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How do Jews and Christians justify getting someone else to do work not allowed for Jews or Christians?
There is no justification for this behavior. (5/21/2011)
How do some Jews rationalize having someone else come in and turn on the lights on the Sabbath in view of the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy? Are some Christians guilty of the same reasoning?
The seventh day is a Sabbath unto the LORD your God, in it you shall not do any manner of work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your man-servant, nor your maid-servant, nor your ox, nor your ass, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates; that your man-servant and your maid-servant may rest as well as you. … therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. [Deuteronomy 5:14-15]
As we all know, I’m not an authority on rabbinical law (or much of anything else); however, here’s what I found.
The Mishneh Torah is a codification of Jewish religious law written between 1170 and 1180 A.D. (per Wikipedia) by one of history’s foremost rabbis, Maimonides. We are going to assume here that whatever Maimonides said on the topic of Sabbath Law is definitive for Jews.
The commandment sounds
fairly straightforward: Don’t work; don’t make your family work; don’t make your servant work; don’t make your livestock work; don’t make anybody else work. Unfortunately, the issue of working on the Sabbath gets complicated by three equally straightforward questions: What is work? To whom does the commandment apply? What about “good” works?
Consequently Maimonides devoted 30 chapters to the Sabbath; I didn’t read them all. From what I did read, this seems to be the story, bearing in mind that it is a radical simplification of a hugely complicated issue:
- A Jew may contract with a Gentile to perform some service, e.g., agricultural labor. The Jew may not direct the Gentile to perform the service on the Sabbath – nor even hint to the Gentile that the Jew would like something done on the Sabbath; however, if the Gentile chooses to perform the service on the Sabbath, that’s his own doing. Nevertheless, if the Gentile is performing the service in such a way or in a place that other Jews might think the employer directed the Gentile to work on the Sabbath, it’s not allowed. (This seems to me to be similar in spirit to Paul’s discussion of eating meat sacrificed to idols – if someone is going to be misled by it, don’t do it, even though it is, strictly speaking, allowed for mature Christians.)
- A Jew may benefit from a Gentile’s work on the Sabbath, providing the Gentile did the work for his or her own benefit, and the benefit to the Jew is incidental. For example, if the Gentile comes into a dark room and lights a lamp so that he can read, the Jew may read by it also. (Similarly, a mature Christian who knows idols are rocks may eat meat sacrificed to idols, because it’s just meat.)
- A Jew may direct a Gentile to perform a task that is allowed for Jews to perform on the Sabbath, e.g., to fetch a knife for a circumcision. (Similarly, a Christian choir director could invite an atheist musician to play music on Sunday.)
- When there is danger to life, or even if a reasonable person might think there is danger to life, a Jew is allowed to do any work necessary on behalf of the ill or endangered person. (Ditto Christians.) By the way, Maimonaides adds that “When such treatment is administered, it should not be administered by gentiles, by children, by servants, or by women, so that they will not view the Sabbath flippantly. Instead, the treatment should be administered by the leaders of Israel and the wise.” What a tremendous responsibility and tender care the mature in the faith owe to their younger brothers and sisters!
If a person is ill, but not dangerously so, a Jew may direct a Gentile to take care of the ill person’s needs.
[Here are references for Bullets 1-3 and Bullet 4.]
I didn’t read all thirty chapters, but I did search the Mishneh Torah site for “Gentile” and “Sabbath.” I found no justification for the practice of hiring Gentiles for the specific job of doing work on the Sabbath. In fact, it seems directly contrary to Bullets 1 and 2 and to the “stranger“ wording of the commandment.
Jews are not alone in this kind of loophole logic. I read an article in the paper a few days ago called “Enjoy eternity in heaven knowing your pet is safe,” by John Kelly of the Washington Post
. It turns out that there is a website – and it was still working as of 8:08 a.m. MDT, May 21, 2011 – which for $135 plus $20 per pet guarantees to rescue your abandoned pet anywhere in the USA within 24 hours of the Rapture.
This is related to the topic of Gentile work on the Sabbath because the owner of Eternal Earthbound Pets is Bart Centre, an atheist, who says he is in no danger of being Raptured. All of his people are atheists who undergo a background check: they must blaspheme the Holy Spirit.
Let’s ignore the questions of whether pets go to heaven and of whether you think a person who is willing to blaspheme the Holy Spirit is trustworthy.
Instead, let’s think about you and me and other Christian pet lovers. Is it okay with God that we hire a non-believer to blaspheme the Holy Spirit expressly in order not to be saved, in order to do a job that we are unwilling to do?
No, brothers and sisters, it’s not
okay with God. God has repeatedly
, in both the Old and New Testaments, expressed the longing that everyone – Jew, Gentile, sinner (okay, a redundancy), idolater, agnostic, or atheist: everyone
– turn to him and be saved. If I hire some guy to do something that is expressly forbidden by the Law, the sin is mine as well as his, and I will have a lot of explaining to do when Judgment Day really does come.
Copyright 2011, 2013 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.
Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the
author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the
Bible-study participants. Thanks to the
Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers
for their support and enthusiasm. All
errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.
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