Summary: The Limits of Halakhic Flexibility
After this review of the emergence of problems connected with the phenomenon of the Sabbath Gentile throughout the ages, it would be proper to return and redefine these problems with clarity and precision in order to determine what can be learned from them.
The root of the Sabbath Gentile phenomenon is to be found in the nature of the Sabbath as a uniquely Jewish religious precept. The Jew himself as well as his male and female servants and his beasts of burden are forbidden to labor on the Sabbath; this does not apply to other people, who have neither accepted Judaism nor fallen under Jewish jurisdiction, such as slaves or servants. We do not know whether in biblical or early Second Temple days a Gentile happening to be in a Jewish settlement was prevented from violating the Sabbath atmosphere by laboring in public. In tannaitic literature--the Mishnah, the Tosefta, and halakhic midrashim--that reflects the reality of Jews and Gentiles coexisting as an everyday affair, there is no sign of such a trend. The Jewish religion was not perceived to be a form of ritual or a set of customs obligating the inhabitants of a particular region. Rather it was perceived as an obligation of the Jewish nation stemming from the acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and Sabbath observance was a part of this unique obligation. Gentiles were thus undoubtedly allowed to engage in their