The Chocolate Moses Story

From Ignorance to Awareness

In spring 2008, I was with a friend in my living room in San Francisco. As a part of our preparation for the Passover Seder, we were studying the Haggadah and talking about the Jewish people’s redemption. I was happily, obliviously munching on some chocolate when my friend casually mentioned that much of the world’s chocolate supply begins in West Africa, specifically Ivory Coast and Ghana.  He said that in these countries enslaved children frequently harvest the cocoa beans.

Spinrad Portrait Chocolate Moses StoryAt first, I denied the truth of his statement. Slavery still exists? C’mon. I believed slavery was a thing of the past.

But if it did exist, how many slaves were there and what else did they labor to produce? Did my choices have a connection to slavery? I had no clue about the origin of my chocolate or many of the other products I consumed. If what he said was true, there was a distinct possibility that the chocolate sweetness I had been enjoying began in the bitter roots of slavery.

When my attention returned to the Haggadah, the text was the same but I began to see it with different eyes. Avadim Hayyinu. Yes, we were slaves. As I soon learned, there are still slaves in the world today.

This experience gave birth to the idea for Chocolate Moses.

From Awareness to Education

That initial experience birthed an awareness that changed everything. As I began learning about modern slavery and the concurrent global crisis of human trafficking, any resistance I had toward accepting its existence quickly vanished. I read books and articles by Kevin Bales, Ron Soodalter, E. Benjamin Skinner, David Batstone, Christien Van Den Anker, and many others. I researched data provided by the websites of the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Department of Labor, The International Labour Organization, The Polaris Project, Free the Slaves, Not for Sale, and many other non-governmental studies and organizations.

What I discovered made my heart sink. There are between 21 and 27 million slaves in over 70 countries around the world, including the United States and Israel. Not only does slave labor taint our chocolate, it is present in the harvest, mining and production of over 100 different goods around the world, ranging from artificial flowers in China to zinc in Bolivia. Equally painful is the awareness that sex workers around the world are commonly trafficked and enslaved.

Looking to the Jewish tradition for guidance, I needed help to frame my feelings and organize my thoughts as I considered how best to act. Seven arguments inspired me to take up this project:

  • The Torah teaches we are created B’tzelem Elohim,[1] In the image of God. This text does not mean a world in which we are all seen as fundamentally the same. When we look at the other, we see the other. And in the other, we see a trace of God’s creation. This forces us into relationship with each other in order to attempt to fulfill our responsibility to God.
  • The Passover Haggadah reads, Avadim Hayyinu, Once we were slaves. Passover reminds us of our ancestor’s liberation from slavery and we are commanded to retell the story as if it were we who went out from Egypt. We are now called to partner with God in humankind’s liberation, fulfilling our responsibility to our ancestors and to the Jewish tradition.
  • As a general principle, Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh, All Jews are responsible for one another. But as a progressive Jew in the tension between the particular and the universal, I lean toward a view advocated by the French-Jewish philosopher Emmanel Levinas. He said, “All who cleave to the divine law, all men worthy of the name, are responsible for each other.”
  • According to the 12th century sage Maimonides, to redeem a slave from a life that is beyond his control is among the most important of the commandments. It is more urgent than clothing or feeding the poor, since a slave is also hungry, thirsty and his life may be in immediate danger. Maimonides said that to ignore our responsibility to redeem the enslaved is to violate the biblical prohibitions forbidding us from hardening our hearts, from standing idly by the blood of our neighbor, and from ruling over our laborers ruthlessly. To ignore the enslaved also violates the commandments to open our hands to the poor, to let our brothers live by our side, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
  • Judaism forbids denying the free will of the worker. In Judaism we learn that workers are free to organize themselves and they may refuse to work until employers meet their conditions. The Rabbis of the Talmud also teach that a worker is free to quit his job at any time, provided his resignation will not cause irreparable harm to his employer because of the timing of his resignation.
  • The dignity and rights of workers are our concern. The Torah forbids us from wronging or oppressing the stranger. We may not abuse a needy or destitute laborer nor may we withhold their wages. According to the Talmud, if we do this we deprive the laborer of his life, for he risked his life for his work and his life depends on his wages. And if we gain honor through the degradation of another human being, we violate the principle of k’vod ha’briyot, human dignity. Instead, God commands us to uphold the cause of the stranger; for once we were strangers in the land of Egypt.
  • Lastly, Judaism forbids us from benefiting from unethically obtained goods. For example, the Mishnah prohibits us from using a stolen lulav in order to fulfill the commandment of taking up the lulav during Sukkot. In fact, the stolen lulav is categorized along with other prohibited lulavim, including a lulav that grew on a tree used for idolatry or a lulav that grew in a city condemned for idolatry. Since at its essence idolatry is a denial of God, in this way we learn that benefitting from a stolen good is akin to idolatry and is a denial of God.

 

From Education to Personal Action

As modern slavery and human trafficking continued to become an issue of personal importance, I deliberated over how best to move it from my sphere of concern and into my sphere of influence. I began to imagine a patient, sustainable course of personal action that I could ultimately share with the Jewish community and the community at-large.

This Chocolate Moses website is an expression of this desire and I am delighted to share it with you. On this website you will find background materials on modern slavery and trafficking, a Jewish Responsibility, educational and action resources, and relevant links.

I am still in the planning stages of my second component of personal action. Along with this website’s educational materials and opportunities to respond will be a chocolate figurine named “Chocolate Moses.” Chocolate Moses will be a fair trade molded chocolate figurine designed to be the physical embodiment of the Jewish ethics conveyed in the background and educational material. The figurine will initially be sold during Passover, with the hope of adding a new idea and a new voice of freedom to our Seder tables. Proceeds raised from Chocolate Moses sales will be reinvested into furthering education and inspiring action in the Jewish community.

Personal Action to Invitation to Participate

The last step in the Chocolate Moses story involves a unique ingredient: YOU. We invite you to collaborate with us in the work to make Chocolate Moses a voice for freedom. Learn and share the information provided on this website. Download the worksheets educate the people in your life. Adapt the materials as needed and create new ones. Organize a Chocolate Moses Salon. Teach about modern slavery and human trafficking at you Seder.

I am Chocolate Moses. You are Chocolate Moses. Together, we are Chocolate Moses.

 


[1] Genesis 1:27