As far back as the mid-1800s, rabbis wrestled with the question of the growing mobility of the populace. Since there were no new lands to be discovered, those of an exploring nature were drawn north, to the great white unknown.
The closer to the north or south poles one travels, the more difficult it is to distinguish day and night. There are parts of the world where the sun does not set for months on end, followed by months in which the sun does not rise at all.
For the average traveler, this would have no consequences beyond creating confusion in his/her internal sleep mechanism. However, for the Jew concerned with observing the proper times for prayer, or when to observe Shabbat, it presents quite a conundrum.
Opinions vary, as one might imagine. Some authorities rule that the travelers must base their daily schedule on the time in the place where they started their journey. Others, however, rule that the timing depends on when the sun is at its physically lowest point (when it doesn’t set) or physically highest point (when it doesn’t rise). Still other authorities believe that it depends on the closest geographical location where there is both sunrise and sunset.
An answer will not be presented here, as Jewish Treats is not intended to be an authority on Jewish law. We present this treat to give you something to think about. Next time you consider an Alaskan vacation, think about when you would celebrate Shabbat. (For further information, ask your rabbi.)
For a more complete look at the issues of travel, time zones and halacha, please click here.
This Treat was originally posted on December 2, 2008.
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