By Joshua Ratner, RA Public Policy Fellow
As you may well know, Sudan generally, and the Darfur region specifically, has been in a state of dire humanitarian crisis for a number of years. Recently, though, many of the worst atrocities ceased, and prospects for peace between northern and southern factions within Sudan appeared to be much brighter. In September 2010, the United States presented a group of incentives to the Sudanese government (such as the renewal of diplomatic relations and the lifting of economic sanctions) in exchange for progress on the full implementation of a variety of peace initiatives. For details, click here.
In the last few weeks, however, an alarming escalation of violence has broken out in Sudan that threatens the fragile peace process and the July 9 date for southern secession. The Sudan Armed Forces have bombarded and occupied the contested Abyei border region, causing Abyei’s civilian residents to flee for their lives. This attack followed a military build-up in the region. For a link to detailed explanations of recent events, click here and here.
Given the extent of the crisis, we have provided some texts and resources below for colleagues who would like to address this issue in sermons, messages, or other fora.
Averting Suffering in Sudan
Numerous sources from our tradition affirm the obligation to take action to protect human life from imminent harm. These sources include:
- You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor. (Lev. 19:16)
- Mishnah: The poor of the gentiles may not be prevented from gathering gleanings, forgotten sheaves, and the corner of the field, in the interests of peace.
Gemara: Our Rabbis have taught: 'We support the poor of the gentiles along with the poor of Israel, and visit the sick of the gentiles along with the sick of Israel, and bury the poor of the gentiles along with the dead of Israel, in the interests of peace. [Soncino translation] (BT Gittin 59a)
- Whenever a person can save another person’s life but fails to do so, he transgresses a negative commandment, as Leviticus 19:16 states: “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” Similarly, [this commandment applies] when a person sees a colleague drowning at sea or being attacked by robbers or a wild animal, and he can save him himself or can hire others to save him and does not. Similarly, [it applies] when he hears [others] conspiring to harm a colleague or planning a snare for him, and he does not inform him and notify him [of the danger]. (Rambam, Laws of the Murderer and Protecting Life 1:14).
- Redeeming captives takes precedence over providing food and clothing for the poor. There is no greater mitzvah than redeeming captives, for the captive is in the category of the starving, the thirsting, and the naked, indeed in danger of losing their own life. (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 8:10).
- We Jews have been commanded to rescue the pursued from the hands of any who pursue them with intent to kill, if necessary at the cost of the pursuer's life...Among the roots of this commandment is that God, Who is Blessed, created the world and willed that it be settled, and the settlement of the world is upheld by the championing of the weak against those stronger. Furthermore, the pursued will always have eyes and heart turned toward God to champion him against his pursuer, as Scripture says, "The Lord will seek out the pursued"- meaning that the pursued seeks the Lord and prays. (Sefer Hahinukh, Mitzvah 600).
- And so too any obstacle that endangers life, it is a positive commandment to remove it and to be very careful around it as it is said, “Protect yourself and guard yourself." (Deuteronomy 4:9) And if he did not remove and set aside these obstacles that are dangerous, he violated the positive commandment and also violated the commandment, “Do not bring bloodguilt upon yourself” (Deuteronomy 22:8). (Shulhan Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat 427:8).
- "The saving of life overrides the commandments of the entire Torah; and he shall live by them and not die by them. Desecrate one Sabbath on his account so that he may keep many Sabbaths” (Yoma 85b). This law is the watchword of Judaism...Maimonides, the master of conciseness, deviated from his regular manner and treated this issue with great elaborateness: “When such things have to be done, they should not be left to heathens, minors, slaves or women...They should rather be done by adult and scholarly Israelites. (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, "Halakhic Man." trans. by Lawrence Kaplan. (Philadelphia: JPS, 1983), pp. 34-35.)
- At a time when the community is suffering, no one should say, “I will go home, eat, drink, and be at peace with myself.” (BT Ta’anit 11a [AJWS Translation]).
- And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis. (Esther 4:14)
In addition, our collective historical experience compels us to take action to “never again” allow the suffering that has befallen Jewish communities for 2000 years to be inflicted against others.
- We who have preached to the world for decades about its failure to save the Jews who faced Nazi genocide, cannot ignore the plight of other victims of heinous crimes. Our response, moreover, will in no way diminish or impugn the memory of the Holocaust. If anything, the success of a Jewish effort against the perpetrators of contemporary mass murder, ethnic cleansing, and genocide will only reinforce the power of the memory of the Holocaust and its unique importance not only for us but for the entire world. (Efraim Zuroff, "A Plea for Jewish Action Against the Crimes Being Committed in Darfur" (Edah), http://www.edah.org/zuroff.cfm.)
Past RA Involvement with Sudan
The RA has been deeply involved in Sudan-related advocacy. The RA is a founding member of the Save Darfur Coalition and has worked closely with the Coalition, the American Jewish World Service, and the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief to raise awareness of, raise money for, and advocate on behalf of those suffering from atrocities throughout Sudan, particularly in the Darfur region. In a 2005 Resolution, the RA resolved to urge the US and other governments to foster peace and relief to those suffering in Darfur and to encourage RA members “to speak out, write letters, and teach about genocide in the Sudan and our obligations as a Jewish community to respond.” The RA also passed a resolution at our convention in March calling for strong and decisive humanitarian action in Darfur.
What You Can Do to Help
There are several immediate steps that can be taken in response to the recent outbreak of violence in Sudan. For a summary of steps the United States can take in response to these atrocities, click here. For a link to an email letter to President Obama, created by the Save Darfur coalition, click here. For a link to an email letter to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice urging an investigation into human rights abuses in Abyei, Blue Nile, and Southern Kordofan, click here. Additionally, the Save Darfur coalition will be coordinating a series of calls to action on Sudan from July 1, 2011 through July 31, 2011. For information on attending a call to action event with other members of your community, click here. For a list on additional actions one can take, click here.