The "Shabbes Goy": A Study in Halakhic Flexibility

By Jacob Katz; Yoel Lerner | Go to book overview

Introduction

The expression "Sabbath Gentile," apparently derived from the Yiddish phrase shabbes goy,1 has in the Hebrew tongue a derogatory connotation implying criticism of the Jewish religious tradition for rendering Jews dependent on the assistance of non-Jews in their religious observance. This criticism results from an aspiration to absolute national independence, an aspiration that has on occasion led to conflicts with traditional patterns of living.2 Yet during the period that Jewish tradition reigned supreme, this dependence caused no signs of embarrassment whatever. Halakhic sources recommend the use of a Gentile's services with little

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1
The expression "Sabbath Gentile" is not found in halakhic sources. Its Yiddish counterpart is common in Yiddish literature, and, according to Professor Dov Sadan, its oral use precedes its written traces.
2
In practice, members of the religious kibbutz movement (Ha-Kibbutz ha-Dati) in the 1930s objected to the use of a Sabbath Gentile in connection with milking cows on the Sabbath, not only for practical reasons--considerations of security involving the introduction of Arabs onto kibbutz property--but also for reasons of principle: because they aspired to live "full, complete" Jewish lives. See Arieh Fishman , "Ha-Kibbutz ha-Dati: A Study of the Mutual Influence of Religion and Ideology in the Context of Modernization" (in Hebrew) (Ph.D. diss. Hebrew University, 1976), 190, 205-207.

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