The Onset of Shabbat

  • Rav Doniel Schreiber



By Rav Doniel Schreiber



This week’s shiurim are dedicated by Ruchy Yudkowsky
in memory of Yehuda Yudkowsky z"l



Shiur #03: The Onset of Shabbat



[Note: This shiur and the next will deal with the beginning of Shabbat, particularly with accepting Shabbat early.  Afterwards, we will discuss kiddush, the three meals, and havdala.  Once we have completed these issues, we will devote the remainder of the year to studying the forms of forbidden labor, with particular attention to common problems and modern issues.  Our apologies for the confusion regarding the schedule of future installments in this series.]


A. Definition of Day


            When does a day begin?  With regard to all mitzvot in the Torah, except for those associated with the seder korbanot (temple sacrifices), the day begins at night, as it says in the Torah (Bereishit 1:5): "And it was evening and it was morning."  Thus, Shabbat officially begins at the onset of night when three medium size stars appear (tzeit ha-kokhavim) at the end of Friday, the sixth day.  However, since Chazal were unsure as to when exactly tzeit ha-kokhavim occurs, they legislated that we treat sheki'a - the moment when the ball of the sun disappears over the horizon - as the beginning of Shabbat (OC 261:1).


            Although sheki'a is actually the onset of bein ha-shemashot - a time which may be day or night - for the purpose of Shabbat we treat it as nighttime.  Thus, all the laws and regulations that are relevant to Shabbat are applicable at this point in time (with the exception of a few leniencies - see below), even if one has not yet accepted Shabbat (OC 261:1).  Similarly, one who is unsure if it is bein ha-shemashot yet must act as if it is already bein ha-shemashot (MB 261:1).


            Bein ha-shemashot lasts for 3/4 of a mil, after which it is definitely night - what we call tzeit ha-kokhavim (see OC 261:1, and Mishna Berura 261:20).  It is important to define precisely how many minutes are represented by 3/4 of a mil, since there are certain leniencies which apply only during bein ha-shemashot.  There are essentially three opinions regarding the definition of a mil, and thus three opinions as to the duration of 3/4 of a mil.


1.         Beit Yosef (OC 459:2, and YD 9:6, and see also Shakh ibid. note 25) rules that a mil is 18 minutes; thus 3/4 of mil is 13 and 1/2 minutes.

2.         The Rambam (Commentary to Mishna Pesachim 3:2) and the Bartenura (ibid.) rule that a mil is 24 minutes, and 3/4 of a mil is therefore 18 minutes.

3.         Finally, the Vilna Gaon (OC 459) rules that a mil is 22 and 1/2 minutes, and thus 3/4 of a mil is about 17 minutes.  The common custom is in accordance with Beit Yosef - that a mil is 18 minutes, and 3/4 is 13 and 1/2 minutes (MB 261:23).


            Thus, for 13 and 1/2 minutes, i.e., during bein ha-shemashot, even though it is forbidden to perform biblical or most rabbinic proscriptions, there are a few leniencies which Chazal permitted, since it is "safek yom safek laila" (literally, there is doubt as to whether it is day or night).  [It should be noted that 1) these leniencies are only applicable when the majority of the community has not yet formally accepted Shabbat, and 2) they are valid even though the individual in question has accepted Shabbat and it is already bein ha-shemashot (OC 261:4, and Mishna Berura ibid., note 28).]


            The essential principle of these leniencies is that anything which is forbidden mi-derabanan (by the Rabbis) and will not ultimately lead to a violation of an issur Torah (a biblical prohibition), is permitted during bein ha-shemashot, with the caveat that the activity be either for the purpose of a mitzva overet (a mitzva whose time will pass), or for guests, or for the needs of Shabbat, or in order to prevent a great loss of money, or where there is  great need (OC 261:1 and 342:1).


            Thus, for example, if one forgot to separate terumot u-ma'asrot and there is no other food available, one may separate the tithes at this time, since the activity is necessary for the mitzva of eating on Shabbat (OC 261:1, and Mishna Berura, ibid, note 4).  Similarly, if one's only cutlery has not yet undergone required immersion, and there is no other cutlery available, one can immerse it during bein ha-shemashot.  One may also, at this time, insulate pots of foods with material that merely keeps the heat from escaping [we will discuss the prohibition of hatmana (insulating) in a later shiur], and establish an eiruv chatzeirot (literally a uniting of courtyards) and an eiruv tavshilin (literally a uniting of foods).  [Both eruv chatzerot and eruv tavshilin will be discussed in a later shiur (see OC 261:1).]


            Although women accept Shabbat when they light candles (while men accept it when praying Kabbalat Shabbat in shul), it is theoretically permissible for a woman to shower after lighting Shabbat candles, until the congregation has accepted Shabbat.  Practically speaking, however, the act of showering can include acts forbidden  by the Torah, such as boiling water, and therefore should not be performed unless one takes care to avoid any biblical prohibition (see SSK, vol. 2, 43:19).  (We will discuss this in greater detail in a shiur devoted to "Bathing on Shabbat.")


            An even greater leniency exists with regard to amira le-akum (literally, instruction to gentiles).  Even in the event that the entire congregation has accepted Shabbat, one may instruct a non-Jew to perform even a melakha min ha-Torah (a biblically prohibited work) so long as it is not yet almost tzeit ha-kokhavim, and the activity is for the sake of a great need, or for the needs of Shabbat, or for the purpose of a mitzva.  Thus, one may instruct a non-Jew, during this time period, to turn on the lights in the dining room so that one may have a pleasant Shabbat meal (OC 261:1, MB261:18; OC 342:1, MB 342:1, and Bi'ur Halakha, s.v. Mutar).


B. Adding on to Shabbat (Tosefet Shabbat)


i. The Mitzva

            According to the gemara Rosh Hashana 9a, there is a mitzva to accept Shabbat even earlier than bein ha-shemashot (as well as to extend the end of Shabbat beyond tzeit ha-kokhavim); this is called, 'tosefet Shabbat' (see OC 261:2).  Most poskim rule that tosefet Shabbat is a mitzva min ha-Torah, while some rule it is only de-rabanan (Bi'ur Halakha 261:2 s.v Yesh Omrim, Eliyahu Rabba sec. 261, and SSK, vol. 2, 46:1, note 1).


            Thus, in the event that one's Mincha minyan prays so close to sheki'a that one will not be able to finish his Mincha amida and accept Shabbat before sheki'a, it is better to pray Mincha earlier be-yechidut (privately) and fulfill both the mitzva min ha-Torah of tosefet Shabbat, as well as tefillat Mincha in the proper time, than to pray the late Mincha with a minyan (SSK, vol. 2, 46:5, note 26).  It goes without saying that if, in this scenario, there is also an earlier Mincha minyan, one should pray with that minyan.


            [It should be noted that if one has not prayed Mincha but has already accepted Shabbat, either personally or because it is already sheki'a, he may not pray Mincha.  Rather, he should make up the missed tefilla by reciting the Friday night amida twice (SSK, vol. 2, 46:5).]


            The Acharonim dispute whether this mitzva devolves upon both men and women (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzot Zahav 608:1), or upon men alone (Minchat Chinukh, mitzva 313:9).  The accepted halakhic ruling is that women are obligated in tosefet Shabbat (SSK, vol. 2, 46:1, note 7).


ii. Methods of Accepting "Early Shabbat"

            What must one do in order to accept Shabbat earlier than sunset?  Rishonim dispute whether one must recite a specific liturgy (e.g., kiddush, the Shabbat amida, or the blessing for the Shabbat candles) or whether mere acceptance of Shabbat restrictions suffices.  There is further dispute, within the latter opinion (that one can fulfill tosefet Shabbat by mere acceptance of the holiness of the day), regarding whether a verbal declaration is necessary, or if even a mental declaration is sufficient.  The Mishna Berura (261:21) seems to rule that while tosefet Shabbat should be accomplished through a verbal declaration, a mental commitment to accept Shabbat is also binding.  [The laws of accepting Shabbat through candle lighting will be discussed in a later section.]


            In addition, there are several acts which by implication effect the acceptance of early Shabbat.  For instance, besides reciting kiddush or the amida or kindling the Shabbat lights, reciting barkhu, mizmor shir le-yom ha-Shabbat, or the last stanza of lekha dodi on Friday night, also usher in the Shabbat.  (See also OC 261:4.)


iii. How Much Time Must One Add?

            Even if one accepts Shabbat just a few moments before sunset, he fulfills the mitzva of tosefet shabbat (OC 261).  Nonetheless, because Rishonim dispute the exact amount of time that one is obligated to add to Shabbat, and because of a general debate as to the exact time of the onset of Shabbat, Mishna Berura (261:23 and 263:15) praises one who accepts Shabbat and refrains from melakha (work) twenty to thirty minutes before sunset.


            However, the earliest one can accept Shabbat is from pelag ha-mincha, which is defined as an hour and a quarter of halakhic time (sha'ot zemaniyot) before the end of the day (Berakhot 26b).  If one accepts Shabbat before this time, it is meaningless (Mishna Berura 267:4).  Thus, if one accepts "early Shabbat," one should insure that the Shabbat candles are lit after pelag ha-mincha.  If they are kindled prior to pelag ha-mincha, the candles must be extinguished and rekindled with a berakha (blessing) in the proper time.


            [Note: Sha'ot zemaniyot (halakhic hours) are not necessarily sixty minutes long.  Rather, they are units of time, each consisting of a twelfth of the day.  Thus, during the winter, when there is less daylight, each "hour" of daytime would be only about fifty minutes.  However, in the summer, when the days are longer, the day "hours" could consist of seventy minutes each.]


iv. Determining Pelag Ha-Mincha

            A dispute arises amongst poskim as to how to calculate the "daytime hours."  Some halakhic authorities rule that the day period, which is divided into twelfths, begins at neitz ha-chama (sunrise) and ends at sheki'a (sunset) (Vilna Gaon, OC 559, and Levush OC 267).  Accordingly, pelag ha-mincha is an hour and a quarter before sheki'a.


            Other poskim rule that we count the "hour" units of the day from alot ha-shachar (dawn) until tzeit ha-kokhavim (the emergence of three stars) (Magen Avraham, OC 58:1, and Eliyahu Rabba, OC 267).  Thus, from this perspective, pelag ha-mincha is an hour and a quarter before tzeit ha-kokhavim.  While the Mishna Berura (233:4, 261:25, 263:19, 267:4) does not seem to issue a conclusive ruling, it appears that most communities follow the opinion of the Vilna Gaon and Levush on this matter.


v. Impact on the Greater Community

            The Shulchan Arukh (OC 263:12) rules that if the majority of the community has accepted Shabbat, the minority of the community are considered to have accepted Shabbat as well.  An important implication of this halakha is that if it is close to sheki'a, one should not drive to shul or perform any other melakha (prohibited work).  This is important since besides the concern that one may inadvertently miscalculate the time of sheki'a, it may be considered Shabbat for him even before sheki'a if the majority of the community will have already accepted Shabbat.  This would be the case, for example, in a community which begins praying kabbalat Shabbat prior to sheki'a.


            [Note: Such a person, though he may not perform melakha, may nonetheless pray Mincha, as long as he himself has not actually accepted Shabbat and it is not yet sheki'a.  He should not pray Mincha, though, amongst a minyan which has accepted Shabbat already.  Even if the minyan will accept Shabbat only after one began tefillat Mincha, he should still preferably pray outside the sanctuary, but if there is no other place for him to pray, he may pray Mincha in the shul itself.  See OC 263:15, 16, and Mishna Berura ibid. notes 59 and 63.]


            It follows, furthermore, that if the majority of the community accept "early Shabbat," then the minority have accepted Shabbat at that time as well.  The Mishna Berura (ibid. note 51) is quick to qualify this law.  He writes that this law is only true where there is a single shul for the whole community.  If there are several synagogues in the city, however, they are not affected by another synagogue's acceptance, even if the other synagogue represents the majority.  However, writes the Mishna Berura, a private minyan in one's home, even one that meets regularly, is not considered an independent synagogue and must follow the majority.


            Poskim further limit this law in the case of a single shul in the city to where there is no other minyan in the given synagogue.  Even if the majority of the shul accepted Shabbat in an earlier minyan, the minority of the shul are not considered to have accepted Shabbat if they will pray in a later minyan in that shul (SSK, vol. 2, 46:7).


            According to a suggestion made by Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l, this discussion may be for the most part a non-issue.  He writes (Igrot Moshe, OC, vol. 3, no. 38) that the halakha which subordinates the minority to the majority in the case of accepting Shabbat early is only operative when the majority accepted Shabbat early for the purpose of elevating and insuring the sanctity of Shabbat.  However, if the motivation to accept Shabbat early is for the sake of convenience, e.g. so that the Shabbat meal will not begin too late at night, etc., then the majority's acceptance cannot affect the minority.


            It seems clear today, when early Shabbat minyanim are merely seasonal, that they are not established out of principle, but rather for the sake of convenience.  Thus, according to Rav Moshe zt"l, an individual may not be obligated to accept Shabbat early, even when his entire community accepts an "early Shabbat."  Nonetheless, Rav Moshe adds that he is undecided, and that the issue needs further investigation.  (See SSK, vol. 2, 46:9, note 59, who seems to accept Rav Moshe's suggestion le-halakha.)