Life & Culture

Happy to be your Shabbos semi goy

Zelda Leon's ventured out for some exercise - and she has a revelation



A non-Jewish friend who lives in a ground-floor flat in the heart of Frum-Land says she is fed up of people knocking on her window on Saturdays, asking to be let into the flats upstairs. I explain that it’s because Orthodox Jews “can’t” ring the entryphone bell on Shabbos, whereas apparently knocking on a lone woman’s window is completely fine. I suggest that, if it gets really annoying, she stick a sign on her window, saying “I’m not your Shabbos Goy — ring the bloody bell!”

But now I find I have become a sort of Shabbos Goy myself… albeit to an observant Muslim rather than an Orthodox Jew.

The episode begins promisingly with major excitement — I’m off for an outing! Admittedly, it’s only to a field in Hendon, but having had almost no excursions other than for food shopping or walks for months, this is genuinely thrilling: Going out in my car! More than a mile away! If only I were wearing a snazzy dress and make-up rather than a t-shirt and track pants, my joy would be complete.

The reason for the excursion is to meet my personal trainer, Ismael, for an outdoor training session.

The field is presumably used for football as it has multiple sets of goalposts across its vast expanse. But now it is almost empty — except for Ismael standing next to the nearest goalpost. In anticipation of my arrival, he has secured two long loop resistance bands — like outsize super-strong elastic bands — at different heights, to one upright of the goalpost, for my exercises, in place of the machines inside the gym. As they are red and black, it gives the unfortunate impression of being an ad hoc sex dungeon, but in a corona-friendly format designed to allow maximum ventilation when the breathing gets heavy.

Ismael gets out a wireless speaker and offers to play some music from my phone but as I am a) technologically useless and b) still in love with vinyl, I don’t have a single track on my mobile.

At the gym, they play music non-stop, usually that particular brand of banal, soulless fast pop that is supposed to prompt you to go for the burn but mostly makes me want to flee screaming from the building to escape from it. Ismael, a devout Muslim convert, used to be a DJ years ago but no longer listens to secular music because it is haram (forbidden). When I asked him if the music at the gym bothered him, he said no — he mentally edits it out. As he can’t turn it off, he says he just ignores it.

But then, as I have no music on my phone, Ismael says it’s no problem and selects something from his. It’s mellow saxophone music — not exactly the right beat for the initial horrific cardio section of our training session, but lovely all the same. I’m about to say he doesn’t need to have it on for my sake, when I realise that, of course, it isn’t for me — it’s for him. I am his Shabbos Goy when it comes to music. He can alibi playing the haram music because it’s necessary for his work — most clients find it helpful when exercising.

This strikes me as sad but he’s a lovely chap and I don’t mind being his Shabbos Goy for this. I remember my dad telling me that if a rabbi was cold on Shabbos, he would rub his hands together and muse aloud if perhaps winter was on its way early this year. The Shabbos Goy, taking the hint, would set and light the fire without the rabbi having either to do it or — importantly — ask for the fire to be lit (which is as bad as lighting it yourself).

Perhaps it’s the same for this? Ismael can’t ask if I mind having music but, as long as I don’t say: NO, please turn the music off — he can listen to it.

The Husband once stepped out of the inner automatic doors of a hospital to make a phone call, but then paused in the small lobby space between the inner and outer doors as it was winter and very cold. He then noticed that a frum man had followed him out of the inner doors but was now trapped in the middle space with him, unwilling to step forward on to the pressure-pad to activate the second set of doors and reduced to looking meaningfully towards the doors and the mat in the hope that The Husband would do the honours.

So I’m wondering if I could loiter in the more frum neighbourhoods near me, advertising myself as a Shabbos Semi-Goy? As I know (a little) more about Jewish practices than the average non-Jew, I could anticipate your every need. Want your light switch turned on? The tiniest glance towards the lamp will suffice! Doorbell pressing? Just raise one eyebrow! I’ve checked the list of forbidden melachot for Shabbos and I think I’m up for most of them — except I can’t plough your field or bind your wheatsheaves right now as I’ve just pulled a shoulder muscle during my outdoor gym session.


Zelda Leon is half-Jewish by birth then did half a conversion course as an adult (half-measures in all things….) to affirm her Jewish status before a Rabbinical Board. She is a member of a Reform synagogue. Zelda Leon is a pseudonym.


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