Slavery and Human Trafficking
This page was updated on March 3, 2021.
The story of the Jewish people begins with the journey from slavery to freedom. Today, as we tell our children the story of our bondage and liberation, we understand that we are not only telling the story of the past but describing life for millions of people across the world now. Poverty, increased migration, and the low status of women and girls contribute to making modern-day slavery a human rights crisis.
To that end, the RA—through the Human Trafficking Task Force of the Social Justice Commission—aims to increase awareness, education, advocacy, and fundraising for rescuing people presently enslaved, ending the conditions that allow slavery to persist, and protecting people vulnerable to enslavement.
We are committed to making Pesah a focal point for RA members to take action. We have prepared two double-sided resources full of useful information, ENDING SLAVERY!: Understanding Human Trafficking - and What You Can Do About It and ENDING SLAVERY!: Jewish Sources and Resources On Human Trafficking, for you to download, print, and share with members of your institutions. For those looking for more extensive curricula or programming, we also are sharing RA member Rabbi Debra Orenstein's 190-page No More Slaves! A Sourcebook and Programming Guide. We have also signed an interdenominational letter pledging unity in the fight against human trafficking and slavery.
Please be sure to watch our video featuring Rabbi Debra Orenstein explaining how to make Pesah about slavery past AND present. We also outlined the contours of this Movement-wide effort to eradicate human slavery in this Jerusalem Post Op-Ed.
As Jews, our history requires us to speak out against human trafficking; educate our communities about the issue; support local organizations that provide critical services for survivors; advocate for governmental changes, where needed; and partner with organizations at home and abroad that fight tirelessly to end the root causes of trafficking. The RA has prepared the resources above to educate you about modern-day slavery and provide you with the tools to take action.
Additional resources compiled and edited by Rabbi Debra Orenstein and Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster are also available below. These are based on resources originally created for Free the Slaves and T’ruah:The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.
Human Trafficking Guide & One-Pagers
Advocacy & Action
Articles & Links
From a d'var Torah by Rabbi Gordon Tucker:
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
"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 buy every day, and the demand for cheap food and endless inexpensive goods enables major corporation to push wages even lower and skimp on safety regulations, making working conditions made even more intolerable.
This is an almost unbearable reality, to which many of us are blind. Our clothes, our furniture, and our food comes to us thanks to the forced labor of underpaid and imprisoned individuals around the world, who make our seemingly affordable goods available for us more cheaply."
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 urging participation in the movement to end it.