Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Some points to consider regarding halachah (Jewish religious law)

The Sages vs. The Sages

On the one hand, we have the 39 melachot (types of work forbidden on Shabbat/Sabbath), as described by Chazal, our ancient sages.

On the other hand, we have "bal tashchit," the prohibition against wastefulness, which is Chazal's interpretation of the law against destroying fruit trees.  (See Shoftim:  Sparing the fruit trees, and little else, parts one and two.)

A religion of dependency

Our son protests that any religion that can't survive without the help of people who aren't members of that religion is problematic.  He has a point:  What would we do without so-called "Shabbat goyim" to turn on the lights, heat, or the air conditioning at synagogue?


Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

The early state of Israel had a number of halchic debates on this issue. Examples included ways to be able to milk cows on Shabbat without the intervention of a non-Jew,w whether electricity generated on Shabbat could be used if the majority of the people working in the generation plan were Jewish, and of course the question of what to do for agriculture during the Sabbatical year.

I want to point out that unlike Christianity and Islam, the eschatology of Judaism envisions an end times conversion of the non-Jews to Noachidism, not to Judaism. So even in our perfect society there will still be non-Jews to help out on Shabbbat. Given that, I'm not sure I agree with your son's premise that a religion that can't survive without the help of people that aren't members of that religion is problematic.

I also don't understand your specific examples for places where we must have non-Jewish intervention. Leaving aside your ecological concern, synagogue lights, heat and ACs can be left on for all of Shabbat, or even put on timers. Individual households do this all the time, why not shuls?

The Mishna Berura talks about the proper use of Shabbes goyim to do things like add wood to the fire during the winter so people don't freeze to death, or even risk serious illness. The laws regulating the use of non-Jews to perform melacha on Shabbat have always been stricter than peoples actual practice. A good book on the topic is The Shabbes Goy: A study in halachic flexibility.

Wed Sep 13, 06:58:00 PM 2017  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Larry, I'll grant you that my specific examples may be site-specific: Our synagogue's architect did just as bad a job designing the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system as s/he did designing the rest of the building. (Grumble, grumble, kvetch and mumble, HVAC bad when builders stumble.) Our long-suffering non-Jewish senior maintenance worker usually has to readjust the temperature setting at least once per service, lest our 80-year-old-plus congregants get sick. :( Certainly, the halachic challenges that Medinat Yisrael (the State of Israel) faced/faces are far more complicated.

That "the eschatology of Judaism envisions an end times conversion of the non-Jews to Noachidism, not to Judaism" is a good thing on general principles, in that nobody will have Judaism forced down his/her throat, but rather interesting in the specific detail that it conveniently leaves us our "Shabbos Goyim." Given that, I'm not sure that my son's premise has been disproven.

Thu Sep 14, 01:34:00 PM 2017  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

P.S. Larry, thanks for your Sept. 6 comments to my "Planet Earth: 1; Hilchot Shabbat: 0" post--I just responded. Better late than never.

Thu Sep 14, 02:17:00 PM 2017  

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