to the simple meaning refers to the master who neglected his moral obligation to marry his maidservant. Rashi adds that “he” could also refer to the father. Me’Am Lo’ez agrees and explains that the father behaved in an extremely cruel way. He should rather have become a stone carrier to avoid selling his own daughter. The Minchah Belulah notes that our verse calls the father “a man” because he does not deserve the title “father,” since he had no mercy on his daughter. He treated her as a stranger, contrary to what is expected of a father.