Starting Shavuot Early

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

While many people choose to begin Shabbat earlier than required in the summer months, there is a general hesitation to do so on Shavuot. Rather, common custom is to wait until nightfall before reciting maariv or kiddush.[1] The reason for this custom is because the omer period, the period between Pesach and Shavuot, must be “seven complete weeks.”

It is believed that beginning the holiday of Shavuot before nightfall, namely, before fifty full days have passed since Pesach, renders the seven-week period incomplete.[2] It is also noted that, with regards to Shavuot, the Torah uses the term “b’etzem hayom hazeh”, on this very day, which seems to imply that Shavuot must be observed precisely when it is intended to be, and no earlier.[3] For these reasons as well, many women wait until after nightfall to light the Shavuot candles even though they normally light the Yom Tov candles before sunset at all other times, just like the Shabbat candles.[4] As the summer days are nearly at their longest around Shavuot, waiting until nightfall to begin Yom Tov makes for a very late start to the Yom Tov meal.

Nevertheless, there are many authorities who rule that the requirement to wait until nightfall applies only to the recitation of kiddush.[5] It would be permissible, however, to recite maariv before this time. Doing so would assist in being able to begin the Yom Tov meal that much earlier.[6] Indeed, according to this approach one would also be able to fulfill the mitzva of Tosfot Yom Tov[7] by reciting maariv slightly earlier, and then simply waiting until nightfall to recite kiddush and partake in the Yom Tov meal.[8]

There is also a school of thought which subscribes to the idea of reciting maariv before nightfall although they recommend waiting until at least after sunset to do so.[9] In contrast, there is also a view that the mitzva of Tosfot Yom Tov is waived on Shavuot in deference to the more explicit mitzva of ensuring “seven complete weeks”. According to this approach, there would be little justification for reciting either maariv or kiddush before nightfall.[10]

It might just be that the custom to delay the recitation of maariv until nightfall was instituted simply in order to ensure that one would not come to inadvertently recite kiddush before this time. Indeed, there was some concern that one who recited maariv early might forget himself and proceed to recite kiddush immediately thereafter, as well.[11]

Another reason offered for delaying maariv is related to the custom of staying awake all night long on Shavuot. A number of authorities expressed concern that those who remain awake all night long might forget to repeat the Shema as is required in the event maariv is recited before nightfall. This is because those who recite maariv early all year long are in the habit of repeating the Shema as part of the Shema recited before going to bed. Since this routine is obviously interrupted on Shavuot night, one might forget to repeat the Shema entirely.[12]

Finally, R’ Gil suggests that the reason Shavuot is not started early is because it is easier to stay up all night immersed in Torah study when the study session begins late, following a late Yom Tov meal. Finishing the Yom Tov meal early in the evening, however, might make for an uncomfortably long study session.[13]


[1] Mishna Berura 494:1
[2] Taz O.C. 494:1
[3] Tzitz Eliezer 13:59
[4] Piskei Teshuvot 494:2, Lehorot Natan 7:31
[5] Magen Avraham 494
[6] Daat Torah 494:1
[7] Biur Halacha 261:2, Avnei Nezer O.C. 316:12
[8] Siddur Beit Yaakov;Shavuot
[9] Melamed L’hoil 1:108
[10] Rivevot Ephraim 8:491:5
[11] Lehorot Natan 7:31
[12] Hitorerut Teshuva 2:56

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot.

One comment

  1. mycroft 05/18/2010 05:14 AM
    There is a general shas wide machlokes can one do the mitzvot of shabbos and Yom Tov before the day starts. Practice is to be machmir on not doing it on Shavuos and Shmeinei Azeret rather than Shabbos .Real reason Shabbos is every week-Yom Tov a couple a days a year.
    I believe thatmost Yeshivot do not start Shabbos early in the summer-whenI went to YU -YU did start it early.
    RabbiG 05/18/2010 06:45 AM
    I know the Shorshei Minhagei Ashkenaz has a very full treatment of this matter.
    It’s very well done.
    Michael 05/18/2010 10:35 AM
    The Yosef Ometz (a compilation of Minhagei Frankfurt) records that they used to start their meals even before Tzeis for the exact opposite of R’ Gil’s reason: the nights were short and Tikkun Leil Shavuos is long. Should they have waited till nightfall and then eaten a full meal, there would be little time left for learning. He concludes that each person should do whatever he does as long as it is Lesheim Shamayim.

    Full text here:
    HaDarda”i 05/20/2010 10:28 AM
    This is an unusual instance of a new custom innovated by acharonim based on a drasha unheard of by the Rishonim, that is to say, the idea of temimos requiring starting late. Acharonim do not normally arogate to themselves such authority. That it should be used to oust the mitzva d’oraisa (according to most opinions) of tosefes YT makes it even more troubling.

    The Netziv understood b’etzem hayom hazeh as teaching that tosefes YT does not apply on Shavuos. This is quite a chiddush, again without a source in the Rishonim. One sefer I saw recommends accepting YT early b’machshava, or at least ceasing melacha early, as a means of avoiding violation of temimos, while still fulfilling the mitzva of tosefes YT.

    I should also point out that the Shulchan Aruch HaRav understands that both the Taz and Magen Avraham require that maariv not be recited before nightfall – the Taz was just adding the chumra that one should not recite kiddush before nightfall (even if it is recited before maariv). I find this reading of the Taz implausible. However, it fits with minhag Chabad always to wait until nightfall before davening maariv (even though they will make kiddush early).

    Those interested should definitely see R. Hamburger’s somewhat partisan review of the topic in Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz, where he justifies the old Ashkenazi custom of davening maariv early on Shavuos.
    hirhurim 05/21/2010 05:07 AM
    I cant seem to find Shorshei Minhagei Ashkenaz on-line anywhere. Is it?

    Ari Enkin
    JXG 05/23/2010 02:52 AM in reply to mycroft
    I wonder if waiting to make kiddush on Shavuot is parallel to Pesach and Sukkot (and, for different reasons, Shmini Atzeret). It would round out the yom tov quadrifecta. This parallel is one of the (many) reasons I have for thinking that the idea that “t’mimut” trumps tosefet yom tov is very weird.

    It’s also interesting that all the footnotes are from the Acharonim (or contemporary). Is there an older source for this practice?
    HaDarda”i 05/23/2010 06:50 AM in reply to hirhurim
    Not that I know of.

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