Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Kuntres Mesharetet be-vate Yisrael

A couple of weeks ago, while teaching a class that was looking at some of the halakhic issues arising from the use of midwives during the Middle Ages, the question of non-Jewish midwives came up. I said that, generally, the presence of non-Jewish helpers - whether they live in the house or simply take a large role in its upkeep - was always the cause of halakhic entanglements, and that medieval Halakhah is full of discussions of such entanglements. From a historical and halakhic point of view, that is a good thing - "le-hagdil Torah ule-ha'adirah". But to me, personally, it has always seemed like an unnecessary extravagance, and where necessary, a recipe for tension. I think that the cause of pluralistic harmony is better served by people having their own space within their own house. And the whole idea of hired help has always made me uncomfortable.

Yesterday, I found a little booklet at the library titled Kuntres Mesharetet be-vate Yisrael. It was just published by someone in Monsey. It is devoted to the halakhic issues that arise from having a non-Jewish housekeeper. He deals with laws of kashrut, bishul akum, yihud and touching, Shabbat and Yom Tov, and other miscellaneous laws (it is permitted to give a compliment to a non-Jewish employee; it is forbidden to make a bracha if her hair is uncovered and visible). In the introduction he explains that non-Jews were created in this world in order to serve Jews. This can be proven from the fact that Jewish women have never served in non-Jewish homes, even though the opposite has been true since ancient times. The only difference is that, in the olden days, "Kol kevodah..." and so the balebusta was in the home throughout the day, while now many women leave home for work, and thus all kinds of terrible halakhic mishaps are liable to happen.

That's not what I would have hoped for.

A different perspective, one I also find strange, is that of Abraham Vita Reggio:
שמחוייבים אנחנו שלא לשנוא אותם, שגם הם מצווים בדתיהם שלא לשנוא אותנו... וגם אנחנו צריכים לאהוב אותם, שאילולי הם היינו חולים ומתים בשבתות ימי הקור, וגם ע"י שאוכלים כמה בעלי חיים האסורים ואילולי הם לא היתה הארץ יכולה להכיל כמה
בהמות טמאות שרבו מארבה...
For we are commanded not to hate them, just as they are
commanded by their religions not to hate us... and we must also love them,
because if not for them we would become sick and die on winter Shabbatot.
And also because they eat animals which are not kosher, and if not for them, the
earth would be unable to sustain all the non-kosher animals, which are more
numerous than locusts.
A nice, but strange, expression of gratitude.
Published by Meir Benayahu, Assupot 14 (2002).


Blogger Menachem Mendel said...

In an essay question I had on my final exam one of my students addressed the very question of how the institution of the Shabbes Goy effected relations between Jews and gentiles.They raised some interesting questions and it is worth some thought.

12:53 AM  

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