My understanding is that Saturday has only become day off for most people since the 60s-70s, and before World War II it was a working day just like Monday-Friday are today.

Also my understanding is that before the 19th century Jews were very isolated, but as the 19th century went on, many Jews were everywhere in western European society, and if you didn't ask them, they were indistinguishable from non-jews European people and led similar lives outside of religious matters.

If that was the case, full-time workers were expected to work for 6 days, including Saturday. Thus the only way for Jewish people to work would be to work for 80% and have Saturday as a day off. Even then they would need to leave early Friday during the winter, (still applicable today), as the sun sets early. In theory, they would be available to work for Sunday, but I guess most workplaces were closed that day.

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    The simple answer is that Jews didn't work for Christians.
    – MCW
    Jan 14, 2018 at 18:04
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    So that would mean directly they didn't integrate at all - which is contradictory.
    – Bregalad
    Jan 14, 2018 at 18:10
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    @Mark - do you have a source for that? I have sources somewhere about that say that they stopped keeping shabbat and/or got fired every week (written by a reliable source, I just can't find it at the moment), so if you could pull up contradictory sources I'd like to see them.
    – Mithical
    Jan 14, 2018 at 18:43
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    @MarkC.Wallace Well sorry, while it would certainly also be on topic there, I won't migrate just to please you because I asked from a history viewpoint and it's on topic here. If a question is on topic on two (or more) SE communities there's no reason to migrate if I don't have strong reasons to believe the answers will be better on the other SE community.
    – Bregalad
    Jan 15, 2018 at 7:53
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    @MarkC.Wallace This is not a question about the interpretation of Jewish law or Jewish customs. It is a question about the historical development of the interaction/integration of the Jewish Shabbat custom and the modern western working days. Unfortunately "Jew" could both mean ethnic Jew or religious Jew. An ethnic Jew could be irreligious, so in this case Jewish law is irrelevant, but for the asked question it is very relevant because it explains how an ethnic Jew could work at Saturday. (because they don't believe in the Jewish religion). Jan 15, 2018 at 16:35

4 Answers 4


You can find a very detailed description of how Jews integrated into English society here. The only bit directly about the Sabbath is this:

Another feature of the Jewish religion which tended to set its adherents apart was Sabbath observance. Two aspects of this were evident to the general public. First, that Jews did not trade on Saturday. H. Miles Brown, writing in 1961 of Emanuel Cohen in Redruth, notes that 'local tradition says he was a practising Jew, and could be seen waiting for sunset on Friday and Saturday evening to close and open the shop'.23 It must have made a very powerful impression for the tradition to be extant over a century later. The second aspect which was widely noticed was the law which forbade a Jew to light a fire on the Sabbath day. A Jewish family would often employ a Gentile to tend its fires and put on, or turn off, lights. So common was this practice that there was a popular term for such a person - a Jews' Poker.24

However, keep in mind that most Jews at the time were working as small shopkeepers and tradesmen. (See the same reference.) As such, they could essentially make their own hours. Whether the Tobacconist is open on Saturday is up to the owner, so an owner who keeps it open M-F can still be said to be integrating with his gentile customers.

The other part of the answer is simply that many may simply have not observed the Sabbath. I can't find numbers for this, but if you look at the 1851 religious census in England

Pressure for further change was encouraged when the 1851 census revealed that out of a population of nearly 18 million, only 5.2 million attended Church of England services, with 4.9 million attending other Christian places of worship.

So at the time, only around half of Christians attended church. If you had similar behavior among Jews, you'd expect a large number not observing the Sabbath. (Which is of course what you see today in modern society)

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    Whether the Tobacconist is open on Saturday is up to the owner Mostly yes, but there's also civil laws about opening hours, at least here in Switzerland, for example it is forbidden for shops to open on Sundays. Although I don't think there's ever been a law that obliges shops to be open, it can theoretically be done. Also if opening on Sunday was also forbidden by civil law, it makes the guy's shop open only 5 days, which means a likely of customer loss.
    – Bregalad
    Jan 14, 2018 at 19:47
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    The Jewish shopkeeper can also hire an employee to care for the shop on Saturday.
    – jamesqf
    Jan 14, 2018 at 20:21
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    hiring an employee to work on Saturday is .... not correct... On the other hand, this is the history SE, and if you want interpretations of Jewish law, I'd check one of the Jewish SE. I'm only a casual student of Judasim; they take it more seriously.
    – MCW
    Jan 14, 2018 at 22:13
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    @xDaizu Shabbos goy. While they may do everything what a Jew may not do, there are still conventions which restrict what a Jew can pass on to a gentile. Jan 15, 2018 at 8:46
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    @MarkC.Wallace I have no real interest in a detailed explanation. Since your comment sounded (to me) contradictory to the answer, I asked for clarification and the comment from Thorsten, stating that there are differences (whatever they are) is enough to satisfy me, in the context of this answer :)
    – xDaizu
    Jan 15, 2018 at 12:37

Reform Judaism does not view the Sabbath as irrevocable holy day and the movement which started mid 19th century grew considerable so that your remark "they were indistinguishable from non-jews European people and led similar lives outside of religious matters" is only valid for this branch. I would even say that the integration and non-conspiciousness of Jews in the modern world (they still follow many rituals and traditions, so you can recognize a Reform Jew if you are a good observer) is only possible with the creation of Reform Judaism. Saturday is therefore not a problem for integration.

As reaction the ultra-orthodox Jews (Haredim) were moving in the opposite direction which means separation from other denominations, denial of the modern world and strict observance of Jewish law. The Haredim did not integrate into the western world at all and their distinctive appearance means they are very easy to recognize. The relationship between Haredi and Reform Judaism are for this reason a bit...strained.

The rest of the Jews who were more conservative, but would not decline to participate in the modern world are the Modern Orthodox branch. They try to balance the observance to traditional laws and the requirements of modern life. According to the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey a majority of 78% Orthodox jews consider themselves Sabbath observant.

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    Your last sentence could do with some clarification. I’d not be surprised if only 15% of Jews were shomer Shabbat, but I’d be shocked if the same were true of Modern Orthodox Jews.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jan 15, 2018 at 4:31
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    The three branches of Judaism you identify are an anachronism for the nineteenth century. Many "reform" Jews did keep the Sabbath (alongside those who didn't). It would be more helpful if you could quote surveys earlier than 1990 when discussing this time period
    – b a
    Jan 15, 2018 at 13:37
  • Thorsten, that note clearly mentions Conservative Judaism.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jan 15, 2018 at 14:04
  • Also, if you look at the original source, more like 78% of Orthodox Jews are shomer Shabbat.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jan 15, 2018 at 14:14
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    Right. And technically, the question was about interacting with money on the Sabbath, from what I could tell - but that is an excellent proxy for observing Shabbat overall.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jan 15, 2018 at 14:22

(Edit: Whoops, sorry, I assumed you were USian, but I see you're UKian, so this is more of an aside than an answer.)

According to Wikipedia, the five day work week was adopted across the US in the 1940s, and accommodation for Jewish workers actually contributed to its evolution (emphasis mine):

In 1908, the first five-day workweek in the United States was instituted by a New England cotton mill so that Jewish workers would not have to work on the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. In 1926, Henry Ford began shutting down his automotive factories for all of Saturday and Sunday. In 1929, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America Union was the first union to demand a five-day workweek and receive it. After that, the rest of the United States slowly followed, but it was not until 1940, when a provision of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act mandating a maximum 40-hour workweek went into effect, that the two-day weekend was adopted nationwide.

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    I asked the question for the "modern west" as a whole. Which country I am from is completely irrelevant to the question.
    – Bregalad
    Jan 16, 2018 at 7:05

I found a relevant passage in this (German language) booklet on women within Bundism.

Note that his concerns the Rayon within Zarist Russia, I don't know if this is western enough for you.

... war im ausgehenden 19. Jahrhundert ein jüdisches Proletariat entstanden, welches im Wesentlichen aus jiddischsprachigen HandwerkerInnen bestand. In diesem Zeitraum machte die jüdische Arbeiterschaft circa 15% der jüdischen Gesamtbevölkerung aus. Die überwiegende Mehrheit der jüdischen ArbeiterInnen war in Kleinbetrieben bzw. erweiterten Handwerksstätten tätig, die in jüdischem Besitz waren, und in denen (fast) ausschließlich JüdInnen angestellt waren. Gerade aufgrund dieses Arbeitsumfelds war eine Assimilation in die Mehrheitsbevölkerung nahezu ausgeschlossen

my translation:

[the conditions outlined above] gave rise to a jewish proletariat in the ending 19th century, which mostly consisted of jiddish speaking tradespeople. In this timeframe, workers made up about 15% of the jewish population. The large majority of jewish workers was employed in small shops and extended artisan manufactureers, which were in jewish possession and where (almost) exclusivley jews worked. Especially because of this working environment, assimilation into the majority population was almost impossible

On the other hand, David Graeber notes in an essay on a totally different topic:

Even in the days of Karl Marx or Charles Dickens, working-class neighbourhoods housed far more maids, bootblacks, dustmen, cooks, nurses, cabbies, schoolteachers, prostitutes and costermongers than employees in coal mines, textile mills or iron foundries.

So it appears integration into mainstream society was possible near the precarian bottom rungs or in the educated upper middle class, but not into the respectable working class.

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