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,...

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