A Midsummer Night’s Shabbat
“Making early Shabbat,” means beginning Shabbat well before sunset. This is an especially important accommodation for residents of cities where the summer sun may not set until 9 or 10 at night. (In Trondheim, Norway, where there is a small Jewish community, the sunset may be as late as 11:20 pm!) By bringing in Shabbat early, the meal that is eaten after synagogue services can be enjoyed at a more normal hour. Also, small children can participate.
And yet, in the Talmud (Shabbat 23b) Rabbi Joseph’s wife is told that Friday night candles cannot be lit too late (because it is already Shabbat) nor too early. How early is too early, and how is one permitted to alter the status of the day? (Shabbat becomes a 26 or 27 hour day.)
It is from the laws of Yom Kippur, when one is required to add a few minutes to the beginning and end of the day, that the sages understood the permissibility of expanding Shabbat. Since Yom Kippur is “Shabbat Shabbaton” a Sabbath type day, adding time may also be applied to Shabbat.
There are, of course, rules that govern making an early Shabbat (and early Yom Kippur). For instance, one may not begin Shabbat at 2 pm in July. The determining factor, “plag hamincha” (one and a quarter “Jewish” hours before sunset), is the latest time that one may recite Mincha (the afternoon service) according to Rabbi Judah. Following his opinion, Maariv (the evening service) may be recited any time after plag hamincha–thus enabling one to start Shabbat at this time. Other sages, who disagreed with Rabbi Judah, maintained that the afternoon service may be recited until sunset, and Maariv only after sunset. Although Rabbi Judah’s opinion was not definitive, it is sufficient to allow a person to recite the Friday night prayers immediately following plag hamincha,* thus transforming late Friday afternoon into early Shabbat.
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