The Shabbes Wife


Credit: Photo by William Mercer McLeod (

Growing up as a totally secular Jew, I was always intrigued by the idea of the shabbes goy—a non-Jew who would perform certain tasks for Jews on the Jewish Sabbath, tasks they were forbidden to do themselves (such as turning on a light, which would count as “work” on the day of rest). It seemed pretty sneaky to me—a way to follow the letter of the holy law while violating it in spirit. By which I mean to say: I dug it. The only flaw, it seemed to me, was that you would then be dependent on the presence of a Gentile—Elvis Presley, say, or the Pope (just to pick two at random)—who was willing and able to perform these mundane tasks for you. What if Elvis had a Friday-night concert? Or if the Pope wanted to go bowling on Saturday afternoon? Then you’d be stuck.

Of course, since I myself observed none of the Jewish laws (unless, perhaps, by accident), this wasn’t a real issue for me. I could turn on (or, to use the language of my immigrant grandparents, “open”) the light whenever I wanted to. So I never spent that much time grappling with the whole shabbes goy concept. But now, in middle age, I’ve begun exploring certain aspects of Jewish practice: I go to temple (sometimes), I read the Torah (in portions, and in English), I even believe in God (not really, but I just wanted to hedge my bets here). This year, for the first time, I totally fasted for Yom Kippur—going so far as to forswear my beloved coffee (resulting in the holiest headache of my life). And I think it was during this fast that I looked over at my wife, who is not Jewish, and thought: hey, maybe she could be my shabbes goy! ...

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Josh Kornbluth is a monologuist who lives in Berkeley with his wife and son. His latest solo show is Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews? You can follow his doings at

Source Citation

Kornbluth, Josh. 2012. The Shabbes Wife. Tikkun 27(1): 71.

tags: Culture, Humor, Judaism   
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