By: Rabbi Ari Enkin
This post is part of a series on the problematic halachic issues that must be dealt with when making “Early Shabbat”. These posts are not intended to comment on or criticize those who make “Early Shabbat”.
Many families choose to begin Shabbat early in the summer months. This is usually done in order to allow for the Shabbat meal to begin at an earlier hour and for the younger children to experience the Shabbat meal and atmosphere, as well. Nevertheless, the halachic suitability of this practice is not as simple as it may seem.
We must first establish from when excatly one may begin Shabbat. It goes without saying that one who recited the Friday night Kiddush on Friday morning has accomplished nothing at all, as it is not possible to “accept” Shabbat at that time. The earliest one may begin Shabbat on any given Friday is from the time known as “plag hamincha”. It is a matter of dispute, however, when exactly plag hamincha is. This is based on the unresolved dispute of whether the day begins at sunrise and ends at sunset or if it begins at dawn and ends at nightfall. As such, while common custom is to consider “plag hamincha” as being an hour and a quarter before sunset, many rishonim hold that plag hamincha is an hour and a quarter before nightfall.
According to the latter approach, those who begin Shabbat and recite Ma’ariv earlier than an hour and a quarter before nightfall not only accomplish nothing at all, but their Ma’ariv and Kiddush are recited in vain. This does not even take into account the Shulchan Aruch’s definition of nightfall (72 minutes after sunset) which is much later than the common definition of nightfall (20-45 minutes after sunset). One will note that according to the plag-from-nightfall approach, plag hamincha will sometimes work out to be a mere fifteen minutes before sunset; an “Early Shabbat” that isn’t too early.
We see from the above that the fundamental issue of how to establish plag hamincha –the starting point for a discussion on “Early Shabbat”- is complicated, at best. It is interesting to note that in a case of pressing need, there are authorities who allow one to recite Ma’ariv and accept Shabbat even before plag hamincha, but that is a topic beyond the scope of this essay.
Another issue facing one who begins Shabbat early is that one should not recite both Mincha and Ma’ariv in the same “time zone”. When one accepts Shabbat or recites Ma’ariv in the plag hamincha “time zone”, one is essentially declaring that time zone to be “night”. As such, it would inappropriate to recite Mincha in that same time zone, as Mincha belongs to the “previous” day. Therefore, one who chooses to make “Early Shabbat” should recite Mincha before plag hamincha and Kabbalat Shabbat and Ma’ariv after Plag Hamincha. While many synagogues in Israel make an effort to comply with this view, most synagogues in North America do not. In most North American synagogues, both Mincha and Ma’ariv are recited after plag hamincha. In such congregations, in addition to all the other issues with making “Early Shabbat”, one compromises the value of one’s Mincha and Ma’ariv prayer, a disadvantage known as a “tarti d’satri”, (“contradiction”). This is a very b’dieved manner to discharge one’s obligations of both Mincha and Ma’ariv.
….to be continued