As we learned on yesterday’s daf, far from being a life of pain and submission, a Jewish slave was reputed to be a “master” to his owner, and was well-treated. Recognizing that this situation may encourage an eved ivri to choose to remain with his master, the Torah allowed for such a possibility (Shemot 21:5). According to the Torah, such an eved can choose to have his ear pierced with an awl (Shemot 21:6), at which time he will serve his master “forever.”
Our Gemara focuses on the eved ivri who chooses to remain with his master. Will he remain with the master’s son after the master’s death? How long is “forever”? How must the technical application of the law that requires the eved ivri to have his ear pierced be applied? Must it be done with an awl?
Based on a close reading of the pesukim, the Gemara concludes that the eved nirtza – the slave who has had his ear pierced – is only obligated to work for the master, and not his son. The term “forever” means until the yovel – the Jubilee year. With regard to the ear piercing itself, Rabbi Yehuda haNasi rules that it can be done with any metal implement, while Rabbi Yosei allows it to be done with other sharp objects, including a sole (a sharpened piece of wood, or stake), a sira (a thorn), a mahat (needle), and anything that is held in one’s hand.
The plant called sira in the Bible has been identified as the Sarcopoterium spinosum from the rose family. Commonly referred to as thorny burnet, this plant is a small bush that grows to a height of 30–60 cm and is most commonly found in the mountainous region north of Beersheba. It grows sharp leaves, small flowers,and red berries. Its tangled branches and thorns easily snare objects, which are subsequently difficult to remove.