- Judaism and slavery
Judaism has been influenced by the experience of slavery of the
Hebrewsin the land of Egypt, as narrated in the biblical story of the Exodus[As described in the " Book of Exodus"] and their emancipation by the hand of Godand under the leadership of Mosesand Aaron.
Many commandments in the
Hebrew Bibleare stressed by referring to the experience of slavery and deliverance from it. The Jewish holiday of Passovercommemorates the Exodus from Egypt.
lavery in Egypt
According to the
Book of Exodus, the Hebrewswere compelled by a famine to move from the land of Canaaninto the land of Egyptat the invitation of Pharaoh, when Joseph was vizier of Egypt.
After the death of Joseph, the Hebrews spent many years leading an uneventful existence. But a new
pharaohcame to power in Egypt "who didn't know of Joseph". He enslaved the Hebrews and compelled them to perform much heavy work. These tasks, particularly brick making, were extremely rigorous and the working conditions were harsh and oppressive. The Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt for at least 80 years. Moses, a fugitive from Egypt for murdering an Egyptian while defending a Hebrew slave, received a call from God to free the Hebrew people from Egypt. Returning to Egypt he attempted to negotiate with Pharaoh, who was not receptive, saying he did not know Moses' God. Moses, under God's instruction, called forth a series of ten plagues. The Pharaoh, enduring most of the plagues, would not let the Hebrews go, however the final plague, in which the firstborn sons of the Egyptians were taken, made the Pharaoh agree to free the Hebrews.
The exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt is mentioned in :
:And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt; and thou shalt observe and do these statutes.
The commandment to observe the Sabbath is linked in ; and ).
Jewish communities customarily ransomed Jewish captives according to a Judaic
mitzvahregarding the redemption of captives (pidyon shvuyim). [ [http://www.myjewishlearning.com/daily_life/GemilutHasadim/Social_Welfare/PidyonShvuyim.htm Ransoming Captive Jews. An important commandment calls for the redemption of Jewish prisoners, but how far should this mitzvah be taken?] by Rabbi David Golinkin] Knowing this, slave traders preyed on Jews. [http://www.kulanu.org/links/slavery.html Jewish involvement in the slave trade. From a post to Kulanu's listserv] by Anne Herschman December 2001] In his "A History of the Jews", Paul Johnson writes:
Jews were particularly valued as captives since it was believed, usually correctly, that even if they themselves poor, a Jewish community somewhere could be persuaded to ransom them. If a Jew was taken by Turks from a Christian ship, his release was usually negotiated from Constantinople. In Venice, the Jewish Levantine and Portuguese congregations set up a special organization for redeeming Jewish captives taken by Christians from Turkish ships, Jewish merchants paid a special tax on all goods to support it, which acted as a form of insurance since they were likely victims. [Paul Johnson: "A History of the Jews". 1987. p.240]
Jews in the slave trade
The means by which Jews earned their livelihoods were largely determined by the restrictions placed on them by the authorities. In
492 Pope Gelasiuspermitted Jews to introduce slaves from Gaulinto Italy, on the condition that they were non-Christian. [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=849&letter=S Slave Trade] . Jewish Encyclopedia]
The first prohibition of Jews owning Christian slaves was made by
Constantine Iin the fourth century. The Third Council of Orleansin 538 repeated the prohibition for Gaul. The prohibition was repeated by subsequent councils - Fourth Council of Orleans(541), Paris(633), Fourth Council of Toledo(633), the Synod of Szabolcs(1092) extended the prohibition to Hungary, Ghent(1112), Narbonne(1227), Beziers(1246).
After this time the need of such a prohibition seems to have disappeared. Thus, at
Marseilles, in the 13th century, there were only two cases of Jewish, as against seven of Christian, slave-traders ["R. E. J." xvi.] It was part of St. Benedict's rule that Christian slaves were not to serve Jews. [Aronius, "Regesten," No. 114] Ibn Khordadhbehin the 9th century describes two routes by which Jewish slave-dealers carried slaves from West to East and from East to West.According to Abraham ibn Yakub, ByzantineJewish merchants bought Slavsfrom Pragueto be sold as slaves. Louis the Fairgranted charters to Jews visiting his kingdom, permitting them to trade with slaves, provided the latter had not been baptized. Agobardclaimed that the Jews did not abide to the agreement and kept Christians as slaves, citing the instance of a Christian refugee from Cordovawho declared that his coreligionists were frequently sold, as he had been, to the Moors. Many, indeed, of the Spanish Jewsowed their fortune to the trade in Slavonianslaves brought from Andalusia. [Gra:tz, "Gesch." vii.] Similarly, the Jews of Verdun, about the year 949, purchased slaves in their neighborhood and sold them in Spain. [Aronius, "Regesten," No. 127]
Despite the ruling, many Christians trafficked with Jews in slaves, and the Church dignitaries of Bavaria even recognized this traffic by insisting on Jews and other merchants paying a toll for slaves. [ib. No. 122]
Allegations and refutations
Allegations that Jews dominated the slave trade in Medieval Europe, Africa, and/or the Americas often appear in antisemitic discourse as a part of "Jewish domination" or "Jewish persecution"
antisemitic canard. It was alleged that Jews controlled trade and finance and hatched plots "to enslave, convert, or sell non-Jews." Such allegations are denied by David Brion Davis, who argues that Jews had no major or continuing impact on the history of New World slavery. [Davis, David Brion (1984). "Slavery and Human Progress". New York: Oxford Univ. Press, p.89 (cited in [http://www.nizkor.org/ftp.cgi/orgs/american/wiesenthal.center/ftp.py?orgs/american/wiesenthal.center//web/historical-facts Shofar FTP Archive File: orgs/american/wiesenthal.center//web/historical-facts] )]
One of the latest examples of such accusations are made in the
Nation of Islam's 1991 book "The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews". [ [http://www.adl.org/special_reports/farrakhan_own_words2/on_slave_trade.asp Anti-Semitism. Farrakhan In His Own Words. On Jewish Involvement in the Slave Trade] and [http://www.adl.org/main_Nation_of_Islam/jew_hatred_as_history.htm Nation of Islam. Jew-Hatred as History] . ADLDecember 31, 2001] These charges were widely refuted by scholars.
According to a review in "
The Journal of American History" of "Jews, Slaves, and the Slave Trade: Setting the Record Straight" by Eli Faber and "Jews and the American Slave Trade" by Saul S. Friedman:
Eli Faber takes a quantitative approach to Jews, Slaves, and the Slave Trade in Britain's Atlantic empire, starting with the arrival of Sephardic Jews in the London resettlement of the 1650s, calculating their participation in the trading companies of the late seventeenth century, and then using a solid range of standard quantitative sources (Naval Office shipping lists, censuses, tax records, and so on) to assess the prominence in slaving and slave owning of merchants and planters identifiable as Jewish in Barbados, Jamaica, New York, Newport, Philadelphia, Charleston, and all other smaller English colonial ports. He follows this strategy in the Caribbean through the 1820s; his North American coverage effectively terminates in 1775. Faber acknowledges the few merchants of Jewish background locally prominent in slaving during the second half of the eighteenth century but otherwise confirms the small-to-minuscule size of colonial Jewish communities of any sort and shows them engaged in slaving and slave holding only to degrees indistinguishable from those of their English competitors. [ [http://www.historycooperative.org/cgi-bin/justtop.cgi?act=justtop&url=http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/jah/86.3/br_19.html Book Review] of "Jews, Slaves, and the Slave Trade: Setting the Record Straight" by Eli Faber and "Jews and the American Slave Trade" by Saul S. Friedman
The Journal of American HistoryVol 86. No. 3 December 1999]
* Eli Faber: "Jews, Slaves, and the Slave Trade: Setting the Record Straight". New York: New York University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8147-2638-0
* Saul S. Friedman: "Jews and the American Slave Trade". (New Brunswick: Transaction, 1998. ISBN 1-56000-337-5
* Roth, Norman: "Medieval Jewish Civilzation"
* Tertullianus, Qunitus "Codex Agobardinus"
* [http://www.nizkor.org/ftp.cgi/people/ftp.py?people//f/faber.eli/Slavery_and_the_Jews.001 Excerpts from "Slavery and the Jews. A Historical Inquiry" By Eli Faber]
* [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=849&letter=S Slave Trade] ,
Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906 ed.
* [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=15&letter=O#54 Jewish occupations]
Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906 ed.
* [http://www.myjewishlearning.com/history_community/Medieval/TheStory6321666/Expulsion/Poland.htm Slave markests in East Europe]
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