Say the word slave and the immediate image that comes to mind is a man or woman bound in shackles, possibly cowering under a whip. Modern day slavery is often far more subtle–the chains are perhaps death threats (to the enslaved or their family) or withheld documentation in a foreign country. Jewish Treats presents some Jewish thoughts on this issue that are appropriate for Human Trafficking Awareness Day 2012.

Although the Torah discusses slavery as a socio-economic norm, the rule that Jews must always obey the law of the land if it does not conflict with Torah law (Dina d’malchuta dina) has rendered slavery an academic discussion, at least in Western society. Human trafficking, however, is nothing like the slavery described in the Torah. First and foremost, human trafficking violates the specific Torah law that views kidnaping as a capital crime (Deuteronomy 21:16): “He that steals a man and sells him, or if he is found in hand, he shall surely be put to death.”

The details of the two types of slaves that exist within Jewish law, the eved iv’ree – Hebrew slave – and the eved k’na’anee – Canaanite (non-Jewish) slave, are complex enough to each deserve their own future Jewish Treat. The critical information about slavery from a Torah perspective, however, is that there is always an inherent respect for all human life. A person must make certain that his/her slave has all of the basic comforts and needs, of no lesser quality than that of the master.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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