“Early Shabbat”: Pushing the Halachic Envelope

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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[1] or if it begins at dawn and ends at nightfall.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4] 

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.[5]

….to be continued


[1] Biur Hagra, OC 459.

[2] Mishna Berura 263:19.

[3] Mishna Berura 261:25; Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata p. 40 note 63.

[4] Aruch Hashulchan, OC 263:19.

[5] OC 233:1.

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. www.rabbienkin.com

40 comments

  1. “…according to the plag-from-nightfall approach, plag hamincha will sometimes work out to be a mere fifteen minutes before sunset.”

    It’s even worse than that. The Ramban in Torat Ha’Adam, Hilkot Aveilut writes that plag hamincha is about 3 minutes before sunset!

    Some shuls in England have two early erev Shabbat minyanim, one following the sunrise to sunset z’man, and the other following the dawn to nightfall z’man.

    However, many nowadays routinely follow the Levush’s sunrise to sunset seasonal hours, both l’chumra and l’kela. R. Moshe Feinstein wrote that this was the custom in Russia regarding keriat shema, and R. Soloveitchik also held that the halakha follows the Levush. Even the Mishna Berura holds that one can use the Levush’s sha’ot z’maniyot to bring in Shabbat early, so I think you are exaggerating this as a problem. The tarti d’satrei issue is more serious, although the Levush argues that by bringing in Shabbat early, you make it the “next day” for the purposes of maariv.

  2. Wow. Fascinating tidbits. Thanks!

    Ari Enkin

  3. sorry i can’t remember off hand the source but r y sacks has a number of shiurim up on yutorah on this and there is a source to say that being mkabel shabbat early actually does turn friday afternoon into shabbat and thus there is no tatrei dsartei – b”n i will look for my notes (it never resobated with me and lmaaseh r’ys holds better fo daven byichidut then the 7pm)
    KT

  4. Joel-

    That seems to fit in with the Levush, cited by Hadardai, above.

    Ari Enkin

  5. Hadardai-

    I cant seem to find the 3-minute plag thing in the Toras Ha’adam – Aveilut.

    Do you have an exact page by chance?

    Ari Enkin

  6. “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”

    As I am sure you know, this is an overstatement – many have addressed this practice, which was common in Europe as well, and permitted it, especially when it is the only way to daven be-tzibur. Given that Shabbat starts and ends much earlier in Israel in the summer than it does in North America or Europe, its less of an issue in Israel.

  7. Michael-

    You are right, but again, even so — it is b’dieved.

    Ari Enkin

  8. You should look at Terumas Hadeshen #1. It seems pretty clear that the custom was to follow Rabeinu Tam. This would eliminate the issue altogether, without Levush

  9. “This is a very b’dieved manner to discharge one’s obligations of both Mincha and Ma’ariv”

    why BOTH mincha and ma’ariv? presumably it is lichatchila when the person davened mincha, then his ma’ariv is bidieved since he didn’t wait until night (whatever definition of “night” one is operating with, which of course would correspond with the calculation of plag that he is using). what is wrong with his mincha?

  10. Carlos-

    It appears to me that both prayers are compromised since they are both “confused” as to what “time-zone” it is. (Mincha becomes retroactively “confused”)

    …..just my thought.

    Ari Enkin

  11. Mishna Brura quotes Derech haChaim who also permits Tarti dSasri when accepting Shabbat in between. I will look for the exact citation.

    You do not mention it (although it may appear in the next segment) but there is also another Tarti dSasri held by many Poskim in that one cannot switch around even different days (i.e. you choose to consider the Time Zone as either night or day and you stick to it always). Magen Avraham however permits it for accepting Shabbat early.

    Aruch haShulchan likens Maariv to burning of the fats on the altar, which could take place during plag OR at night. He also points out that Maariv was first davened by Yakov Avinu beginning of Parshat vaYeitzei, where Plag suddenly turned to night (ie sunset came early) thus it was established that this Time Zone is flexible.

  12. Oops, forgot to type in my nom for the previous comment.

  13. M”B is at 267:3. He concludes that one should not rely on this view.

  14. Ktzos Hashulchan 77:3 seems to be lenient as well as Kaf Hachaim 233:12. But again, the MB says that one should not rely on this view. (See also MB 233:11)

    Ari Enkin

  15. 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).

    Your overall point is a good one, but I don’t think the SA’s 72min nightfall opinion is really relevant. As I understand, the SA’s position is based on Rabenu Tam lechumra only, but he wouldn’t also apply it to calculate the time for plag. (As you know, Rabenu Tam held that shkia occurs much later than what we consider sunset and he had no problem with praying mincha lechatchila well after our sundown).

    Furthermore, if we were to assume that the SA really held that plag is 75min before the 72min nightfall (i.e. 3 minutes before shkia) and the latest time lechatchila to pray mincha is before our sunset, then it would turn out that the “time zone” that we are concerned about praying both mincha and ma’ariv in lasts only 3 minutes long. That’s pretty far fetched.

  16. Dear Jacob-

    RE: “As I understand, the SA’s position is based on Rabenu Tam lechumra only, but he wouldn’t also apply it to calculate the time for plag”

    You might be right, but I havent seen anything to suggest it. I think the SA used Rabbeinu Tam for all matters, bein lechumra bein l’kula.

    Besides — what you write seems to fit in rather nicely with the Ramban’s shitta on plag hamincha of 3 which Hadardai wrote, above. But of course, the “3-minute” shitta is certainly not the halacha today according to anyone.

    Ari Enkin

  17. william gewirtz

    The ramban in torat haadam is the basis for the calendar instituted by RYMT ztl to “correct” the old calendar of jerusalem, defended by RYCS ztl approximately a century go.. that is also similar to your basis for defining 1 and 1/4 hours to count back from 72 minutes after sunset as nightfall. the difference is that you assume 72 and the ramban and RYMT assumed 90 minutes.

    Both shittot (nightfall at 72 or 90 minutes) are very difficult to maintain. In the summer the ben ish chai and the RYCS’s approach put plag hamincha close to an hour before sunset, later than the gra but much earlier than 1 and 1/4 before nightfall. a minor variant of their shittot, can deal with the issues that caused R. salant ztl and others to side with RYMT and abandon their approach. in any event slightly corrected or not, it provides a highly likely definition of nightfall (about 40 minutes after sunset) to be used to calculate plag haminkha. on say a 13 hour day, plag hamincha is 50 minutes before sunset. in dead of summmer, plag is a tad over an hour before sunset.

    i believe the ben ish chai’s calendar is still in use; my suggested improvement is very slight but of great conceptual value.

    relying on both the gra and the ben ish chai is entirely acceptable, imho.

  18. Jacob, the impact of RT, a shittah few are concerned with beyomainu, did as you imply influence the standard method of the SA and the MB. Tracing that impact on the Magen Avraham (really the Trumat hadeshen and many chachemai sforad as well) is non-trivial. While the shittah is held by the SA so was the RT, as u point out.

    As an aside the Rav ztl, had a private chumrah like the RT but never worried about the MA. The chumrah that R. Schechter and others maintain is to eat at least part of the meal after nightfall (40 minutes.) I believe they make kiddush before sunset. Some brisker do not, but for other reasons than the MA.

    the 3 minute shittah is encumbered by some elementary math errors; the ramban was very precise but many achronim were not able to duplicate his calculation correctly. as a result, much about this shittah is difficult to unpack. As r. enkin notes, i do not think it is used le’maaseh.

  19. The Aruch haShulchan was very much in favor of early Shabbat for a number of reasons, and goes out of his way to deal with the minchah problem:

    http://he.wikisource.org/wiki/%D7%A2%D7%A8%D7%95%D7%9A_%D7%94%D7%A9%D7%95%D7%9C%D7%97%D7%9F_%D7%90%D7%95%D7%A8%D7%97_%D7%97%D7%99%D7%99%D7%9D_%D7%A8%D7%A1%D7%96

  20. I have little halachic knowledge, but based on the Aruch Hashulchan linked above (OC 267 part3), it appears that he distinguishes the maariv of friday night from other ma’arivs in allowing for an earlier zman due to the de’oraisah necessity of only “olot shabbat beshabbato” and not olot chol, so the weekday limbs etc. couldn’t be burned after shkiah on friday night as normal, and per se had to be done earlier (i.e. plag mincha).

    Playing that logic through, the time for Maariv on Friday night all year long must be earlier than shkiah to protect from the olot chol issue (or with respect to prayer, because when establishing timeframes for prayer they were based on the offerings, the friday night prayer was established to be earlier than other nights, possibly with a cut-off point), and early shabbos (prior to shkiah) is a concept that should apply all year long…

    of course, in any event after saying Mizmor you have accepted shabbos, so the ma’ariv prayer (kneged the leftovers) wouldn’t make any sense at that point anyway. if the above logic really held sway, we would have established kabbalas shabbos AFTER ma’ariv.

  21. In current times we very much live our lives by the clock, and for example on Fri afternoons in the summer look at the exact time to the minute for plag as to when to bring in Shabbat. I am wondering if there are any insights as to how this was handled in the days before accurate clocks. Eg was plag seen as an approximate time period (is this what the Aroch Hashulchan means when he talks about davening maariv from 3 hrs before night), or were people careful to allow plenty of leeway to ensure that they did not err on the wrong side of plag?

  22. Ramban Torat HaAdam page רנב in Mossad Rav Kook edition: עד פלג המנחה, והוא זמן קרוב לתחילת שקיעת החמה,אין ביניהם אלא מהלך של ארבע אמות בקרוב.

  23. william gewirtz

    Matthew P, the right girsa, based on ramban’s other formulation is probably arba Me’ot. i seem to recall that the MA also notes this.

    also, the three hours is from the first tshuvah in trumot hadeshen. we have little record of pre-clock behavior. clocks began to spread in the generations following the trumot hadeshen. his talmid reformulates one of his tshuvot using a clock; it is a source of significant controversy.

  24. Joel Rich, I Daven in Rabbi Sacks’s Shuel and early the Mincha is before Plag. I have heard him talk about it before, and I am pretty sure he quotes an essay in the Mishnas Yabitz concerning Shuvous.

  25. william gewirtz

    YK, the mishnas yaavetz does not discuss precise times but the machloket of the marshal and taz if staring early actually terminates the previous day. u will note that we are machmir like both and do not say kiddush until nightfall (~40 minutes IMHO) on both shavuot and SA.

  26. Millhouse:

    RE: “the time for Maariv on Friday night all year long must be earlier than shkiah to protect from the olot chol issue… early shabbos (prior to shkiah) is a concept that should apply all year long…”

    YUP. And nobody does so. This strengthen’s R’ Moshe Feinstein’s famous teshuva that one is not bound to accept Shabbat when the community does so in the summer (“Early Shabbat”) since everyone does it for convenienve…not piety.

    Ari Enkin

  27. A number of Rishonim in Berochos (2b) (Ramban, Rashba and others) state that Plag Hamincha is 1/6 of a mil before sunset. Depending on how long a mil is it is either 3 minutes or 3.75 minutes.

  28. william gewirtz

    Marty Bluke, 1/6th of a mil is in line with the Ramban in Torat HaAdam (and other chakhmai sforad) noted by many above. it is 3.75 minutes in that context, 1/6 of 22.5 minutes. 3 minutes, that is often claimed, is related to an error i mentioned above and could not be. For those, like the SA, who maintain an 18 minutes time to walk a mil, Plag haminha would be a mil (18 minutes) before sunset, on an average day in the Middle east if they followed a similar calculation for shaot hayom.

  29. @Michael — I think he understated the matter.

    Just to add to the list of recent poskim who prefer davening beyechidut than tarti desatri:
    Rav Moshe Feinstein: Igrot Moshe OC 2:60
    Rav Aharon Lichtenstein: Quoted in http://www.vbm-torah.org/archive/shabbat/04early.doc
    Rav Herschel Shachter: Quoted in http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/739231/Rabbi_Aryeh_Lebowitz/Ten_Minute_Halacha_-_Early_Shabbos
    And the Mishnah Berurah quoted above in 267:3

  30. R’ Enkin-

    You should note that anyone who holds of “Magen Avraham” hours, must necessarily buy into “Rabbeinu Tam” tzeit, else chatzot hayom would not be at astronomical noon! Thus for those of us who let out Shabbat at “normal” tzeit and aren’t worried about RT tzeit even for issur melachah, being careful about MA Plag regarding maariv doesn’t seem like too much to be worried about. See further discussion in my answer and comments thereof here: http://judaism.stackexchange.com/a/12285/759

  31. william gewirtz

    AA, your comment reflects conventional wisdom about the MA. however, there were many gedolai olam who did not do as you suggest and chatzot as you note was incorrectly set, i.e. not at the precisely correct time. These included R. Nosson Adler (still followed by the community in Zurich) and others. RSZA ztl’s psak on ha’laila is also “off” for somewhat similar reasons. While i agree that this may well be in error, correcting the problem by calculating to the evening equivalent to alot hashacharas you suggest, and is what the ramban and all hachemai sforad did at least in theory, and is what is done in Jerusalem today, is not necessarily the only way to address the problem. I will outline an alternative way to address the problem that I believe has sources among rishonim, that is likely where these “incorrect” approaches began,in a soon to be published paper.

    Your claim that anyone who holds MA must hold RT, was also stated by RAK ztl. He immediately challenged his own approach; minhag jerusalem is like the MA for shaot hayom and the geonim not RT for end of a day of the week and contradicts your claim. The issues are logically independent; one deals with the day of the week and the other with the daytime period.

  32. William gewirtz: can you explain what you mean when you say that the “the issues are logically independent, one deals with the day o f the week and the other with the daytime period”?

    I can’t say that what you are saying is impossible, but it requires demonstration. what is the significance of bein hashmashot and tzeit hakochavim of the ge’onim according to what you are suggesting?

  33. In my shul we only start mincha after plag hamincha. Our Rabbi prefers to rely on the opinions that its not a tarta desasra and avoid two major problems. 1 Those men of the community who need to light, need to be able to light at plag and get to shul in time for mincha. If mincha is before plag, when should they light? 2 Some women automatically light as soon as the men leave for shul / at the official time for mincha (as this is the correct time in the early winter season). By making the time for mincha after plag the risk of ladies lighting before plag is reduced. This second reason can be eliminated with detail in the luach but does not solve problem 1.

  34. Anon-

    The issue of candles doesn’t really add anything: for those who hold tefillah betzibbur beats tarti desatri in general (Aruch HaShulchan), there’s no question; for those who hold tarti desatri beats tefillah betzibbur (R M Feinstein, R A Lichtenstein, R H Shachter, Mishna Berurah) those men/women who need to light should light late and miss mincha so that everyone else can daven mincha betzibbur.

    ie It’s clear that those who need to light need to light. The question is then do they miss mincha so everyone else gets tefillah betzibbur, or does everyone do tarti desatri, whereby many hold they all need to miss tefillah betzibbur anyway.

    The only reason you would make mincha tarti desatri for the benefit of those who need to light is if you assume they can daven the tarti desatri then anyway, in which case you are assuming that tzibbur wins and you can have tarti desatri anyway even without the candles issue.

  35. My question to those who follow the Magen Avraham’s shita (based on the Rishonim mentioned) on using the presumed time between dawn and nightfall to calculate a ‘canonical’ hour (sha’a zemanit) is how was this done in talmudic times, and what sense does it make to use the same 72 minutes (or 90 minutes) for each of the twilight periods throughout the year and for all latitudes? The timing device used in the temple, as I recall, was a form of sundial which is, of course, only useful during the time when the sun is above the horizon. The canonical hours used in the temple service was, therefore, based on dividing the total time that the sun was up by 12, i.e., the sundial time. Moreover, is the dispute between R’ Yehuda and the sages as to the final time for mincha merely a matter of 3.75 minutes since everyone agrees (even Rabbenu Tam)that the absolute latest time to offer the afternoon tamid was at the visible sunset (dam nifsal besheki’at hachama)? Finally, if hours used in the talmud are reckoned based on the dawn to nightfall interval, then how is it that the time of equal day and night duration is counted in the talmud as the springtime when at least 2 hours (144 or 180 minutes) must be added to the sunrise-sunset period to get the total daylight time, i.e., it should be in the winter according to this reckoning?

  36. Y Aharon-

    I certainly dont have the answers to all your questions…sounds like we need R’ Willima here asap.

    However — I will tell you that this 72 minutes Rabbeinu Tam tzeit was never intended to be ablnaket “72 minutes” as you correctly state.

    The sefarim say (Yisrael V’hazmanim, and other sefarim) that Rabbeinu Tam wa sindeed intended to vary based on location and season. The blanket 72 minutes is nothing more than the “minhag ha [litvisher]yeshivos”.

    Ari Enkin

  37. “Minhag hayeshivot” What about the chassidim, aren’t they more concerned than the yeshivot?

  38. when it comes to plag hamincha according to the magen avrohom, are there a few different times depending if you use shaos zemaniyos or use a fixed time

  39. Sol-

    In theory, yes, but most halachic calenders do not even cite such an opinion.

    The only time have have seen multiple interpretations -lemaaseh- on the Magen Avraham has to do with sof zman achilat chametz. Some calenders can really make you coo-coo with this.

    Ari

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