The Bible Says What? ‘We’ll buy the poor for silver!’

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The Bible Says What? ‘We’ll buy the poor for silver!’

Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers takes a topic from Jewish texts and gives a Reform response, with a focus on persecution of Uyghur Muslims and products made with forced labour

Protestors against discrimination of Uyghurs
Protestors against discrimination of Uyghurs

The prophet Amos is known for railing against abuse of ritual and certain social injustices in the society in which he lived. 

He scorned those who would say: “If only Shabbat would end […] we will buy the poor for silver, the needy for a pair of sandals.” 

What he meant is people would be desperate for Shabbat to end so they could get back to making money on the backs of the poor.

We saw queues and excitement over returning to high street stores. But are we not also falling foul of Amos’ call – leaving the poor and needy to suffer so we can buy that cheap pair of sandals?  

Over Pesach, many Jews added to their seder plate cotton threads and yellow raisins as part of a campaign from René Cassin to raise awareness of the Uyghur genocide.

“Cotton symbolises the oppression faced by Uyghurs, as currently 20 percent of all cotton produced is manufactured by Uyghurs in forced labour. The sweet yellow raisins are a popular snack in Uyghur culture and symbolise the fact hope still exists for an end to this persecution,” says the charity. 

It is shocking to think 20 percent of all cotton is produced and manufactured in what has been described in the UK as forced labour camps (and in China as re-education camps). These are not only the poor, but the enslaved and oppressed, with whom many in the Jewish community feel huge affinity in their suffering.  

It is so easy to unthinkingly buy what we need (or want) or replace what our kids have outgrown. But our prophets knew thousands of years ago this was the opposite of what it meant to build a healthy society and live a good Jewish life.

  •  Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers serves Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue

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