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Thought for the Day: How a Proselyte Handles Shabbos (Non)Observance

As I mentioned, the budding (that's the wrong word, but you get what I mean) proselyte is expected to keep all of the mitzvos that he can.  One that he can't (and was sort of comic relief on top of everything else that had been thrown at me) is the mitzvah of t'vilas keilim/immersion of vessels that were acquired from a non-Jew.  Clearly, since he is still a non-Jew, he can't do that mitzvah.  ברית מילה  (or its equivalent in the case the proselyte is already circumcised, הטפת דם/a drop of blood from guess where) for the male proselyte cannot be performed simply because the word "ברית" means covenant/contract/alliance and that can't be done without the agreement of both parties.  That, in fact, is why Avraham Avinu waited till he was 99 to perform his circumcision.

Then there is the issue of Shabbos... again, as mentioned, a non-Jew is not allowed to keep Shabbos, which presents a real problem for the proselyte who needs to learn how to keep Shabbos.  The basic scheme, of course, is to do one act that definitely violates Shabbos to steer clear of that capital offense.  As mentioned (I know, I've already mentioned that I mentioned this before), it is a bit of a challenge to violate Shabbos at a Torah level.

That brings us back to Avraham Avinu, who spent a good fraction of his life where his status vis-à-vis Jew vs non-Jew was murky.  That makes things even more difficult than for the proselyte who is decidedly not Jewish.  Avraham Avinu needed to find a way to do something that would not be a violation of Shabbos for a Jew, but would be a violation of Shabbos for a non-Jew.  I had heard that he accomplished that by wearing tzitzis.  The logic being that a Jew is commanded to wear tzitzis, so they are a required part of his garment.  Since a non-Jew, though, is not commanded to wear tzitzis, those tassels are just being carried -- clear violation of Shabbos.  Well done.

Well... after the analysis I did in (as mentioned :) ), though, I thought about that idea a bit more.  Hmm, thought I, the non-Jew is not carrying them in his hand, they are on his clothes.  That means that even though he is not required to wear them, their attachment to his clothes is likely not more than only violation at the Rabbinic level (and perhaps not even a violation at all).  So maybe the violation only needs to be at a Rabbinic level?  With all that murkiness that I had caused in my own understanding, I approached R' Fuerst for clarification.

I asked him if the violation of a proselyte needs to be Torah or Rabbinic.  He confirmed (as I expected) that it had to be a Torah violation.  I asked him about Avraham Avinu and told him about the tzitzis scheme I had heard.  His response: "How do they know what he wore?"  (I love talking to R' Fuerst.  Straight answers, not fooling around.)  So what did Avraham Avinu do?  R' Fuerst said there are two basic approaches.  (1) He shlepped stuff around.  That is, "keeping Shabbos" for a Jew means the specific 39 categories of forbidden labors.  For a non-Jew, though, it simply means keeping a day of rest.  Hence, things we wouldn't do because "it's not in the spirit of Shabbos" would be actual violations at the Torah level for a non-Jew.  (2) Our day runs from sundown to sundown; while a non-Jew's day runs from midnight to midnight.  Plenty of hours where actual forbidden labors could be performed at times that are not Shabbos for a Jew, but that are Shabbos for a non-Jew.

I'd just like to end with some understanding of "what's the big deal anyway" with a non-Jew keeping Shabbos.  The Torah says that Shabbos is a אות/sign/emblem/etc between HaShem and the Jewish people.  Shabbos observance is not just another mitzvah, it is the mitzvah that most publicly declares our unique and exclusive relationship.  To put that in perspective: Ask most ladies if you can borrow this or that piece of jewelry and they are probably more than happy to accommodate.  Even very expensive bling.  Now ask her if you can borrow the plain, gold band that her husband gave her under the chuppah when they got married.  Let me know how that goes for you.

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