The New York Board of Rabbis, which in recent years has participated in several communal activities designed to combat modern-day slavery and human trafficking, has produced a digital resource with many biblical readings and discussions about the Jewish views on slavery.
Perfect for use at a seder.
But the “Interfaith Toolkit to End Trafficking,” created in partnership with UNICEF USA, has a more ecumenical nature and a more hands-on approach than standard Haggadah supplements.
The Board of Rabbis (nybr.org) created the Toolkit through an Interfaith Advisory Committee with the input of leaders of five other faith groups — Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Unitarian Universalism — and for use by members of those faiths.
The document, available in domestic and global versions, includes background on the extent of contemporary slavery, relevant scriptural selections, declarations of the respective religious groups’ “faith values,” references for further research, and “action steps” to take a stand against the problem that has enslaved at least an estimated 20 million people. Among those steps: educate oneself about modern-day slavery, work with local social service agencies, welcome trafficking survivors into one’s community, report suspected instances of trafficking, and support UNICEF’s anti-trafficking activities.
“Communities of faith are important advocates for the rights and protection of vulnerable groups, and key players in preventing and ending the exploitation of children,” the toolkit’s introduction states. “Across religious traditions, common values inspire faith communities to promote peace and end exploitation.”
While appropriate on the nights of Passover, “it’s not just readings about slavery,” said Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis. “It’s making people more equipped” to work against slavery.
That, he said, is why the document is called a toolkit, not a supplement.
In recent years, several Jewish organizations, including the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, T’ruah, American Jewish World Service, the Conservative movement’s United Synagogue Youth, and activist Rabbi Debra Orenstein have produced slavery-themed Haggadah supplements and guides.
The Board of Rabbis, which has collaborated with UNICEF on past human rights projects, has taken part in recent anti-slavery activities of UJA-Federation of New York and the Ritualwell website (http://ritualwell.org).
“It’s a natural continuation of our [rabbinical] responsibility,” said Rabbi Potasnik. “We can’t be silent when people are suffering. It’s not just a historical lesson” about slavery three millennia ago.
And, the rabbi said, the document is “a natural extension” of the seder theme of the Israelite slaves’ exodus from slavery in ancient Egypt.
He said his organization would promote the toolkit among its member rabbis and partner organizations in the weeks before Passover.
According to the document’s section on Jewish values, “The Torah instructs Jews to ‘protect the stranger’ and end oppression, while the rabbis of the Talmud emphasize that redeeming captives is one of God’s greatest commandments. The Torah makes 36 references to honoring the ‘stranger.’”
“We’re not ignoring the [readings and rituals] of the traditional seder,” said Rabbi Diana Gerson, NYBR associate executive vice president. “This is a continuum. This is what it [the seder] means.”