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Fires for Jewish People: 1909

Fires for Jewish People: 1909

October 1909. Boston, Massachusetts. "Fire - Fire - I want to make the fire. An Italian boy on Salem Street Saturday morning, offering to make fires for Jewish People." Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine. View full size.


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I thought (in fact I'm sure as my daughter lives in the UAE) that the Islamic Holy Day is Friday, not Saturday. And there are no restrictions on what can be done, only a requirement for prayer.

Mom was a Gentile

In the 1950s, Mom was a nanny for a Jewish family that kept Kosher. Even though she was a Gentile, she had to observe the same practices that the family did. I suppose that practices can vary from place-to-place.

Even in the Arab World

My grandfather, a Sephardic Jew from Morocco, used to say his family had servants to do all the prohibited things on the sabbath. I wondered about this because the Islamic Sabbath, like the Jewish, is on Saturday, and while I'm not aware of exactly what behaviors are prohibited for Moslems on that day, it is hard to imagine hiring an Arab or Berber to violate the Sabbath so you don't have to. The basis of the Sabbath Goy in Europe and the US is the fact that Christians use a different day of the week for their Sabbath than Jews. The phrase "Shabbes Goy" is Yiddish, a language that was not used by Sephardic Jews, another indicator that this should not have happened in the Arab world. But my grandfather said it did.

However, I'm also remembering that in French North Africa, as you can find out just by reading Albert Camus's novels, slavery was legal. It might be that my great-grandfather's "servants" were the kind that could neither quit nor say no.

Shabbos Elevators

Many Orthodox Jews living in NYC opt for apartments on lower floors to avoid using elevators on the Sabbath. In some other situations, Senior residences or Assisted Living situations etc, the use of a Sabbath Elevator is permitted. That type of lift operates continuously, stopping at each floor as it goes up or comes down. So that the resident does not have to press a floor button.

[There are also Shabbos kitchen appliances. My refrigerator has a "Sabbath" setting that keeps the inside light on from late Friday to late Saturday, even when the door is closed. - Dave]
I hope you're kidding about the light going out when the door is closed. I had more than one customer that drunkenly drilled a hole in the Fridge to see if the light really goes out when the door is closed.

Not just in New York

My mother told me about her doing this in the 1920s and 1930s in Thibodaux, Louisiana. There were one or two Jewish families in Thibodaux, and I guess my mother was the most reliable, or cute, kid available.

[This photo was taken in Boston. - Dave]

I remember when

I did this In late 30s-40s for a Orthodox Jewish family next door also on there Holidays, had my eye on their (Shana Mattel ??) girl, she thought I was a nice Italian boy!!

In UK too

My grandfather used to say that he used to do this in Liverpool for Orthodox Jewish families - he was born in 1899. I was always a bit dubious about this - but thanks Shorpy, it appears he was telling the truth.

My Grandfather used to do that

He'd also help them with small tasks they could not do on the sabbath. This was probably also in the 1920's. He spoke Polish, German, Russian, French and English so he became a helpful gentile for the mix of Jewish groups in Holyoke.

Snow in August

There's a great book (and also a pretty good movie) built around the concept of the "Sabbath Goy" (as they call it in the book) called "Snow in August.""

The 39 Melachot

The 39 Melachot.

Today, kindling (making) a fire includes using switches, such as light or elevator. The "fire" is the electrical spark made when the contacts touch.

A very young Shabbes Goy

As Orthodox Jews are prohibited from lighting fires on the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to just after sundown Saturday, the custom arose of hiring Gentiles to light fires for them. The person who did this was called a "Shabbes Goy" (Sabbath Gentile) in Yiddish. This was a necessity in cold winter climates like Eastern Europe or North America; presumably it was not quite so necessary in the ancient Middle East, where the Sabbath customs and prohibitions were first formulated. The boy in the picture will probably have to wait until the end of the Sabbath to get paid for his efforts, as handling money is also prohibited on the Sabbath.

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