Dear Rabbi Simon,
Can you please explain why in Ancient Israel Hebrew slaves were freed in the 7th year (Exodus 21: 2, Deuteronomy 15:12-18) but Gentile slaves were not freed (Leviticus 25: 44-46)?
As is well-known, slavery was de regueur in the ancient world, and servitude was generally for life. Indeed, it was passed down to future generations as well. Nevertheless, the Torah indicates its opposition to the institution of slavery by making it unattractive to acquire a fellow Jew as a slave, who is to be viewed as a member of one’s own family. After six years he goes free (an echo of the Sabbatical Year applicable to the Land as well), and even if he prefers to remain a slave, he is discouraged (albeit not forbidden) from extending or perpetuating his servile status.
Nevertheless (as described in the week’s Haftarah, Jeremiah 34:8-16) there were times when the Israelites spurned the mitzvah of freeing their Hebrew bondsmen, for which they paid the price of Divine retribution.
In a phrase, “down with slavery.”
Rabbi Rashi Simon