These girls need to be found and returned to their homes. Even if they were to be found this minute, it will be too late to spare them the agony of recovery from trauma, but at least they will be back in the embrace of the families who love them and who made the commitment to educate them (not a given in Nigeria).
When we gather in our synagogues around the world this Shabbat, we will be reading and discussing the parashah/Torah portion Behar. It is a Torah reading that poses profound challenges to us, especially this week, as we wait from day to day for news of the abducted Nigerian school girls. For this passage of Leviticus lays out the ground rules for the indentured servitude of Israelites and the slavery of non-Israelites. We have no choice but to acknowledge that the institution of slavery was a common and morally neutral economic reality in the ancient middle east.
However, the Israelite owner of a non-Israelite slave was permitted this relationship with very specific parameters which required care for the humanity and vulnerability of the slave. Thus, as Richard Elliott Friedman writes in his commentary on this week's parashah:
The Israelites are permitted to have slaves themselves, but not in the manner of the Egyptians. They cannot overwork them. They cannot mistreat them (so an Israelite who knocks out his slave's tooth must set the slave free; Exodus 21:1). The rules that are imposed on treatment of slaves in the Torah involve a recognition of a slave's humanity and dignity, and they establish that a slave has rights. This was a crucial stage in the long process leading to opposition to slavery altogether. (Commentary on the Torah, pg. 406)
There is a principle of Jewish law that compels us to be as proactive as possible in bringing these girls back to safety, the mitzvah/commandment of פדיון שבויים / pidyon shvuyim / redeeming the captives. There is some controversy about the application of this imperative for it's roots are in the historic reality of the kidnapping of Jews for ransom over the years. Can we, therefore, consider it a mitzvah to redeem captive Nigerian school girls? Based on the writings of the great halachist [scholar of Jewish law] Rambam/Maimonides, I would say "yes":
Maimonides writes: “The redeeming of captives takes precedence over supporting the poor or clothing them. There is no greater mitzvah than redeeming captives for the problems of the captive include being hungry, thirsty, unclothed, and they are in danger of their lives too. Ignoring the need to redeem captives goes against these Torah laws: “Do not harden your heart or shut your hand against your needy fellow” (Devarim 15:7); “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed” (Vayikra 19:16). And misses out on the following mitzvot: “You must surely open your hand to him or her” (Devarim 15:8); “...Love your neighbor as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18); “Rescue those who are drawn to death” (Proverbs 24:11) and there is no mitzvah greater than the redeeming of captives.” (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Matanot Aniyim 8:10-11)
- Continue to show public interest and concern for the girls.
- Encourage our legislators to fund the efforts to locate and rescue the girls.
- Extend expressions of sympathy and support to our friends, co-workers and neighbors of Nigerian origin.
- Reject vocally and with conviction the concept that the Islam propounded by the terrorists is in any way a true reflection of the Islam of peace and respect for humanity practiced by our Muslim neighbors here in Rhode Island.