The "Shabbes Goy": A Study in Halakhic Flexibility

By Jacob Katz; Yoel Lerner | Go to book overview

4
Household Needs in European Jewish Communities

The Jewish household in European countries, at least in the well-to-do class, was undoubtedly dependent upon "slaves and handmaids" to perform the major household tasks. The quotation marks framing the expression "slaves and handmaids" are necessary because their legal status includes a number of categories: bought slaves who were in every respect their owner's property, some having been circumcised and ritually immersed in water and others who remained uncircumcised and without such immersion. The term "slaves and handmaids," however, is also applied to servants merely hired for their work either for a fixed period of time or with no such limit. The meaning of the expression is not always clear, and it may be the case historically as well that the boundaries between these groups were also unclear and that the involved parties themselves were unaware of the precise status of certain male and female servants. The important point is that their place was in the household and they fulfilled their assigned roles within it.

It would seem that for halakhic reasons a clarification of their precise status was necessary because the definition of the status of a male or female servant had practical halakhic implications for various matters, including the requirement that they work on the Sabbath and on other festive days.

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