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   by Jacob Solomon

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'You must not return a run-away slave… to his master. He shall live amongst you… you shall not taunt him'(23:15-16)

- is immediately followed by:

'No Israelite woman may be a female prostitute. No Israelite man may be a male prostitute' (23:17).

Based on earlier Talmudic sources, the Chinuch rules that the run-away slave referred to is one who has fled from outside into the Holy Land, and has taken on the minimum Halachic commitments to be part of the Israelite Nation. The Torah instructs the Israelites that such asylum seekers may settle wherever they like in the Land of Israel, as it is wrong to return them to outside idolatrous surroundings. The Ramban points out that people seeking asylum under those circumstances may be of service to their hosts where there is tension and war with the escaper's country.

Why is the prohibition of turning in a run-away slave immediately followed with the one forbidding prostitution? According to Rashi, that prohibition is directed against people making themselves available for sexual activity not sanctioned by the Torah. According to the Ramban, it orders the Courts to prevent people displaying themselves in public for such personal services, and to ensure that no premises are set aside for those purposes.

As familiar to those knowing the modern Israel experience, there are two stages involved with new immigrants: rescue, and settling down. Often the first is more spectacular - and certainly more newsworthy than the second. Waves of immigration to Israel with mainly (though not exclusively) Jews fleeing countries of persecution have been a source of national pride, especially as they have been backed up with material aid ensuring support in the short term.

However, the hard work is in the long term - enabling the immigrants to be absorbed into the host society, to the degree that they may be self-supporting in a manner most fulfilling both to them, and the needs of the country. It involves language and skills/professional training: especially where the latter from their home country do not meet the stringent requirements of their new country. It involves access to a sufficient amount of capital that they may live in an environment that affords suitable congeniality to the way they can best serve society.

Thus the Torah's placing these laws together implies the need for Israelite society to meet those long term needs. For failure to do so drives individuals to obtaining money by any means possible - with prostitution very much included, following the laws of demand and supply…

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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