America’s Shabbat Goyim

Since I grew up in a relatively small town, there were whole categories of people that I never met until I was an adult. Orthodox Jews were not a part of my world until I turned 21 and moved to Los Angeles. There was one Jewish boy in my middle school, and he was an overachiever that became class president, but other than celebrating Chanukah rather than Christmas, there wasn’t anything particularly Jewish about him.

Not so with the Orthodox Jews in Los Angeles. They stood out even from a distance because they were dressed from the 19th century, or even earlier. I met all different kind of Jews in LA, from the bacon eating kind that were ‘culturally Jewish’ as they described themselves, to the ultra-orthodox.

I grew up Christian so the holy day was Sunday, but for the Jews, Saturday is Shabbat, the High Holy Day. This day is supposed to be a day of rest for the Jews, but rest means different things to different people. The Bible proscribes all manner of activities that are forbidden on Shabbat, but they are described, like most things in the Bible, from the perspective of the agricultural times in which the Bible is written. Jews are not to start a fire on Shabbat, according to the Bible, but this is a problem for a modern Jew if he or she wants to cook breakfast. To some, using a stove, or even turning on a light, is ‘starting a fire’ and consequently, forbidden.

And so, many Jews cheat by hiring a non-Jew, called ‘goyim,’ to do these things for them.  They don’t see it as cheating, which is fair enough, but if it’s forbidden, and it gets done anyway, at the behest of a Jew, I see that as cheating, and especially if the goyim are being paid, as I was.

Yes, one day, I was a Shabbat Goyim for a Jewish family in Los Angeles. The father in this family was a friend of a friend, and I had a lot of Jewish friends. I like Jews and found the orthodox ones, on the few occasions that I had to meet them, interesting. Part of my interest was motivated by my rather orthodox Christian background.

Anyway, I went to this particular family’s house one Saturday and spend most of the day doing things for them, such as turning on the stove and moving the car out of the driveway. The mother and father didn’t really agree on what I should do, and what they could do on their own. The Dad, for example, thought I should turn lights on and off but the Mom thought it was OK if she did that for herself. The two kids didn’t seem to want any help with anything; Shabbat for them meant not going to school but they could turn on lights with impunity, and watch TV. Mostly, we all watched TV, they paid me, and I left.

I think of that family occasionally when I read about how the United States subs out certain work or business processes to other countries because we want the benefit but we don’t want the work done here. Of late, the sitting US president has called on the oil producing nations of OPEC, once a sworn enemy, to produce more oil so the price of gasoline will come down. This is odd because the United States has plenty of domestic oil and for decades, energy independence was a stated national goal. And yet, our government is calling on other counties to pump the oil, perhaps because under the High Holy orthodox dogmas of climate change, we’re not supposed to be producing oil, and so we get OPEC nations to be our Shabbat Goyim and produce more oil for the world market. We get the lights turned on, and the stove lit, but we didn’t have to do it ourselves.

China is the world’s ultimate Shabbat Goyim. For decades, various political factions in the United States called on greater protection for workers and bent to law to allow for union representation. At the same time, laws were passed to protect the environment, as it was claimed, and changes to both labor and environmental law made manufacturing in the United States more expensive. These laws were said to make the workplace safe, give workers a shot at a better life, and allow for cleaner water and air.

At the same time, we shipped those manufacturing processes to China, which has far different labor laws and vastly different ideas about the environment. For the people who had the power and control to make this happen, this was all upside; the goods got manufactured, but they didn’t have to underpay workers, or pay them what the unions demanded, because they didn’t pay them at all. Further, the environment of the United States was cleaner than ever because a clean factory can’t be as clean as no factory. Win-Win, unless you lost your job and your town began to go dark.

Suddenly, wealthy Americans declared themselves ‘citizens of the world’ and ‘globalists,’ which sounds friendly and advanced. This was the High Holy of the “We Are the World’ generation. But a ‘citizen of the world’ cares little about the citizen of the country from where they came and in towns across the US landscape, jobs went away and nothing came along to take their place. Poor Chinese got a little wealthier but a few Chinese and a few Americans got much wealthier as the manufacturing in the US and other places shifted to where the labor was cheap and environmental laws lax.

Making the Chinese our manufacturing Shabbat Goyim was bi-partisan as well; Apple had their high-tech goods made in China and much of the goods sold in Wal-Mart came from China. The ‘citizens of the world’ did well by doing good, as they surely think.

But, it’s still cheating if you go by the spirit of the deeds. If we don’t want the oil because we are convinced the world is coming to an end, forbid it! No lighting of fires! If we want workers to be paid more and factories to not pollute, don’t sub the work out the China, or Africa next. If our Bible, the law, says we’re not to turn on lights, then we should not see it done by others. And if we’re not going to follow the spirit of the law, then we should do what the ‘cultural Jews’ of LA did on Shabbat; turn on the lights, start the stove, and fry up some bacon.

Nothing stinks to High Heaven like a hypocrite.

The hats and strings identified the Orthodox at a great distance.