Our Orthodox Jewish neighbor always knocks on our door during their sabbath to turn on lights, turn off things. This happens every weekend and it is driving us nuts. We live in a Condo and they live below us. What is the Jewish view on this use of someone as a 'Shabbos Goy'? Is this ethical and in line with Jewish values?
The concept of a shabbes goy is a study of flexibility of Jewish tradition.In many communities a shabbes goy is a normative part of the community life and a necessary person to ensure that others are able to enjoy the holiday. The concept of a shabbes goy is that non-Jews may do certain things on Shabbat that observant Jews cannot.This may be simple things like turning on lights or the heat to a building, but nevertheless important things. Asking someone to do these things for us is an unusual tool, but has become quite common in the Jewish world.
It would be inappropriate for one Jew to ask another Jew to violate Shabbat for their benefit.Regardless of outward appearance in observance it is not our place to make assumptions about how Jews behave on Shabbat.Each Jew has a different way of connecting to our tradition and when we make assumptions about how someone observes Jewish tradition we are bound to make mistakes that can hurt feelings and tear relationships.
However, it is always nice to help a neighbor who is in need.This is particularly true if that kind of assistance can help someone enjoy the holiday more fully.When we are able we should always extend a hand to help those around us.It is a Jewish value to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.What better way to exemplify that than by helping with some small things that so often go unnoticed, not just the large tasks that are easy to recognize.
Have you spoken with your neighbors about their request?Have you told them that it bothers you?My guess is that if you reach out to them to express your own discomfort with an open heart and open ears, you may hear more about what is going on for them; you may better understand where they are coming from and be better able to assist them.You might also get your Shabbat back!
Certainly a shabbes goy as a general principle is ethical.But if a neighbor is imposing on you, your obligation should be to let them know so that you can work together to find a solution.
One Rosh Hashana my wife and I found ourselves as visitors in a big hospital. The patient was on an upper floor, so taking the stairs wasn't practical. According to Jewish law, our use of the elevator was permissible as long as we didn't press a button. If it turned out that the elevator went within a floor or two of our destination, walking up or down a few flights of stairs would have been manageable. While we waited for someone to happen by the elevator, a woman saw our dilemma. She enthusiastically approached us and said, "I see that you're Orthodox Jews waiting for someone to press the elevator call button. Let me help you -- I'm a Reform Jew!' As this lovely woman reached to press the button, my wife politely stopped her. She told her that although we were appreciative of her noticing our situation and her offer to help, we had to respectfully request that she not push the button on our behalf. "A Jew is a Jew," my wife told the woman. "Though you identify yourself as a Reform Jew, we can't knowingly have any Jew perform a prohibited activity on a Jewish holiday or Shabbat on our behalf. You're just as Jewish as we are." Following my wife's sensitive response the woman said 'thank you', and walked away with a smile on her face.
When we arrive for our 'final exam' in the World to Come, one of the questions certain NOT to be asked will be, "Were you an Orthodox, Conservative or Reform Jew?" Striving to become the best possible Jew that we can be is what G-d expects of us. And how is that to be achieved? Through Jewish learning and mitzvah observance. The lofty goal set before us is to become a 'Good Jew.' And even then, the assessment of whether one is a 'Good Jew' is something only a Divine Calculator can ascertain.
A Jew may, operating under specific guidelines (known in Jewish law as Amira L'akum) benefit from or even solicit assistance from a willing non-Jew on Shabbat or Yom Tov to perform on our behalf a prohibited action such as turning on a light. If a non-Jew assists us in such a manner, we should be graciously appreciative. However, a Jew is a Jew, and no one Jew is more Jewish than another. To request of a non-observant or less-observant Jew to serve as a 'Shabbos Goy' suggests that their are 'different levels' of Jews, when in fact, in G-d's eyes, all Jews have equal responsibilities and equal value. V'ahavta l'rayecha kamocha -- Love your friend as yourself, the Torah teaches us. Love every Jew as yourself, regardless of his or her level of Jewish education or observance.
Alas, this situation is probably far more common than it should be. For starters, if you are Jewish (it is unclear from your question), then this is absolutely forbidden. A Jew is not permitted to ask another Jew to do anything that is forbidden on Shabbat, regardless of whether the Jew being asked considers himself “secular.” Assuming that you are not Jewish, the question is much more complicated.
The Rambam writes (Yad, Shabbat 6:1):
Although Shabbat places no restrictions on the Gentile, it is forbidden to ask him to work for us on Shabbat even if the request is made before Shabbat and even if there is no need for the melacha (forbidden act) until after Shabbat. Our sages forbade this lest a Jew take the Shabbat lightly and ultimately profane it himself by doing melacha (the forbidden act).
Other decisors of Jewish law offer other reasons for this prohibition of asking a Gentile to perform work for us on Shabbat, but all agree that it is forbidden. This prohibition is called “Amira L’Akum” in our legal codes. But once we start with this basic premise, the legal issues become incredibly complex. For example, the prohibition is on benefitting from the work that a Gentile performs for us on Shabbat, but there are varying degrees of benefit, each of which are treated differently. For example, there is direct benefit, which is produced directly by the melacha (forbidden act) performed (such as using the light that is the direct result of someone kindling a light- which is forbidden). There is indirect benefit in which the benefit is not the product of the melacha, by rather, a byproduct of it (putting out a light in the bedroom does not directly enable a person to sleep, it just makes it easier for the person to fall asleep). There is also additional benefit, which is a benefit produced by a melacha in a situation in which that benefit was previously available to some extent before the melacha was performed (additional lights were turned on in an already lit room). Each of these categories of benefit requires separate assessments. As you can see, this is not simple.
Suffice it to say, a general principle is that it is forbidden to ask a Gentile to do something that is forbidden for you to do unless it is for the sake of fulfilling a mitzvah (commandment) that you would not be able to perform with the Gentile’s melacha, if there would be substantial financial loss, considerable pain, or for the sake of human dignity. Again, these categories are complicated and require the guidance of a learned person. Hinting to a Gentile to perform these prohibited acts is also prohibited in most cases and in most forms of hinting (though not all).
In the end, I would say, based on what you wrote, this person is not permitted to come to you on a regular basis and ask you to turn lights off and on for him. Even if it were permitted for him to ask you from a legal point of view, you have every right to tell him that this is not a role that you want to play, period.
You do not make it clear as to whether or not you are Jewish. If you are, the behavior of your neighbors is an absolute violation of Halachah (rabbinic law). If you are not, it is still a violation unless arrangements were made in advance of Shabbat to for you (or someone else) to do specific tasks. In either case, learn how to say a firm but polite NO.
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