Modern Day Slavery
A few weeks ago, shortly after reading the story of the exodus from Egypt, we read about the laws pertaining to the Hebrew slave. It is jarring to read these two Torah passages almost side by side. How can the torah ignore our history and speak about slavery?
There are many partial answers to this question. The Torah is a document written for its time. While the Torah accepts the institution of slavery, it begins to ameliorate the life of the individual. While in the ancient world, a slave belonged to his master in perpetuity, the Hebrew slave was freed after six years. A slave’s worth was such that if he was killed, the master was given the death sentence (later effectively abolished by the rabbis). Later, sages issued further decrees easing their lot, yet even so, discussion of slavery is deeply disturbing, especially in light of what we know about human trafficking.
I was shocked to read about the women and girls being forced to ‘pleasure’ some of the men attending the recent super bowl, and that is just the tip of the iceberg of modern slavery.
Today there are men, women, and children everywhere who find themselves enslaved. Smugglers promise these people good jobs and a better life in a new land and then charge exorbitant fees for room and board.
This is how modern slavery begins. There need not be any physical restraints. Yet men, women and children are shackled by psychological and emotional coercion and threatened with actual violence.
To a lesser extent, another form of servitude is suffered by our working poor. As our nation debates a modest increase in the minimum wage, we must recognize that in our nation of abundance no one should work and be unable to feed his/her family
The Torah describes an ancient form of slavery. It then commands humane (for its time) treatment of the slave. It is a historic fact that the much of the leadership of the movement for abolition in our country and the underground railroad came from the very churches and synagogues that read about biblical slavery.
Even as we begin to plan for Passover, we must recognize the reality of modern slavery. Who are these oppressed men and women? They are the people who pick and produce the food you eat. They are the workers locked in factories making your clothing. They are the domestic workers taking care of the children next door. They are the women and girls being forced to sell their bodies.
Who will free them?