Why Permit Slavery?


The Highest Moral Standard?

Must all the Torah's laws represent an ideal or might several have been instituted to address human needs and nature, providing not the highest moral standard but a required minimum? The question comes to the fore with regards to the Biblical laws of slavery.

The laws are mentioned in three separate passages in Torah, in Shemot 21, Vayikra 25, and Devarim 15. These verses distinguish between Israelite and Canaanite slaves, the latter having significantly less protection under the law.  Israelite slaves were in essence indentured servants, meant to be treated like hired-hands1 and released after 6 years of bondage.2 Canaanite slaves, in contrast, could be owned permanently, be bequeathed to children, and there is no explicit prohibition against oppressing them.3  Thus, though the Torah basically eradicates Israelite slavery, it nonetheless appears to tolerate enslavement of non-Israelites. It regulates the institution, and makes it more humane, but it does not ban it. If enslavement of another is fundamentally problematic, however, why does the Torah not abolish the institution altogther?