Minchah After Sunset

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by R. Gidon Rothstein

12 Iyyar: The Klausenberger Rebbe on Minchah After Sunset

[Click here for the audio].

Hasidut, the movement that started with the Ba’al Shem Tov in the mid-1700s, adopted many practices that raised halachic eyebrows. That included a looser regard for zemanei tefillah, the readiness of Hasidim to pray at times that seemed too late, in the name of having proper kavvanah, proper intent and attention, before praying.

Shu”t Divrei Yatziv Orach Chayyim 99, dated 12 Iyyar 5743, responds to a man who raises this question, wonders why R. Yekutiel Yehudah Halberstam, the Sanz-Klausenberger rebbe, prays Minchah, the afternoon service, after sunset. The questioner anticipated one possible answer, that he accepts the view of Rabbenu Tam (who is commonly understood to have held that sunset is much later than what we usually call sunset; in BDD 14, 2004, I argued that this misunderstands Rabbenu Tam, but that is the assumption of both parties to this responsum).

The questioner argued that that did not justify the practice, since Tosafot Zevachim 56 said that Rabbenu Tam nonetheless agreed that the blood of sacrifices must be sprinkled before what we call sunset (in the usual reading of Rabbenu Tam’s two sunsets). If so, the sacrificial day of the Temple ended before sunset according to Rabbenu Tam as well, which should be the latest time to recite Minchah.

Questioning the Past

Before he deals with any substance, R. Halberstam chides the questioner for questioning a longstanding custom, one adopted by many important rabbis. His own ancestor, the Sanzer rebbe, would say Minchah when it was already the dark of night, with tachanun (there’s a stronger custom to not say tachanun after sunset).

Nor is this a solely Hasidic practice. R. Halberstam’s first father-in-law (his entire family was murdered by the Nazis) had told him that in the Chatam Sofer’s shul, they would say Minchah later than in Hasidic Sighet, a story confirmed by a great-grandson of Chatam Sofer’s. 

R. Halberstam himself, as a youngster, had been present when the Belzer rebbe started Minchah 70 minutes after what we call sunset, rushed the davening, and finished before the stars come out (note that this assumes one must in fact finish Minchah before nightfall—the early Hasidim did not care about times of prayer, but the claim here seems to be that one may pray Minchah only until Rabbenu Tam’s version of nightfall).

Minchah’s Until the Blood Becomes Invalid; When Is That?

Berachot 26a presents two views about the end time of Minchah, that of Rabbananthe general view of the Sages, that it goes until nightfall, and R. Yehudah that it stops at pelag haMinchah (about an hour and a quarter before sunset). Talmidei Rabbenu Yonah there points to the passage in Zevachim we’ve seen this questioner raise, to note that “nightfall” in Berachot cannot mean when the stars come out, must mean only until sunset.

He bases that explicitly on the fact that the Minchah prayer corresponds to the afternoon public sacrifice, the essence of which was the sprinkling of blood on the altar. Once that was no longer possible, at sunset, Minchah must no longer be possible.

Sha’agat Aryeh 17 questioned those certainties. He discussed the issue at length, and concluded that Tosafot and Rambam agreed that the blood only becomes invalid once the stars come out, which he thinks means one can pray Minchah all that time as well.  Support for that view comes also from R. Mordechai Banet, who thought that was the correct way to read Rabbenu Yonah himself, and Shu”t Torat Chessed pointed out that Rabbenu Tam himself in Sefer HaYashar linked the blood’s becoming invalid to the end of sunset, and Hagahot Mordechai asserted that common custom is to pray until nightfall.

I cannot review all the sources that R. Halberstam cites to that same effect, but three more seem worth mentioning. Minchat Kohen took for granted that when Rashi saysMinchah goes until dark, he meant tzeit, when the stars come out. Maharik noted that the time for eating matzah on Seder night is referred to as “ba-erev” in the Torah, and we know that that’s after the stars come out, so the Mishnah’s permitting praying Minchah until erev, it should also mean until then.

The clincher might be Rema Orach Chayyim 233;1, who says “until nightfall” goes until the stars come out. [R. Halberstam does not mention that Rema sees this as a bedi’avad, a practice acceptable only after the fact or where there’s some significant pressure, as does the comment of Magen Avraham to which he points us. R. Halberstam also discusses whether we have to leave some blank space between Minchah and Ma’ariv, for bein he-shemashot, citing authorities who say we do not. Were I to discuss this further, I would question his claims, so I’ll leave it here].

In Practice

The Gemara ruled that one may follow either view [and, indeed, the passage in Rema that R. Halberstam quoted thought common practice was to say Ma’ariv as early as pelag haMinchah, as many people still do in the summer]. However, many rishonim required following Rabbanan, to pray Minchah until nightfall (and only then allow oneself to say Ma’ariv).

On the other hand, in 261;10, Magen Avraham understood that pelag haMinchah is three minutes before what is called Rabbenu Tam’s first sunset; were Rabbanan to have meant we may only pray Minchah until that first sunset (called techillat ha-sheki’ah, the beginning of sunset), they and R. Yehudah would have argued over three minutes, which seems unlikely. So that supports the idea that we can pray until nightfall.

Guaranteeing Minchah or Keri’at Shema

He introduces his next discussion by saying u-midei dabberi bazeh, once I’m discussing this, and then takes up the possibility that Minchah has a Biblical component. Rashi toTa’anit 28a says that, which raises several kinds of problems (as Gevurot Ari pointed out, the Gemara seems to say that Chazal established the prayers).

He mentions several answers, such as that Rashi meant it has more of a source in the Torah than other prayers (since the words used for Yitzchak’s praying of Minchah, as tradition had it, are more explicit than the ones for Avraham and Ya’akov). The other answers more or less offer the idea that we treat Minchah seriously, as if it were a Biblical commandment, for various reasons (such as that it’s the last opportunity to pray that day; were Rashi to have agreed with Rambam that once a day prayer is obligated by the Torah, Minchah is the last chance to fulfill that).

He concludes that it’s still fundamentally true that Minchah is Rabbinic, which matters here because the night-time Shema, clearly Biblically obligated, must be said after the stars come out. (Tur says that it’s not enough to say it during bein ha-shemashot, the time between sunset and full night; if said then, it would need to be repeated later).

That matters for us because (he assumes) his shul has to choose between saying Minchah a little late or Ma’ariv a little early. In that choice, the reasons he’s given for delaying Minchah right up until full nightfall have added support, since they will allow saying Ma’ariv (with Keriat Shema) at the right time.

[Of course, many Jews today say Ma’ariv before the stars have come out, and then remind each other to repeat Shema later.] R. Halberstam worries that people will forget or get too tired, and therefore wants to structure the prayers such that that’s not an issue.

More than anything, he says, he’s written to defend common custom, which was his starting point as well, that it was wrong of his questioner to doubt that which many important Jews have done over generations. Minchah can reasonably be said, according to R. Halberstam, right up until the stars come out.

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