Slavery and Human Trafficking

The RA has prepared these materials which will give you more information about modern slavery. Included are: A list of facts and talking points on modern slavery, a bibliography on the subject, and, finally, we've included recommendations for communal action that have been endorsed by President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Building Partnerships to Eradicate Modern Day Slavery.

At the beginning of day three, the earth was as flat as a board, with the waters covering it entirely. But when the word came forth from on high, mountains and hills arose from the sides of the earth, and the waters were scattered about, as valleys were formed and the waters flowed into the valleys. The waters immediately attempted to rise up again and cover the earth once more, at which God rebuked them, and secured them under the divine feet…..and thus there are deep waters beneath the surface of the earth, on which the earth rides just as a boat rides on the waters of the sea.

God then opened a channel to the Garden of Eden, from which all sorts of plant life began to sprout over the surface of the earth, including all kinds of fruit bearing trees. In this way, God set a table for the animal world even before they were created. And fountains also arise out of the deep in order to provide water for all creatures. Rabbi Joshua said that the depth of the earth is a distance of sixty years’ walk. And there is one fountain that sits immediately over גיהנום, which flows from there, producing [warm] waters that provide pleasure for human beings.

- Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 5 1

One might read this text as rehabilitating גיהנום, but the rabbis were reminding us to be aware of the fact that the pleasures of many of our paradises are often situated right above somebody else’s hell, and are made possible by those hells. This is one of the important truths of our time: slave labor is present in the supply chains of many items we take for granted, and the demand for cheap food and endless inexpensive goods enables wages to be pushed ever lower and working conditions made even more intolerable.

This is an almost unbearable reality, to which we are blind. Our clothes, our furniture, and our food comes to us “thanks” to the slave labor of underpaid and imprisoned individuals around the world, who make our “affordable” goods available for us.

This horrible situation will not change until more of us become aware of how we all benefit from slave labor and abusive working conditions. The RA believes that the rabbinate has a key role to play in educating the Jewish community about modern slavery and increasing its awareness.


1 The Dignity of Work and the Indignity of Slavery: Texts with Questions, Rabbi Gordon Tucker's text sheet from his session at the 2008 Conference on Judaism and Human Rights.

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