Should Jews Be Embarrassed about the Institution of the “Shabbos Goy”?

It was once common for synagogues and Jewish families to employ a Gentile—known as a shabbos goy—to perform tasks prohibited on the Sabbath, a phenomenon that was the subject of a book by the outstanding Jewish historian Jacob Katz (1904-1998). Allan Arkush reflects on the book and on the halakhic loophole it describes:

Why, one might wonder, should there be a book about something like the shabbos goy? Isn’t the whole concept just a silly piece of rabbinic hypocrisy, nothing but a legal ruse to get around problems posed by the divine prohibitions of labor on the Sabbath by having a Gentile do the work for you? How much can there possibly be to say on the subject?

Well, it is a fairly short book—but it is rich in content and should disabuse any of its readers of the idea that the shabbos goy is a bit of a disgrace to Judaism. It is not a wink-wink subversion of God’s law. The main problem the rabbis faced, according to Katz, was one that they believed to be of their own—not God’s—making. “In the original terminology [from the talmudic tractate of Shabbat], telling a Gentile [to perform creative labor for a Jew on the Sabbath] is a rabbinic prohibition.” It “is not included in the Sabbath observance as laid down in the Torah,” which pertains only to the people of Israel. What they struggled to get out of, when it was necessary, was a trap of their own making.

The subtitle of Katz’s book is A Study in Halakhic Flexibility. His subject is the way in which leading rabbis over the centuries, from ancient Babylonia to 19th-century Russia and Hungary, endeavored both to maintain as much of the traditional law as possible and to accommodate themselves to changing economic, technological, and social circumstances. . . .

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Halakhah, Jewish history, Shabbat


Iran’s Program of Subversion and Propaganda in the Caucasus

In the past week, Iranian proxies and clients have attacked Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran also has substantial military assets in Iraq and Syria—countries over which it exercises a great deal of control—which could launch significant attacks on Israel as well. Tehran, in addition, has stretched its influence northward into both Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Israel has diplomatic relations with both of these rival nations, its relationship with Baku is closer and involves significant military and security collaboration, some of which is directed against Iran. Alexander Grinberg writes:

Iran exploits ethnic and religious factors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to further its interests. . . . In Armenia, Iran attempts to tarnish the legitimacy of the elected government and exploit the church’s nationalist position and tensions between it and the Armenian government; in Azerbaijan, the Iranian regime employs outright terrorist methods similar to its support for terrorist proxies in the Middle East [in order to] undermine the regime.

Huseyniyyun (Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan) is a terrorist militia made up of ethnic Azeris and designed to fight against Azerbaijan. It was established by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps . . . in the image of other pro-Iranian militias. . . . Currently, Huseyniyyun is not actively engaged in terrorist activities as Iran prefers more subtle methods of subversion. The organization serves as a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime on various Telegram channels in the Azeri language. The main impact of Huseyniyyun is that it helps spread Iranian propaganda in Azerbaijan.

The Iranian regime fears the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan because this would limit its options for disruption. Iranian outlets are replete with anti-Semitic paranoia against Azerbaijan, accusing the country of awarding its territory to Zionists and NATO. . . . Likewise, it is noteworthy that Armenian nationalists reiterate hideous anti-Semitic tropes that are identical to those spouted by the Iranians and Palestinians. Moreover, leading Iranian analysts have no qualms about openly praising [sympathetic] Armenian clergy together with terrorist Iran-funded Azeri movements for working toward Iranian goals.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Azerbaijan, Iran, Israeli Security