Shabbos goy

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A Shabbos goy, Shabbat goy or Shabbes goy (Yiddish: שבת גוי, shabbos goy Modern Hebrew: גוי של שבת goy shel shabat) is a non-Jew who performs certain types of work (melakha) which Jewish religious law (halakha) enjoins the Jew from doing on the Sabbath. The phrase is a combination of the word "Shabbos" (שבת) meaning the Sabbath, 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 "a non-national", i.e., "a non-Jew").

Judaism prohibits Jews from doing certain types of work, known as melakha, on the Sabbath. Within certain guidelines (see Shulkhan Arukh), a non-Jew may perform certain acts which are beneficial to Jews but which may not be performed by Jews on the Sabbath. However, certain other types of work may be prohibited, such as contractor work.[1]

A "shabbat goy" is not needed where life is at stake (pikuach nefesh). Jewish physicians must work on the Sabbath if their work is needed to save lives.

In certain households and synagogues a particular non-Jew (invariably not a member of the home/synagogue) may be designated as the Shabbos goy for that place. This individual is usually one who would be present regardless of this role, such as a babysitter, a security guard or a synagogue maintenance crew member, and is typically paid for the work. Before the 20th century Shabbos goyim most commonly lit (or re-lit) stoves in Jewish homes in the winter. In the 20th century, Colin Powell, Mario Cuomo, Martin Scorsese, Floyd B. Olson, Harry Truman, and the adolescent Elvis Presley assisted their Jewish neighbors in this way.[2][3][4][5]


  1. "May One Allow a Non-Jewish Contractor to Build on Shabbat?" [1]
  2. "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." Fertig, Avi. "Glatt Kosher Adventure To The Land Down Under", The Jewish Press, November 21, 2007.
  3. "...[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." 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.
  4. Chan, Sewell, "White Ethnic Politics: Irish and Italian Catholics and Jews, Oh, My!", The New York Times, October 25, 2007
  5. 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.