Sunday, August 11, 2013

Phrase for the Sabbath: Shabbos Goy (updated)

The original sabbath is Saturday, a connection reflected in cognate terms for the latter such as Spanish sábado, Arabic sabt, and more obscurely in French samedi (from Late Latin sambati dies), German Samstag.   For observant Jews, the day comes with many practical restrictions on what you are allowed to do -- no turning on lights, operating machinery, etc.
To observe the letter of the Law while yet enjoying the usual convenience, some Jews traditionally made use of a Shabbos goy -- or, more genteelly, Sabbath gentile -- to perform the necessary actions.
Yet a more particular conscience might be troubled at this dodge, and indeed we read:

If a non-Jew lights a lamp on Sabbath, a Jew may make use of the light.  But if he lights it for the sake of the Jew, it is forbidden.
-- The Mishnah: Oral Teachings of Judaism, transl. & ed. by Eugene Lipman (1970)

With a curious combination of ostensible observance and covert opportunism, a loophole was found even for this.   A footnote explains:

Non-Jews have also been used to keep coal furnaces going on Sabbath  and to perform similar minor chores -- all in violation of the Sabbath.  A legal fiction is used by the rabbinate to justify this practice.  The Jew may not ask the non-Jew to perform the service, nor may he compensate the non-Jew for performing such services.  The non-Jew “volunteers for his own reasons”, and the Jew benefits.  Later, a gift of gratitude is given to the non-Jew for the coincidental fact that his “volunteer” service was of benefit to the Jew on Sabbath.

One is reminded of those Islamic banks which obey the letter of the ban on usury by not charging “interest” on loans, so named;  but charging … ahem … certain fees

Jesus, as was his wont, swept aside the casuistry, and cut right to the root: 

“The Sabbath was made for Man,
 not Man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)

[Folkloristic note:]  Notions related to the "Shabbos goy":  cat's-pawproxy.

~   ~
A bonus, of Jewish interest:
Why you should never let a gentile run a pawnshop:
Murphy Makes a Mitzvah
~   ~

In European history we find a sort of mirror-image or dual of the shabbos goy:  the Hofjuden.

The wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had played into the hands of the Jewish money-changers and moneylenders, who had made themselves indispensable to the absolutistic princes.  Even in the first half of the nineteenth century, the rules of states and principalities were depending  in their financial enterprises  on their “court Jews” (Hofjuden) … In the age of Metternich, most of the Jewish court bankers were baronized, although they were still deprived of cirtizenship.
-- Kurt Reinhardt, Germany: 2000 Years (1950, 2nd edn. 1961), p. 554

~  Posthumous Endorsement ~
"If I were alive today, and in the mood for a mystery,
this is what I'd be reading: "
(Ich bin der Graf von Metternich, and I approved this message.)

Another little-known parallel between European and MidEast social history, this from 19th-century Prussia:

Jews and members  of the armed forces  were excluded from citizenship,  the former for racial,  the latter for professional reasons.  Members of both categories were considered as “denizens” (Schutzverwandte).  They were forbidden to own real estate, were excluded from trade and industry, and had no share in city administration.
-- Kurt Reinhardt, Germany: 2000 Years (1950, 2nd edn. 1961), p. 434

This arrangement of Schutzverwandte is reminiscent of the institution of dhimmis -- certain non-Muslim groups tolerated (and surtaxed) under caliphal rule.  (The “dh” here represents a voiced interdental fricative, like the initial sound of English this.)

The English Wikipedia entry, by the way, paints a happy-face on the history of dhimmi disabilities.

The German version, by contrast, names names:

Der Erlass des Abbasidenkalifen al-Mutawakkil gegen die Dhimmis
  • Gemäß dem Historiker at-Tabarī erließ der Abbasidenkalif al-Mutawakkilim April 850 einen Befehl, wonach Christen und alle Schutzbefohlenen honigfarbene Umhänge taylasan und die althergebrachten Gürtel zunnar und eine gelbe Kopfbedeckung zu tragen hatten. Kleidervorschriften und weitere Unterscheidungsmerkmale sind allen Gemeinschaften des ahl al-dhimma auferlegt worden.
  • al-Mutawakkil ließ ferner an die Häuser aller Nicht-Muslime schwarze Teufelsköpfe malen und ihre Gräber einebnen, um sie dadurch von den Gräbern der Muslime unterscheiden zu können.
  •             Gottesdienste und Beerdigungen sind unauffällig zu halten; dabei sind keine Zeichen ihres Glaubens, z. B. Kreuze, zu zeigen.Gemäß diesem Erlass von al-Mutawakkil mussten neu errichtete Gotteshäuser zerstört werden. Wenn der Platz groß genug war, sollte er als Bauland für eine Moschee verwendet werden.
  • Dhimmis durften in Staatsämtern nicht beschäftigt werden.
  • Kinder von Dhimmis hatten keinen Anspruch darauf, Schulen der Muslime zu besuchen oder von einem Muslim unterrichtet zu werden.

You will notice that the imposition of a yellow badge of shame upon the Jews, made notorious by the Nazis, was actually invented much earlier, under the Abbasids.

For a rich collection of cultural and semantic observations about the classical age of Arabic,
consult my book:

[Update April 2014]

Jung had been, as is very clearly evident from Freud’s own emphatic statements, the Parade-Goy of the early psychoanalytic movement.
-- Ernest Gellner, The Psychoanalytic Movement (1985; 2nd edn. 1993), p. 8

(Here  Gellner is using the modifying appositive Parade-  in the German sense, as in Paradepferd;  nowadays Americans would say "poster-goy".)

The author adds in a footnote (p. 226):

This term, literally Display-Gentile, was in current use to describe a Gentile figurehead of a Jewish firm, set up to ward off anti-semitic feelings towards the establishment in question.

Compare, in our own day, the Parade-shvartser (among other ornaments) as a front for business benefitting from set-asides.

Update July 2018]  It turns out there is a curious reflex of goy in the French lexicon: goujat.

1. (vieux) valet d’armée
2. (vieux ou régional)  apprenti maçon
3. (vieux) rustre …
[mot languedocien, de l’ancien provençal gojat “gars”, hébreu goya “servante chrétienne”]
-- Dictionnaire de la langue française (Bordas)

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