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Letter to A Friend: Negotiating Z’manim (Part 2)

November 9, 2014

(Continued from here.)

Now for particular times.

Aloth Hashahar – Dawn: In Israel it should be 72 minutes or so before sunrise. I say “or so” because it used to be impossible to calculate this with the degree of accuracy that we have today, and because the whole idea that it takes exactly 18 minutes to walk a Roman mile is relatively new, and the imprecision is only multiplied by four in this case. This used to be obvious, and that is why this time is never used l’chat’hila for any rule. Maimonides, for example, says that this can be used for the earliest time to recite sh’ma only in times of great need. For different latitudes, the time between dawn and sunrise varies. Closer to the equator it is shorter, farther from the equator it is longer. This is due to the sun’s angle of ascent from the point of view of someone standing on earth. On the equator, the sun rises perpendicular to the horizon, while farther north, say at 45 degrees north of the equator, the sun rises at a 45 degree angle, making its trip from the beginning of dawn to sunrise longer, and also lengthening the actual sunrise.

Misheyakkir – “When One Can Recognize:” The first time in the morning when one can lay tefillin and don tzitzith. This was always understood to be entirely subjective, and when it was cloudy people waited longer. Hazal never defined this time objectively. Later authorities like Rabbi Moshe Feinstein suggested how long before sunrise it seemed to them. The fact that a specific time appears in the calendars is a completely modern phenomenon. None of those times ever seemed to work for me. Consider this: In New York, it is sufficiently dark 45 minutes after sunset for the Sabbath to be over, yet 52 minutes before sunrise it is already bright enough to distinguish between one’s white tzitzith strings and the blue ones. Does that make sense? (If for whatever reason you do not have blue strings in your tzitzith, you should go get some.) If I am ever up that early, I actually wait until it is bright enough outside for me to recognize some acquaintances, and it is usually much later than the time in the calendars.

Haneitz Hahamma or Z’riha – Sunrise: Today, there are actually two opinions used: Sunrise as though the place under discussion is sea level, and sunrise considering the topographical elevation, which is some minutes earlier. Accurate seasonal “hours” can only be calculated using the sea level version. In the olden days, they probably did not have the precision we had, and for the most part followed their senses. Further, their hours did not have the precision we have. Therefore, this is only necessary to know if one wants to pray shaharith at sunrise, “k’wathiqin,” and even then, one can be off by a few minutes in either direction.

Sof Z’man Q’riath Sh’ma – the last time for the morning sh’ma: do like Hazal did: try to at least recite it sometime before you get to the time when you have to start to ask if the third hour is over. In this case, I believe it is not even necessary to try to take on the Magen Avraham’s opinion as a humra, because his opinion has been refuted.

Sof Zman T’filla –  The latest time for the morning prayer: According to Rabbi Yehuda in the Mishna (B’rachoth 4), one should finish his morning prayers by the the end of the fourth hour. The sages said one has until noon, and their argument is discussed in the Yerushalmi to that Mishna: as the halacha recognizes that prayer times should match the communal offerings in the Temple, the sages claim that because the daily morning offering could be brought until noon, one can pray his morning prayer until noon, whereas Rabbi Yehuda felt that because they always tried to offer it before the end of four hours of the day, we should also offer our prayers before that time. The Shulhan Aruch follows this opinion, and therefore most do too nowadays, while Maimonides follows the sages’ opinion, but does still rule that the morning sacrifice is to be offered before the end of the fourth hour, and that it is best to finish the morning prayer by then. This could be a reason why most later authorities consider the end of the fourth hour to be the last time for the morning prayer, despite the fact that the sages felt otherwise. It also seems that in times of even more extreme need, the morning sacrifice could be offered until noon. 

Once again the calendars have two times for this: Magen Avraham and Vilna Gaon/Maimonides, but it does not mean that the Vilna Gaon or Maimonides believed that the final time for shaharith every morning is after four “hours,” as the Vilna Gaon may hold like Maimonides that the proper time for shaharith is until halachic noon. Rather, it means that those four hours were calculated using the Vilna Gaon’s method, and not the Magen Avraham’s.

This particular z’man is therefore not as critical as the daily last time for sh’ma, but it does come into play on Passover Eve, when one may no longer eat hametz after this time. Once again, you may be lenient and follow the later time, which is usually half an hour later than the earlier, Magen Avraham time. (Those Rabbanim who advise following the Magen Avraham’s opinion generally subscribe to the post-modern notion that an opinion, once featured in the classic literature, can not be “refuted.”)

The end of the fifth hour: this only comes into play on Passover Eve, as the last time for getting rid of one’s hametz. Once again, the time follows the Vilna Gaon’s (later) calculation, and not that of the Magen Avraham.

Hatzoth – Midday or Noon: the very last time one can pray in the morning, and the R’ma says that it is even forbidden to offer the morning prayer after this time, and in the Temple they would never offer the morning sacrifice after this time. They would just move on to the afternoon sacrifice. This should be the time halfway between sunrise and sunset. If one had a proper sundial, noon everyday of the year would be indicated by the direction of the shadow on the dial pointing exactly in the middle, with the length of the shadow varying with the seasons, longer during the short days and shorter during the long days. The calendars usually have this right.

Minha G’dola: The earliest time for the afternoon prayer, defined as once the afternoon is noticeable. Most opinions follow the simple view that this is one half of a standard hour after astronomical noon.

Minha Q’tana: According to Maimonides, the ideal time for the afternoon service, and defined as 9.5 hours of the day. In our example above, 3:30pm. Nowadays, only Muslims follow this opinion, and when you hear the muezzin in the afternoon, it’s minha q’tana.

Plag Haminha: halfway between minha q’tana and sunset. (e.g. 4:45pm). This is the earliest time that one can accept the sabbath or any incoming holiday, and also the earliest one may recite the evening prayer, provided he has already offered his afternoon prayer. According to most opinions, an afternoon prayer service on a fast day is considered a n’ila, a closing prayer, if held after this time and therefore, the priests bless the congregation at such a prayer. (The Hazon Ish felt that the priests should bless the people at every fast day afternoon service, regardless of the time.)

Sh’ki’a – Sunset: The end of the calendar day, the last time for the afternoon prayer, and the point when the Sabbath has already started, even for those who did not opt to accept it early. Once again, there is a slight discrepancy between the sea-level sunset and the visible sunset, which is delayed due to elevation. In New York this does not exist, but it is a factor in Jerusalem. I believe that the halacha should follow the visible sunset and sunrise, as that is what is clear from the talmudic accounts, for example, discussing the start and departure of the Sabbath in Safed (a few hundred meters above sea level) and Tiberias, which is hundreds of meters below sea level. As for the calculational discrepancies that result, the sages never were able to calculate daily z’manim with the accuracy and precision we have (they did know that there was an exact moment of noon between sunrise and sunset, but they could never tell you as it what happening. They could maybe point to a ten minute window, or so.) One caveat: you may claim that someone who descends into a vertical shaft in the ground anytime well into the afternoon thus experiences sunset, or early sunset can be brought on by the sun moving behind even higher mountains to one’s west. See Maimonides’s discussion of this and Rabbi Rabinovitch’s commentary, where the conclusion is that an early sunset can only happen when the opposite side of the sky starts changing color. This happens only when the obstructing mountains are relatively low. If the obstructing mountains were the Rockies, for instance, the sun is not considered to have set. 

However, you should also consider that hazal would have disapproved of one who waits to the last minute before sunset to accept the Sabbath or pray minha. One who seeks to follow in the sages’ ways should do both a significant time before sunset. The Mishna Berura recommends at least ten minutes.

Tzeith Hakochavim – When the stars come out or Nightfall: The time when one may begin to work after the Sabbath or a Holiday, and the earliest time for reciting the evening sh’ma. We follow the earliest opinions, that assuming no artificial light or moonlight, and a clear unpolluted sky, the stars would come out somewhere between the 13.5 to 18 minutes described above. The fact that we keep the Sabbath and holidays past this point is a public policy decision, and customs vary. In a case of dire need, you may, for example, end your sabbath that early in Israel, even though the custom is to wait 35 minutes until after sunset. In New York, it actually take a few minutes longer, but certainly not the 42 to 45 minutes that they customarily wait. Do not regularly let out the Sabbath early. Fast days can be broken at the earliest time.

See what I wrote last year for the old halacha concerning the evening sh’ma.

I hope this clarifies the day-to-day calendrical issues you’ve been having.

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From → halacha

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