Shabbos goy

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A Shabbos goy, Shabbat goy or Shabbes goy (Yiddish: שבת גוי‎, shabbos goy; Hebrew: גוי של שבת‎, goy shel shabat) is a non-Jew employed by Jewish people to perform for them certain types of work (melakha) that Jewish religious law (halakha) prohibits a Jew from doing on the Sabbath.


The term is a combination of the word "Shabbos" (שבת) meaning the Sabbath day of rest, and goy, which literally means "a nation" but colloquially means a "non-Jew" (in Biblical Hebrew "goy" means simply "a nation", but in Mishnaic Hebrew it is used in the sense of "international", i.e., "a non-Jew").


A shabbos goy is a non-Jew who performs certain activities which Jewish religious law (halakha) prohibits a Jew from doing on the Sabbath.

There are numerous restrictions[1] and certain types of work are prohibited, such as contractor work.[2] The rabbis ruled that asking a non-Jew to violate Shabbat for oneself is generally forbidden,[3] but under certain circumstances the rabbis allowed it, especially to heat the oven on winter days in northern countries.[4] A shabbos goy is not needed where life is at stake (pikuach nefesh) or in the case where there would be a reasonable chance of danger to life (safek pikuach nefesh).

Originally, the job of the shabbos goy was often given to a poor woman, and the compensation was in the form of challah; later, money was given,[4] although not on Shabbat or not directly given to the worker, due to halakhic restrictions on hiring workers on Shabbat.

According to Ronald J. Eisenberg, "Today the proliferation of electronic timers has virtually eliminated the need for the Shabbos goy, who once played an important role, especially in the shtetls of Eastern Europe."[5]

Notable examples[edit]

Notable examples include Maxim Gorky,[4] Floyd B. Olson,[6][7] Harry S. Truman,[8][9][10] Peter Hammill,[11] Colin Powell,[11][12][13] Mario Cuomo,[13] Martin Scorsese,[11] Ralph Branca (who did not know at the time that he was Jewish),[14] Tom Jones,[15] and the adolescent Elvis Presley,[11][16] all of whom assisted their Jewish neighbors in this way. Barack Obama[17]while in the Illinois senate, had a Jewish office neighbor, who told him what he could do.


  1. ^ "The Myth of the "Shabbos Goy"".
  2. ^ "May One Allow a Non-Jewish Contractor to Build on Shabbat?".
  3. ^ Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 150a
  4. ^ a b c Public Domain Jacobs, Joseph; Eisenstein, Judah David (1906). "SHABBAT GOY". In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. p. 216. Retrieved 2019-08-12.
  5. ^ Eisenberg, Ronald L. (2011). Dictionary of Jewish Terms: A Guide to the Language of Judaism. Taylor Trade Publications. p. 368. ISBN 9781589797291.
  6. ^ Lewin, Rhoda (2001). Jewish Community of North Minneapolis. Arcadia Publishing. p. 28. ISBN 9780738508177. Floyd B. Olson learned Yiddish from his playmates and became a shabbos goy for his Jewish neighbors and business owners on Sixth Avenue North, lighting their stoves and gas lights and tending their furnaces on Sabbath and the Jewish holidays.
  7. ^ Carrier, Jerry (2015). Hard Right Turn: The History and the Assassination of the American Left. Algora Publishing. p. 88. ISBN 9781628941791. Olsons' friendships with some of the local Jewish families led him to serve as a 'shabbos goy', which is a gentile assisting Jews on the Sabbath by performing household functions like starting fires for heat, cooking etc. that the Orthodox Jews were not permitted to do on their Sabbath.
  8. ^ Devine, Michael J. (2009). Harry S. Truman, the State of Israel, and the Quest for Peace in the Middle East. Truman State University Press. p. 93. ISBN 978-1-935503-80-4. ... the Jewish Viner family who lived next door to the Trumans... In an interview with Sarah Viner... she said that during Shabbat he was the 'Shabbas goy' for the family household chores.
  9. ^ Schultz, Joseph P. (1982). Mid-America's Promise: A Profile of Kansas City Jewry. Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Kansas City. p. 113. ...with the Truman family in Independence and that 'Harry was our Shabbos goy.'
  10. ^ "San Francisco Jewish Bulletin, Volume 129". Jewish Community Publications. 1979. p. v.
  11. ^ a b c d Chan, Sewell, "White Ethnic Politics: Irish and Italian Catholics and Jews, Oh, My!", The New York Times, October 25, 2007. "'I became the Shabbos goy at the synagogue,' he said. 'So every Saturday morning, I would go in, on my way to Holy Name Church, with my surplice on my arm and I would do whatever the rabbi would ask me to do — turn on the gas stove, whatever — and there would be a dime on the shelf at the front door, which he wouldn't touch, and off I’d go.' Mr. Hamill cited other 'Shabbos goys': Colin L. Powell, Martin Scorsese, even Elvis Presley."
  12. ^ 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. "...[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."
  13. ^ a b Fertig, Avi. "Glatt Kosher Adventure To The Land Down Under", The Jewish Press, November 21, 2007. "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."
  14. ^ Prager, Joshua (August 14, 2011). "For Branca, an Asterisk of a Different Kind" – via
  15. ^ "Episode 1219 - Tom Jones". WTF with Marc Maron Podcast. Retrieved 2021-04-20.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Heilman, Uriel. "Obama, Elvis and 5 other famous 'Shabbos goys'". Retrieved 2021-05-03.

Further reading[edit]