[Sca-cooks] Period Shabbat

Judith Epstein judith at ipstenu.org
Mon Aug 24 12:47:28 PDT 2009

On Aug 24, 2009, at 2:31 PM, Craig Daniel wrote:

>> I was thinking of offering to teach a class at some point on the  
>> practicalities of Jewish observance at SCA events and/or in the  
>> Middle Ages, so I guess I should spend this winter working out some  
>> class materials, including a pamphlet such as you describe.
> It could get a little tricky, since you have to follow the rule  
> about the Society not endorsing religious observances...

It wouldn't be the Society endorsing religious observances, would it?  
No more than the church services offered at Pennsic on Sundays, or the  
discussion of early church music, or allowing people to have personae  
that are monks, observant Muslims, Pagans, and such. I'd be very  
interested in taking classes related to those things, too.

> I suspect nobody will mind if you frame it as a way to be of service  
> to people with certain restrictions rather than as anything to do  
> directly with the Bible or the Talmud.

Mostly it would be about how Jews in the Middle Ages managed this or  
that, and how people *portraying* Jews in the SCA might *choose* to  
delve deeper into the mindset of the persona, by doing more of what  
the persona would have done. And of course an aspect of it might be,  
if there was time, discussion of what an observant Jew might do, or  
need done, because of the Sabbath restrictions.

> And, of course, a lot of us love chances to do interesting service  
> at events. If you're ever looking for a shabbos goy, I doubt you'll  
> have much trouble finding one if you ask around in advance - though  
> I don't know what you are and aren't allowed to ask for in your  
> tradition, since the only Jews I know personally are Ashkenazi and  
> none of them are Orthodox.

This might be a good time to mention the difference between a Shabbos  
goy and a Shabbos goy. I know they look alike on paper, but believe  
me, the tonality can change it like lightning. Originally, "Shabbos  
goy" was said with a tone of great respect. Here was a non-Jew that a  
Jewish family honored and trusted to enter their homes -- sometimes  
even when they weren't there -- and ignite just the right candles in  
just the right rooms, so that they could see to read and study the  
holy books, but not be kept awake by glare. The Shabbos goy was  
trusted to bank the fires at night, then come in the morning to feed  
them fresh wood, so that the house could be kept warm and the food  
wouldn't get cold and congeal -- but they were also trusted not to  
take the food or the fire, not to add anything to the pot, not to  
deliberately set fire to the house (because the Jewish family would be  
permitted to get themselves outside, but not to remove their  
belongings or extinguish the flames). The Shabbos goy was not only  
appreciated for the service (and usually paid, or the favor was  
returned the following Sunday), but highly honored, highly respected,  
highly trusted, and considered one of the Righteous Gentiles that  
would merit a sure place in the world-to-come.

Then there's "Shabbos goy" said with a tone of derision.This is said,  
not of a trusted neighbor, but as a "lower than me" person, a servant  
of a lower caste than other servants, someone to do the most menial  
schlep-work. That usage of the term is both incorrect, and insulting.

The third case of "Shabbos goy" is that which is said of one's fellow  
Jew, indicating "They're Jewish by birth, but they deliberately  
desecrate the Sabbath and disobey the entirety of Jewish law, so they  
might as well not even be called Jews, because their presence is  
shameful to us." This usage is also insulting, because it's like  
saying "We're related, but I don't claim you at all." It's said with  
the assumption that a Jew of this type can never change their ways and  
become observant, or at least, see some value in the Jewishness of  
their heritage -- but worse, it says that the rest of Jewry has given  
up on them. It's heartbreaking to hear a Jew call another Jew a  
"Shabbos goy."

Another word that shouldn't be used is shiksa (female) or sheygetz  
(male). I know it's a popular word that people think simply means "non- 
Jew," but it also means "insect." It is said by the severely bigoted  
Jew about non-Jews, as if being non-Jewish was a bad thing, which it  
is emphatically not. (It's also used in honest ignorance by those who  
don't realize what they're saying.) It's like other racial epithets  
which have no place being spoken by good people with compassion and  
refinement. There's a Talmudic passage which asks, "Why did Hashem  
(God) make the entire human race out of just one woman and one man?"  
After much rabbinic discussion, the answer comes, "So that no person  
could say to another, My ancestors are greater than yours." People who  
use the word shiksa/sheygets are those who have forgotten this, and  
they shame themselves with such language.


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