Tosefta Horayot 2:11

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The social status of a female convert and a freedwoman in marriage
3d CE
Syria Palaestina
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Horayot 2:11

This text provides social insight into Jewish society in the land of Israel: men want to marry female converts, but are more reluctant where freed female slaves are concerned. The reason cited is the women’s previous sexual activity (due to the possibility that a slave had been required by her master to engage in sexual conduct). The assumption is that a female slave was previously sexually available, or in Hebrew, mufqeret or muvqeret. The term is often used in regard to property that is declared as free for all. According to this tosefta, a convert woman, unlike a freed slave, is assumed to be sexually guarded, and therefore in a society in which virginity was valued, everybody is excited to marry her (Wilfand, “Did Roman Treatment of Freedwomen Influence Rabbinic halakhah,” p. 199-200). As Catherine Hezser points out: “The suspicion of the slave girl’s sexual promiscuity was of course well grounded, since female slaves had no protection against their masters’ sexual assaults and exploitations” (“The Social Status of Slaves,” p. 115).

A similar tradition is found in the Jerusalem Talmud Horayot 3:8, 48b:

מפני מה הכל רצין אחר הגיורת ואין הכל רצין אחר משוחררת. שהגיורת בחזקת משתמרת ומשוחררת בחזקת הבקר.

Why does everyone run after the giyoret (female convert), but not everyone runs after the meshuḥreret (freedwoman)? Because the giyoret (female convert) is assumed to be [sexually] guarded, whereas the meshuḥreret (freedwoman) is assumed to be [sexually] available (hevker or hefker; lit. unassigned property that is declared free to all).

This teaching, in both the Tosefta and the Jerusalem Talmud, is not a legal text. Rabbinic legal texts tend to connect the convert and the freed slave. The procedure for converting to Judaism developed during the Second Temple period, and was “a fully established institution among the Jewish people by the time of the Rabbis” (Novak, “Gentiles in Rabbinic Thought,” p. 660; more about this term and the different meanings it had in the bible and rabbinic texts can be found in the commentary for Mishnah Bikkurim 1:4-5). In rabbinic texts, a freed non-Jewish slave holds a status similar to a ger (a convert), for he had to be circumcised in order to serve within a Jewish household, and in the case of females ritual immersion was required (see for example, Tosefta Pesahim 8:18). The rabbinic process of manumission resembles Roman practices in which freedmen of Roman citizens received Roman citizenship after their manumission. In a Jewish context, the freed slave was generally considered a new member of the people of Israel, because slavery of non-Jews within Jewish households was considered an opportunity for slaves to join Judaism; yet, the process of conversion was concluded only after the slave became a freedman (Hezser, Jewish Slavery, p. 36-39). Converts and freed slaves are therefore often paired together in rabbinic texts, and their status is similar also in regard to marriage to female converts and freedwomen. Some texts, such as Mishnah Yevamot 6:5 and Tosefta Yevamot 6:6, which include legal material, assume that female converts (and not only the freedwomen) are not sexually guarded, seeing them together from a legal point of view. These texts present a legal approach that contrast the Roman view that distinguishes between freeborn and enslaved females, as Matthew J. Perry explains: “Sexual images and situations dominated representations of female slaves in literature, reinforcing the notion that female slaves, as a category of people, were sexually available and thus of lower status than free women” (Gender, p. 16). Since female converts are freeborn, sometimes even from noble lineage, putting them in the same legal category as freedwomen in regard to sexual background is not obvious.

However, if this teaching from Tosefta Horayot accurately testifies to the attitudes within the Jewish community towards these groups of women, it seems that there is a gap between some rabbinic texts that locate female converts and freedwomen in the same legal category, and the community attitude that differentiates between these two groups, thus fitting better with the prevailing Roman concept that valued freeborn status and greatly despised slavery.

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“Gentiles in Rabbinic Thought”

Novak, Davidarticle-in-a-bookThe Cambridge History of Judaism: Volume IV: The Late Roman-Rabbinic PeriodSteven T. Katz647-662“Gentiles in Rabbinic Thought” CambridgeCambridge University Press 2006
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Tosefta Horayot 2:11
Author(s) of this publication: Yael Wilfand
Publishing date: Sun, 07/07/2019 - 11:13
Visited: Wed, 04/17/2024 - 08:19

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