The Shabby Chic of the Shabbos Goy

A Dilemma You Will Face: If you're a non-Jew, self-described "Noahide" or otherwise, you will likely be faced with the prospect of functioning as a "shabbos goy." Basically, this refers to a non-Jew who does for a Jew what he or she can't do on shabbat. For example, the lights might go off in the synagogue. Or the air conditioning. This is a dicey proposition, for the Jew as well as for you. First, Jews are not supposed to ask. What they might want is for you to realize that there is a problem and to get up and turn the light on yourself, which you probably shouldn't do (certainly in some situations, I would argue) but for which you would unlikely to be criticized (because that would be a violation of derekh aretz or politeness). If you are reluctant to get up and turn on the light without being asked, you might find yourself on the listening end of an odd conversation, in which a member of the congregation appears to be hinting without asking directly for you to turn the lights back on (or hinting without hinting, since hinting itself may be forbidden). Depending on where you are with your practice, you may to be happy to get up and flip on the light. Or, as in my case, you will not act as a shabbos goy (both because as a Netzarim geir, I forbidden from doing so, and because I don't think it honors the Jewish house to do something that is forbidden on shabbat). Even if you've decided that you cannot act as shabbos goy, it is not quite so simple (it is never simple). In some situations, it may be in order to do something that a Jew cannot do or would prefer not to do. For example, in San Jose, a young boy injured himself playing during the service and needed to go to the hospital for stitches. Certainly, the father could have taken him, this being a situation of pikuah nephesh (for life), However, I was more than happy to drive the father and the son to the hospital and open the car door for the father (which turned a light on), saving him the necessity of violating those normal shabbat prohibitions. Another time, I volunteered to push an elderly holocaust survivor in a wheelchair to the beit k'nesset, which would also have violated some rabbinic prohibitions. However, this was pikuah nephesh as well, the man needing to be with his community rather than at home alone on shabbat. Despite my silly headline, this is serious matter, worth thinking about before it comes up, and consulting with your rabbi (who will likely honor your decision but help you sort out any complications). I'm not clear on the source of this Shabbos Goy article (a Word file), but it does point to classic sources. Schueller House.

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