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A Shabbos goy, Shabbat goy or Shabbes goy (Yiddish: שבת גוי, shabbos goy Modern Hebrew: גוי של שבת goy shel shabat) is a non-Jew who performs certain types of work (melakha) for a Jew on the Biblical Sabbath, work which Jewish Law (Halachah) enjoins the Jew from doing on the Sabbath. The phrase is a combination of the word "Shabbos" (שבת) meaning the Sabbath, and "Goy", which literally means "a nation" but colloquially and practically means a "non-Jew" (in Biblical Hebrew "goy" means simply "a nation", but in Mishnaic Hebrew it is used in the sense of "a non-national", i.e., "a non-Jew").
Judaism prohibits Jews from doing certain types of work, known as "melakha" on the Sabbath. Within certain guidelines (as dictated by the Shulkhan Arukh, the authoritative Code of Jewish Law), a non-Jew may perform certain acts which are beneficial to Jews but which may not be performed by Jews on the Sabbath. Generally speaking, a Jew should respect a non-Jew's right to rest on the Sabbath, and therefore may not explicitly ask a non-Jew to perform a service prohibited by the Jewish law on the Sabbath, nor may the Jew obtain benefit ("hana'a") from such a service. Nevertheless, a non-Jew is not expected to keep the Sabbath like a Jew. Hence a Jew may benefit from work performed by a non-Jew if the non-Jew performs this work for his own good and of his own free will. A borderline case is when a Jew hints to a non-Jew that he wants him to perform a certain service without explicitly asking him. Such cases are considered legitimate in most Jewish communities. Furthermore, in many Jewish communities it is considered legitimate to hire a non-Jewish worker to perform certain services on the Sabbath, providing that the non-Jew is paid in advance, so that the payment seems like a kind of gift rather than a salary. In this way, the principle of the non-Jew performing the service of his own free will is still adhered to, at least formally.
It is more appropriate if the non-Jew enjoys his own service in a way. For example, if his job is to take care of the heating system, it is more appropriate if this system also heats his own room or apartment, so that he enjoys it as well and not just the members of the Jewish community.
A "shabbat goy" is not needed where life is at stake (pikuach nefesh). Jewish physicians must work on the Sabbath if their work is needed to save lives. They should avoid any unnecessary work forbidden on the Sabbath. However, if there is any question as to the exigency of the situation, they must err on the side of leniency, and do the work.
In certain households and synagogues a particular non-Jew (invariably not a member of the home/synagogue) may be designated as the Shabbos goy for that place. This individual is usually one who would be present regardless of this role, such as a babysitter, a security guard or a synagogue maintenance crew member, and is typically paid for the work. Before the 20th century Shabbos goys most commonly lit (or re-lit) stoves in Jewish homes in the winter. In the 20th century, Colin Powell, Mario Cuomo, Martin Scorsese, Floyd B. Olson, and the adolescent Elvis Presley assisted their Jewish neighbors in this way.
- "Former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell and Mario Cuomo, former governor of New York State, each a former Shabbos goy, both share fond recollections of their youth, when they were uniquely qualified to lend a Jewish neighbor a hand." Fertig, Avi. "Glatt Kosher Adventure To The Land Down Under", The Jewish Press, November 21, 2007.
- "...[R]eaders follow General Powell all the way back from Gulf War strategist to South Bronx Shabbos goy, the lad who earned a quarter on Friday nights turning on and off the synagogue lights for Orthodox Jews." Clines, Francis X. "The Co-Author of Gen. Powell's Book Is Given a Part as the Story Goes On", The New York Times, October 1, 1995.
- Chan, Sewell, "White Ethnic Politics: Irish and Italian Catholics and Jews, Oh, My!", The New York Times, October 25, 2007
- Sources give two different people for whom Elvis was a Shabbos goy. In Tugging at Jewish Weeds: An Interview with Steve Stern it was the Dubrovner family; to Alfred J. Kolatch, in his Inside Judaism: The Concepts, Customs, and Celebrations of the Jewish People (Pub. Jonathan David, 2006), p. 480, citing a secondary source, it is Rabbi Alfred Fruchter who is helped.
- Katz, Jacob (trans. Yoel Lerner). The "Shabbes Goy": A Study in Halakhic Flexibility, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia/Jerusalem, 1989.
- Velarde, Joe. The Shabbos Goy – That Was Me
- Shmirat Shabbat Kihilchata (Chapter 30: 1-7 Milechet Nachri b'Shabbat v'b Yom Tov)