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September 25, 1981 - Image 44

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1981-09-25

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44 Friday, September 25, 1981


The Shabbos Goy—Secularism vs. Orthodoxy

(Editor's note: The con-
troversial subject involv-
ing Jewish secularists is
under interesting
scrutiny in an essay
entitled "The Shabbos
Goy," which appears in
the Winter 1980-1981
issue of Forum, the mag-
azine published by the
World Zionist Organiza-
tion in Jerusalem. The
author of the essay is A. S.
Halkin, professor
emeritus of the Jewish
Theological Seminary of
America and City Uni-
versity of New York.
Since his aliya he has
taught at Bar-Ilan Uni-
versity. The essay is ex-
cerpted here in apprecia-
tion to Forum magazine
and the World Zionist
The Sabbath day, which
the Bible sets for rest, is
enveloped in a large
number of restraints which
guarantee maximum ob-

servance as a day of rest.
Other activities as regards
foods, ritual, or business
practices are similarly
guarded by restrictions and
checks, meant to ensure
correct performance of bi-
blical law.
This idea of meticulous
observance necessitated the
introduction of an agent
who was not under the law,
who was therefore within
his rights to do and to act for
the Jew, as the Jew for reli-
gious reasons could not.
He was known as the
Shabbos-goy, the gentile
who either for pay or out of
friendship would help the
Jew to kindle light or extin-
guish it on the Sabbath, to
carry out other chores
which the Jew was not per-
mitted to do on the day of
It is legally permitted to
utilize the help of the
non-Jew, with the pro-
vision that the Jew must



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a beautiful illustration of
the system of "we" and
"others." These work to-
gether with those during
the week, but with the com-
ing of the Sabbath the•ob-
servant cease their work,
and leave their fellow-
workers to carry on.
Truly, to paraphrase a
remark from the prophet
Ezekiel: They have saved
:themselves. (Ezekiel
For the disturbing
thought that_ '!others" are
continuing to do what you
will not, although you will
enjoy the produce of the
work together with them,
probably does not upset you.
The optimal. method of
repairing this harmful situ-
ation would be the reawak-
ening of the courage and the
earnestness-•of old in the
hearts and minds of the con-
temporary Orthodox rabbis
and leaders.
- Certainly something fun-
damental and far-reaching
could be devised whereby
services and essential in-
dustries become every-
body's concern, and the reli-
gious law sanctions activity
and work in those areas at
all times. We would then
eliminate the distinction
between "we" and "the
others," and the gulf be-
tween segregated groups of
observant and non-
observant would not longer
divide us.
But unfortunately this
seems to be an unrealistic
A , • -

expectation. There is
simply no hope of this
happening unless a mira-
cle brings it about.
For now, then, the pre-
sent division between the
two will endure. Therefore,
a drastic step must be'
taken. The state and its
needs must be separated
from religion and its re-'
quirements. The separation
of the two will rebound to
the advantage of both the
state and the faith.
As a result, the latter will
become the autonomous and
discrete interest of the
many who wish to live by it.-
The state as a whole
will benefit by the change
in the argumentation re-
garding the gains or the
harm attendant on a pro-
posed bill. The consider-
ations will be objective,
affected only by the ad-
visability of the act in
view of its effect on the
welfare of the land and its
But one condition is abso-
lutely obligatory in the
preparation of the state and
religion. The secular and
the Orthodox must learn to
tolerate one another's posi-
It is not wholesome that
the secular should crave the
total disappearance of the
religious prescriptions, and
it is not right that the Or-
thodox should regard those
who do not live as they do
with disdain, as condemned
to eternal fire.

Yr' •



(I .0

not tell his agent on the
sumed with them the old
particular day what he
pattern of dividing respon-
wishes him to do. He
sibility for the world. The
either has to give him
Orthodox, who will main-
the instructions before tain the religious posture
the onset of the Sabbath,
they have always pre-
or the gentile does it
sented, will also enjoy the
without any special re-
security, and the services,
quest by the Jew.
which, of course, they feel
Other stipulations and
they are entitled to, which
limitations regulate the are provided by the non-
services to the Jew by the
There are no qualms over
non-Jew, the Shabbos-goy.
As long as the Jews lived this division of labor since it
under unchanging condi- is accepted that the security
and the services are pro-
tions in the medieval and, in
many instances, modern vided by Jews. This is disin-
world, the life as sketched genuous at best and at worst
above was theirs contin- • it is cynical, since Jews are
performing the work which
ually, and they developed it
provides these needs, the
into a working system.
It was the change which Orthodox may not benefit
modern society underwent from them, because it is for-
bidden to a Jew to avail
that brought about a radical
himself of the services of
another Jew who is thereby

As large sectors of the violating the Sabbath.
Jewish population more
In their homes and pri-
or less turned their backs
vate lives these same
on the tradition, they dis-
Jews may have devices at
pensed with the
their disposal rather than
Shabbos-goy, or utilized fellowmen — Jews or
new devices, or new
. who can
techniques, like the help them.
Sabbath-clock, or the
A number of qualified
elevator that works
academics who are con-
automatically and stop
cerned with these problems
on every floor of the are working to increase the
building. It enabled them
number of devices which
to have the advantages of will help religious members
the new inventions, and
of settlements, kibutzim, or
at the same time to avoid
moshavim, so that they may
desecrating the Sabbath.
continue to observe the
The consequence of the
Sabbath and holidays and
establishment of the state of at the same time not jeopar-
Israel has been that novel dize the operations which
and grave issues and situa- either cannot be halted or
tions are in need of clearing
must be performed.
up. In the first place, the ar-
But this does not obviate
rangement with the the difficulty of Jews bene-
Shabbos-goy is not practic-
fiting from the activity of
able. When the Jews lived
other Jews on the Sabbath.
as minorities in a sea of
The Orthodox have
non-Jews, the availability
tacitly made peace with the
of help from a gentile was
ready at hand. But in the arrangements in which
they enjoy the labor of other
state of Israel, where many
towns and settlements are Jews on the Sabbath. Yet
almost entirely Jewish, it is the object to other practices
which can also be regarded
not easy to find a non-Jew
as indispensable in modern
who will function as the
times, such as post-mortem
dissection of the deceased,
What is of greater weight
or abortions, or the opera-
is that the entire manage-
ment is now in Jewish
tion of commercial planes
hands. Administration of on the Sabbath.
civil needs like lighting the
This discrepancy be?
tween compliance with
streets at night, telegraph
given set of violations
and telephone, water-
supply; are seven-day re-
and resistance to others
quirements which cannot be
may perhaps be ac-
counted for by historic
suspended on the Sabbath.
precedents, the premise's
Certain government
of the Diaspora trans=.
functions like the military
ferred to the state of Is-
in all its branches and the
police are at their posts 24
rael. -
Logically, however, it he
hours a day seven days a
unreasonable to accept and
week. Apart from the
enjoy services which
nonavailability of the
are performed by Jews; not
Shabbos-goy, there is the
in conformity with the Law,
question of security.
and to object to others which
In these areas there is
are also for the benefit of the
wariness of entrusting
public at large.
some tasks and functions
An Israeli writer once de-
to any but Jews; it is deli-
fined it: Let the others do it,
cate, if not perilous.
the others being the ir-
Under such conditions,
religious. But why not let
the problem of observance
"the others" also do the
becomes difficult, and re-
needful anatomy, or abor;
quires examination. It is to
tions helping the women
be regretted that many,
who have to be helped?
many of the Orthodox take
A resolution has been laid
the services of the state for
before the Knesset requirl
granted, and continue to be
ing services and industries
as unconcerned about them
as they were in the Dias-
to release those who out of
religious considerations do
The Jewish state has beer net swish -to- *JR met
Intr. oft: theiSabbitthae is



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