What Is The Shabbas Goy?

By Shlomoh Sherman
May 21, 2022 ยท Euclid, OH

From Ro's question at TORAH Study

Hello Rabbi

I have an answer to Ro's question about a nonJew performing work for a Jew on SHABBAT, and you may share it with the class if you wish.

What Ro called a SHAMAS is known as the Shabbas Goy, and its origin is as follows.

In the 16th century, Jews moved from German-speaking areas into Poland and eventually into Russia and Ukraine.

Never before in the 5000-year history of Israel had Jews experienced anything like the severe Russian winter. In small Russian villages, simple people lived in small houses called SHTIBLs. These were one large room in the center of which was a stove to keep the house warm. If during a winter, the oven died out, the family could freeze to death.

Hallachically, a Jew cannot ask a gentile to perform anything on SHABBAT the Jew himself cannot perform. But in this severe case, due to PEKUACH NEFESH, the rabbis issued a HETER that a Jew living in these circumstances may, in winter, enter into a contract with his gentile neighbor in effect that if the heat dies in the house on a winter SHABBAT, the gentile may come in and relight the stove. This was the absolute extent of the idea of SHABAS GOY.

What happened? When Eastern European Jews moved to the West, especially to America, most less enlightened Jews took that special case HETER and misused it, saying that a Jew can ask a gentile to do any prohibited work on SHABBAT that he himself may not. That is absolutely false. The case of SHABBAS GOY no longer applies. Even in Russia and Ukraine, Jews live in modern homes and apartments and only have to worry if the electricity goes out in winter, and in that case, everyone is in trouble.

I will add one note that bothers me. Memphis has a large Orthodox community and Elvis Presley was associated with the synagogue there. Elvis was a halachic Jew and sometimes served as a SHABBAS GOY for the community. They should never have impinged upon him to do so. No one in Memphis is freezing even in the winter.

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