“Can one use a dragon to light a candle on Shabbat” and other important questions from Lady Trent’s world

My husband, to me: “You probably want to see this.” <sets his laptop down in front of me>

Me: <reads the best tumblr conversation I’ve seen possibly ever in my life>

Seriously — β€œCan I use my pet dragon to light candles on Shabbat?” is an actual debate religious leaders would have to have in Isabella’s world. Because they have dragons, and a sizable percentage of Anthiope is Segulist (i.e. Jewish), so that scenario is a thing that could actually happen. Probably has. And now I’m regretting that I’m not conversant enough with Judaism to write a short story that is entirely about Segulist magisters arguing over something like using a pet dragon to light a candle on I don’t think I ever came up with a replacement term for Shabbat (it would run from sunset on Eromer to sunset on Cromer, i.e. Friday-Saturday, but there ought to be another word for it). I had enough trouble writing “The Gospel of Nachash”; this would be harder, especially since I don’t think I can ethically yoink the things people said in that Tumblr thread for my own commercial purposes, and figuring out how to turn it all into a workable story would require me to go beyond what’s there into the wilds of stuff I don’t even know enough about to ask the right questions.

<wanders away from half-finished blog post for a while, thinking>

<comes back>

Okay, screw it. We’re doing this thing.

And I do mean “we,” because I am actively soliciting ideas from people who know Judaism better than I do, that you’re willing to let me use to write a Lady Trent story about religious debates concerning the proper role of dragons in pious Segulist life. I have no idea what form this is going to take; right now in my head it reads like a “Dear Abby” column, with some magister who is here for all your dragon-related religious queries, but it would be hard to give that enough shape to pass for a short story rather than just a novelty piece. Really, I can’t plan the story itself until I know what material it’s going to be built around, because that will probably suggest to me a context for why and how and of whom the questions are being asked.

So toss me some suggestions, people. Other than using a dragon to light a candle on Shabbat (probably a sparkling or a Puian fire-lizard; I don’t recommend desert drakes for the purpose), what other questions might come up? I know enough about kosher laws to be pretty sure dragon meat does not qualify, assuming you would even want to eat it, which you probably would not. After that, I don’t know what would be interesting to consider. Any thoughts?

9 Responses to ““Can one use a dragon to light a candle on Shabbat” and other important questions from Lady Trent’s world”

  1. Diatryma

    I feel like ‘doing things with dead dragons’ might fall under the same umbrella as ‘doing things with dead pigs’ which I understand is frowned upon. So an old-fashioned caeliger might be treyf-equivalent. There’s also something about letting the ox eat the grain that drops from the mill, something along those lines, which might fall under the gleaning thing.

    And would the scholars know that *all* dragons are dragons, religiously? Would there be a bit of, “Oh, come on, we weren’t going to eat them but we could have if we’d been hungry enough,” with sparklings?

    And the dissolving thing: there’s something there. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something.

    • Anthony Docimo

      Could the dissolving be considered magic, and thus falling under that set of laws?
      (if the bones dissolving doesn’t harm the meat, maybe its okay; but if it damages the meat, maybe its to be avoided like witches)

      • swantower

        I’m hoping to find some angle that isn’t about the edibility of dragons, since they’re not very good food to begin with. But maybe preserving bones falls under the magic-related laws? I’m not very familiar with what those might be.

    • swantower

      Belated reply, sorry about that — I suddenly had to work on something else and couldn’t spare the brain for this.

      I think my only statements about the edibility of dragons from a non-religious context are that they taste foul. But on the other hand, good point about how maybe not everything that gets counted as a dragon from a scientific perspective would count as a dragon from a religious perspective — heck, I even say in the first book that sparklings used to be thought of as insects. Only grasshoppers and one type of locust apparently count as kosher, though.

  2. Anthony Docimo

    Other than Harry Turtledove’s _The R Strain_, I don’t think anyone’s explored kosherness in fiction.

    (I’d seen this on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IAmBabsWTP/posts/716945968280?pnref=story )

    Yeah, using a desert drake would be…”overkill” on several levels. πŸ™‚

    I think I need to go back and look through the laws.

  3. antongarou

    Does a dragon lighting a cooking fire count as a Jew lighting it or a gentile lighting it? This is relevant since food cooked by gentiles is by definition not kosher, and this includes lighting the fire

    • swantower

      The “is the dragon a Jew or a gentile” question is a good portion of the Tumblr thread, and I think on the whole the answer tends to be “having the dragon light any fire is cheating except under these very specific circumstances” — before you even get to the question of whether the fire is for cooking. I suspect you’re correct that it would be Right Out in that instance, regardless of circumstances.

  4. Writing Lynn

    Okay… my friend and I discussed this yesterday over Shabbas oneg. I read to him the tumblr post and told him a brief description of Lady Trent’s world to give him context. This is what we came up with:

    1. A dragon cannot be Jewish, just as a dog or cat or any other animal cannot be Jewish (or Gentile for that matter).
    2. According to Exodus 23:12, “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed.” Traditionally, these different categories in their historical context include what we might classify today as pets and/or livestock, servants, and non-Jews, and they are also not permitted to do any work or forbidden activity on the Sabbath. (Also, for cross-reference, there’s Deuteronomy 5:12-15.)
    3. Shabbas goys should never do the work meant for a Jewish person, i.e. light Shabbas candles. It’s a mitzvah. (https://torah.org/learning/shulchan-aruch-classes-orachchayim-chapter18/)
    4. Technically, Shabbat doesn’t start until 18 minutes before sundown on Friday evening, so technically if a dragon were to light the candles before that time, it wouldn’t be in violation. However, manipulating the situation to cause the dragon to do so would be a violation. (https://torah.org/learning/shulchan-aruch-classes-orachchayim-chapter19/)

    In conclusion, no; for the observant Segulists [Jews], you would not permit a dragon pet (or otherwise) to light your Shabbas candles. Obviously, for someone like Lady Trent who is not strictly observant, she probably would let her dragons do it, but I don’t see her forcing the dragons to do it out of respect for the dragons themselves, not so much the Sabbath, which again is also another valid point. Do the owners respect the dragons as living creatures or treat them with condescension? I don’t have an exact reference, but I know that the Rabbis teach against such ill-treatment of animals. Another reason why I cannot see anyone forcing dragons into such labour, if they are treated with the same pampering and affection as any other pet. Observation is executed on all matters, not just in regards to religious practices. Meaning, for the observant Segulist [Jew], one would both respect the dignity of the animal [dragon] as well as the sanctity of the Sabbath. For more liberal Segulists, it would just be a matter of allowing the dragons to light candles without considering it a violation. However, the ethos of the value of life –– all life, animal or human –– would still exist within the psyche of the Segulist, no matter their level of observance. This is because it is intrinsic to the Segulist way of life, it is what sets them apart from others. Thus, I don’t see any type of Segulist forcing their dragons to light their candles, but some may allow it while others may forbid it depending on their level of observance.

    Hope this helps!

    For more references, you can read here:
    Preparations for Sabbath: https://torah.org/learning/shulchan-aruch-classes-orachchayim-chapter17/
    Fire and food preparation on Sabbath: https://torah.org/learning/shulchan-aruch-classes-orachchayim-chapter22/
    Animals, children, and the sick on Sabbath: https://torah.org/learning/shulchan-aruch-classes-orachchayim-chapter24/

    • swantower

      Thanks for this! What I’m hoping to find is actually not an answer to the candle-lighting thing per se, but rather some other point on which dragons and Jewish law might be seen as intersecting — but I don’t know enough about any laws other than Shabbat and dietary restrictions (and not even very much about those) to guess where the intersections might be.

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