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. . . .

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Halakhah, Jewish history, Shabbat

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

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Read more at Lahav’s Newsletter

More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror