Counting Sefira Somewhat Early

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by R. Daniel Mann

Question: My shul davens Mincha right before sunset and Ma’ariv right after it. During the sefira period, may I rely on sefirat ha’omer done at that time?

 

Answer: We find different starting times for mitzvot of the night/next halachic day. The time for evening Kri’at Shema is tzeit hakochavim (=tzhk; the emergence of three stars) (Berachot 2a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 235:1). The main mitzvot of Seder night are also from tzhk (Rosh, Pesachim 10:2). In contrast, one may make Kiddush on Shabbat from plag hamincha, well before sunset (Shulchan Aruch, OC 267:2), and according to many, can also daven Ma’ariv then (Berachot 27a; Shulchan Aruch and Rama, OC 233:1).

Regarding sefirat ha’omer, the Rashba (Shut I:154) posits that counting while it is still daytime is worthless, because the number day counted is wrong, and one must repeat it at night. He and the Shulchan Aruch (OC 489:2) say that “those who are careful” count after tzhk.

However, there are halachic indications for leeway. The Avudraham (see Beit Yosef, OC 489), says that one who davens in a minyan for Ma’ariv before the end of the day, counts with them without a beracha and should plan to repeat the counting at night with a beracha. He explains that he should do this with intention that if he forgets to repeat it later, the earlier counting can be of some value. The Beit Yosef is skeptical of this condition’s efficacy, but he cites the halacha anyway (Shulchan Aruch ibid. 3). The assumption, though, is that we do not want to rely on the early sefira.

However, regarding bein hashemashot (=bhsh), between sunset and tzhk, there is significant room for leniency, especially because it is likely that sefirat ha’omer in our times, when no korban ha’omer is brought, is only a Rabbinic obligation (see Tosafot, Menachot 66a; the Rambam, Temidin 7:24 posits it is still from the Torah.) The Magen Avraham (489:6) says one who counted during bhsh fulfills the mitzva. The Mishna Berura (489:14) explains that since bhsh is a safek of whether it is night or day and since we assume the mitzva is Rabbinic, leniency is understandable.

However, many poskim frown upon counting during bhsh. Some warn against dismissing the Rambam’s opinion that the mitzva is still from the Torah (see Eliya Rabba 489:10). Others point out that we avoid relying on doubts regarding Rabbinic mitzvot when we can do them without doubt; this is especially so when a beracha is involved and when one night of invalid sefira can disqualify future nights’ sefira and their berachot (see Divrei Yatziv, OC 214).

The exact time of your shul’s sefira can be impactful. The earliest time that might be tzhk is 13.5 minutes after sunset (there are different opinions, by a few minutes, of when sunset is in hilly regions); many posit that tzeit is approximately 20 minutes after sunset. On the other hand, according to Rabbeinu Tam’s approach (albeit our communities mainly do not factor it in to their decisions), bhsh starts only around an hour after sunset.

There are often strong communal reasons to have no break or a short one between Mincha and Ma’ariv, and these can justify an earlier than ideal sefirat ha’omer. For the individual, the best practice from a purist perspective is to count on the basis of the “sefira leader’s” beracha (who should have in mind to be motzi anyone who wants/needs it – see Pri Chadash, OC 489:8) and then repeat the sefira without a beracha when it is definitely time. This is different from the Avudraham above who had people do their main sefira at night without a minyan and the earlier counting was “just in case.” Here, we assume the main counting is during bhsh with the tzibbur (it is generally better to count with the tzibbur – see Ba’er Heitev, OC 489:20; Minchat Yitzchak IX:56) and the repetition is in case it had been too early. Nowadays, if one uses apps and alarms to remind him to count, there is little room for concern. If one is self-conscious about just answering amen or fears it can be divisive, he may join the community’s practice and make the beracha during bhsh.

לעילוי נשמת יואל אפרים בן אברהם עוזיאל זלצמן ז”ל

About Daniel Mann

This column is produced on behalf of Eretz Hemdah by Rabbi Daniel Mann. Rabbi Mann is a Dayan for Eretz Hemdah and a staff member of Yeshiva University's Gruss Kollel in Israel. He is a senior member of the Eretz Hemdah responder staff, editor of Hemdat Yamim and the author of Living the Halachic Process, volumes 1 and 2 and A Glimpse of Greatness.

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