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Remembering that Slavery is Not Just an Injustice of the Past

Remembering that Slavery is Not Just an Injustice of the Past

Too often, we conceive of slavery as problem of the past, a moral lapse that has been corrected. The truth is, however, that more people are enslaved today than were enslaved at any other point in world history. The International Labor Organization, an agency of the United Nations, estimates that 21 million people across the globe are trafficked into forced labor, bonded labor, forced child labor and sexual servitude—all forms of modern slavery.


January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, so named by the President in order to acknowledge this nation’s painful history of slavery and to highlight the nation’s commitment to freedom. For many Americans, January is also the exciting lead-up to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, this flagship of America’s pastime has become marred by some of the darker aspects of society today. According to leading advocates and law enforcement agencies, the culminating event of football season brings with it some of the largest sex trafficking operations in the country. While there is no concrete way to measure the number of people that have been, or will be trafficked in Glendale, Arizona over the weekend, Miami police in 2010 estimated that 10,000 people had been trafficked as prostitutes for that year’s game.


We have made important strides toward addressing trafficking in the United States; for example, the State Department in 2010 began including the U.S. in its annual report on trafficking in persons, and President Obama in 2012 signed an Executive Order calling on all federal contractors to ensure they are not using trafficked labor. Speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in 2012, President Obama demanded that the “United States will be a leader in this global movement” to eradicate trafficking. But crimes like those that ensue around the Super Bowl only show how far we have to go to truly lead that movement.


The Reform Movement takes pride in its long history of working to combat human trafficking and modern day slavery. We take to heart the call to remember that we were slaves in the land of Egypt and that no one else should be exploited as we once were. Maimonides, one of the greatest sages of our tradition, spoke on the importance of helping and freeing those enslaved in a lifestyle that is beyond their control. The redemption of captives takes precedence to clothing and providing for the poor; “as the captive is included in the category of the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the one whose life is in danger,” there is no greater mitzvah than redeeming the captives.

Published: 1/22/2015

Categories: Social Justice