As we have seen on the previous dapim, the life of an eved ivri, a Jewish slave, was regulated by the Torah and the sages so that it was not true slavery, to the extent that, “Kol ha-koneh eved, koneh adon le-atzmo – anyone who purchases a slave has bought a master for himself.”
Our Gemara focuses on the intent of the Torah when it instructs the master to set the eved ivri free at the end of his term of service together with his wife and children (see Shemot 21:2-3 and Vayikra 25:41). Although we have learned that the master must treat his eved ivri with great consideration, must he also support the slave’s wife and children? Why are they living in the master’s house, as well? The baraita concludes that the Torah, in fact, requires the master to support the eved ivri‘s family, as well.
The general approach to this law – which does not appear at first glance to have a source in the Torah, since even a husband and father may only be obligated to support his family on a Rabbinic level – is that it is the natural consequence of taking on the responsibilities of the person who was purchased. Since it is expected that the head of the household will support his family, that responsibility now falls on the master.
We find that there is a disagreement among the rishonim about the responsibility that the eved ivri‘s wife and children have towards the master. According to the Ramban (in his commentary to the Torah) and the Ritva, since they are being supported by the master, any income that they make belongs to him. The Rambam – basing himself on the Mekilta – rules that they remain the charges of their husband and father, and that any income that they acquire would belong to the eved ivri.