Fighting slavery today: Human and sex trafficking

Elizabeth Hersh is Senior Rabbi at Temple Emanuel (TE), and a blogger on the Jewish Light’s website (stljewishlight.com).   Joel Iskiwitch and John DeMott, authors of the  “What can you do?”  sidebar, are congregants at TE.

by Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh

No less than 36 times in the Torah are we commanded to care for the vulnerable of society. In conjunction with this mitzvah, this commandment and obligation, we are reminded that we were once slaves in Egypt. During our struggles, from the shackles of bondage, we cried out to God, who began the process of redemption.

For those who are not yet free, who suffer under the violence of human/sex trafficking, who will hear their voices and start them on the road to freedom? 

As Jews, it is our religious and sacred obligation to speak out when a life is in danger. Does not our tradition exhort that if you save one life, it is as if you have saved the entire world? Too many voices ask, “But what can I do? Will I be able to make a difference?” The answer is a resounding yes

You must make a difference. You have no other choice than to act as a Jew even when no one else is willing.

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Leviticus 19:16 reads, “Do not stand by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.” These women are our sisters, daughters, nieces, cousins and mothers. They were once our neighbors. Jewish law is about obligation. It does not afford us the moment to walk away. It may be too late. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin wrote, “Torah law makes it clear that one who can intervene when another’s life is at stake and does not is  a grievous sinner and in violation of an important law.” Are you willing to ask humanity for forgiveness on Yom Kippur if you walk away now? These children of God may breathe their last as we speak if we do not step forward and act now. Are you willing to ignore the teachings of our faith that guide our ritual and actions in so many other ways? I am not willing to be a coward, to stand by while a fellow human being, created in the Divine Image, dies when I could have helped. Is indifference not a sin?

During the Passover seder we recount the story of the Exodus. We sit as free people while countless others remain in slavery. What can the words of the Hagaddah possibly mean to a generation who chooses not to act? Our voices will be heard. Our hands will be busy working to remove the shackles of sex/human trafficking.