The Shabbes Goy III
Manuscriptboy recently posted about questions which arise, both from a historical and sociological viewpoint, from having non-Jewish help in Jewish homes. He also brings a most unusual statement from an early-Modern Italian rabbi about the relationship between Jews and non-Jews which is worth reading. I want to bring below a responsum from R. Meir of Rothenberg which illustrates very clearly some friction which may occur between Jews and their non-Jewish help, specifally regarding the Sabbath.
In the Responsa of Meir of Rothenberg, Prague ed., par. 92 we read,
וששאלת על הגויות המחממות בית החורף בשבת בצרפת היו נוהגי’ היתר בבית מורי ואמר שרבי’ יעקב דאורךיינ”ש התיר אפי’ לומר לגוי לתקן האש משום חולה שאין בו סכנה [דאומר] לגוי [ועושה] והכל חולי’ אצל האש לישב בקרירות. אמנם במלכותינו נ”ל לאסור משום דברים המותרים ואחרי’ נוהגי’ בהן איסור שנהגו משום חומרא ופרישות שלא לישב בבית החורף שהוחם בשבת אי אתה רשאי להתירן בפניהם וגם מחיתי לשפחותי פעמים ושלש שלא להחם והרגשתי שהיתה מתחממת בצנעה ועשיתי לי’ מסגרת בכל ע”ש אני סוגרו ואניחו סגור עד מוצאי שבת. מאיר בר’ ברוך
And that which you asked about the non-Jewish women who heat the homes on Shabbat, in France it was customary to permit this in the house of my teacher and he said that R. Yaakov of Orleans even permitted to tell a non-Jew to light the fire because of a sick person whose life was not in danger since [in this case] one says to a non-Jew to do something and they do it and all are sick to sit in the cold by the fire. But in our parts it seems to me to one should prohibit [this] because of �Things which are permitted but others treat them as prohibited, [you are not allowed to permit them],� since [in our parts] because of strictness and asceticism [people] would not sit in the house that was warmed on Shabbat. I also protested to my female servant a number of times that she shouldn�t heat the house and I felt that she was doing it secretly, [therefore] I made a frame and on every Erev Shabbat I close it and leave it closed until Shabbat is over. Meir b. R. Baruch.
This short responsum contains a number of important things. First of all we see that in France where R. Meir of Rothenberg had studied, it was not only acceptable to permit a non-Jewish servant to heat the home of a Jew, but according to R. Yaakov of Orleans, even to tell the non-Jew to do this. For the opinion of French authorities see among other sources Sefer HaTerumah par. 242 and Hagahot Maimoniyot, Laws of Shabbat, chapter 6, par. 5-6, and especially par. 6 for an interesting story about the interaction between students of R. Meir and non-Jews when R. Meir was incarcerated in Wasserburg. It is unclear to me to whom R. Meir is referring when he says “היו נוהגי’ היתר בבית מורי”. He had a number of teachers in France and I am not sure to whom he is specifically referring here (on R. Meir’s time in France see Urbach, Baalei HaTosafot, 527-528). While R. Meir seems to agree with this ruling from his French teachers, this was not the accepted opinion in Germany. At least according to R. Meir the opinion of the German authorities was influenced by “חומרא ופרישות” (strictness and asceticism). Here we see R. Meir forsaking his own opinion in order not to disagree with the accepted ruling. He bases himself upon the Talmudic principle that �Things which are permitted but others treat them as prohibited, you are not allowed to permit them� (see Nedarim 81b and Pesahim 50b).Having accepted upon himself the prohibition of benefiting from a non-Jew’s heating of the house, R. Meir seemed to have had a hard time following this in his own home. He describes how he suspected that his non-Jewish servant was heating the home, apparently against R. Meir’s wishes (what if she was cold!). His answer was to make an “oven-guard” which would prevent someone from opening the oven on Shabbat! A similar incident can be found in the Responsa of R. Hayyim Or Zarua par. 199. There R. Hayyim describes how one time on Shabbat the house was heated andhow both his father, R. Eliezer of Vienna-the Or Zarua, and his teacher, R. Avigdor Cohen Tzedek (perhaps in a different incident), ate outside instead of staying in the heated house.