Starting Shabbos Early

sunsetQuestion #1: Asking for help

“If I accepted Shabbos early, may I ask my neighbor, who is beginning Shabbos at the regular time, to turn on a light?”

Question #2: Very early Shabbos

“How early can I begin Shabbos?”

Question #3: 18 versus 20

“Some communities schedule candle lighting 18 minutes before sunset on Friday, whereas others schedule it 20 minutes before sunset. Is there a halachic reason for the difference?”

Question #4: Some like it late

“If all the shullen in my neighborhood make Shabbos early, am I obligated to do so?”

Answer:

All the questions above involve a mitzvah called tosefes Shabbos, the halachic requirement to begin observing Shabbos before the day has yet arrived and, also, to continue observing Shabbos for some time after the day is over on Saturday night. The early authorities discuss whether tosefes Shabbos requires one to begin Shabbos a specific amount before the set hour, or whether it is left to the individual’s discretion to decide how much extra time one treats as Shabbos (Tosafos, Beitzah 30a s.v. Deha; cf. Toras Ha’adam page 252).

Why eighteen minutes?

There are different customs regulating how many minutes before sunset one should kindle the Shabbos lights. Most places today establish the official time as at least eighteen minutes before sunset. The reason for this is because there are opinions that Shabbos begins between 13½ and 18 minutes before sunset (Sefer Yere’im; see Mishnah Berurah 261:23 and Shaar Hatziyun ad locum). This approach is based on a method of understanding the Talmudic passages regarding the scientific phenomena that define the end of the day. Kindling Shabbos lights at least eighteen minutes before sunset accomplishes three things.

  1. It prevents one from doing melachah, even according to the opinion of the Sefer Yere’im.
  2. It guarantees that one fulfills the mitzvah of tosefes Shabbos.
  3. It provides time to prepare for the arrival of the sanctity of Shabbos.

18 versus 20

At this point, we can already address one of our opening questions:

“Some communities schedule candle lighting 18 minutes before sunset on Friday, whereas others schedule it 20 minutes before sunset. Is there a halachic reason for the difference?”

In order to fully accommodate the Yere’im’s opinion, some authorities contend that one should kindle the Shabbos lights before eighteen minutes prior to sunset, so that there is tosefes Shabbos, even according to those who understand that he held that Shabbos enters eighteen minutes before sunset (Mishnah Berurah 261:23 and Shaar Hatizyun). This is why many communities schedule candle lighting twenty minutes before sunset — the extra two minutes fulfill the mitzvah of tosefes Shabbos, even according to the most stringent position. Those who schedule candle-lighting for exactly eighteen minutes accept that this fulfills the vast majority of halachic opinions and all the major accepted approaches.

How does someone accept Shabbos?

Women usually accept Shabbos when they kindle the Shabbos candles. There is a difference between Ashkenazic and Sefardic practice as to how this is done. Ashkenazim assume that a woman accepts Shabbos when she recites the blessing on the kindling. Therefore, an Ashkenazic woman kindles her Shabbos lights before she recites the blessing, since, once she recites the blessings, she has accepted Shabbos and cannot light the candles or lamps. To accomplish having the brocha recited before the mitzvah, the Rema (Orach Chayim 263:5) advises that she block the light from herself with her hand. The common practice is that she covers her eyes with her hands while reciting the brocha and upon completing the brocha removes her hands, so that she can see and benefit from the kindled Shabbos lights.

Sefardic women recite the brocha of lehadlik neir shel Shabbos and then kindle the lights. They assume that she accepts Shabbos when she completes kindling the lights. Therefore, many have the practice that she does not extinguish the match with which she kindles the Shabbos lights, but instead places the match down so that it goes out by itself (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 263:10).

Both Sefardic and Ashkenazic women should recite the minchah prayers before lighting the candles, since once one has accepted Shabbos, one can no longer daven the weekday Friday minchah. However, if the day is drawing to a close and the candles still stand unkindled, one should kindle the Shabbos lights, even though, as a result, one will be unable to daven minchah (Mishnah Berurah 263:43). If this happens, a woman should daven maariv that night, and, immediately upon backing up the steps to complete “shemoneh esrei,” she should wait a few seconds, and then step forward to recite the same shemoneh esrei a second time (ibid.). This second prayer is a tefilas tashlumim, a make-up prayer, to replace the minchah that was missed (Brachos 26a). Reciting the Shabbos maariv amidah prayer a second time qualifies as restitution for the missing tefillah, notwithstanding that it is very different from the unrecited weekday minchah.

Conditional lighting

Should a woman not want to accept Shabbos upon kindling her lights, many authorities permit her to postpone accepting Shabbos until later (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 263:10). This stipulation should be performed only under extenuating circumstances (Magen Avraham 263:20). After making this condition, she may kindle her lights and, sometime before sunset, she must stop doing melachah and accept Shabbos.

Several authorities rule that, should someone decide not to accept Shabbos when kindling early, someone else in the household must accept Shabbos at that time. According to one opinion, if no one accepts Shabbos when she kindles, then the brocha recited upon kindling the lights is recited in vain, a brocha levatalah (Graz 263:11; however, see Mishnah Berurah 263:20 and Rema 263:10). However, if she herself will be accepting Shabbos within eight to ten minutes of her kindling, it is not necessary for someone else to accept Shabbos immediately after she kindles the lights (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 11:21).

Example:

For example, a family will be eating the Friday night meal at someone else’s house, and it is difficult for the lady of the house to walk both ways. She may decide that she is not accepting Shabbos when she kindles the lights and then travel by automobile (obviously before Shabbos) to the home where they are eating the seudah.

How do men accept Shabbos?

Even when men kindle Shabbos lights, they usually do not accept Shabbos at that time, but during the davening. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 261:4) rules that reciting Borchu or Mizmor shir leyom haShabbos qualifies as accepting Shabbos. The Magen Avraham (ad locum) disagrees with the latter ruling, contending that people routinely do melachah after reciting Mizmor shir leyom haShabbos. This means that people do not consider reciting it to be a declaration that one is accepting Shabbos. The later authorities explain that, in the time of the Magen Avraham, people made an implied condition not to accept Shabbos when they said Mizmor shir leyom haShabbos, and that was why they continued to do melachah after reciting it. However, in the time of the later acharonim, such as the Pri Megadim, people accepted Shabbos upon reciting Mizmor shir and refrained from doing melachah from that point. Other authorities ruled that completing the song of Lecha Dodi, which closes with a welcoming of the Shabbos Queen, constitutes accepting Shabbos, and that, therefore, one is prohibited from doing melachah from then (Mishnah Berurah 261:31 quoting Derech Chachmah).

The early bird catches

How early may someone accept Shabbos and kindle lights? This question is already mentioned by the Gemara (Shabbos 23b) in the following passage:

Rav Yosef’s wife would delay lighting Shabbos lights until it was almost Shabbos. Rav Yosef admonished her, pointing out that in the Desert, the pillar of light that came at night arrived before the day ended. Thus, it is appropriate that the light for night should be kindled while it is still daytime.

Taking the admonition seriously, in a later week Rav Yosef’s rebbitzen decided to kindle the lights very early. An old man, possibly an incarnate of Eliyahu Hanavi (see Tosafos, Chullin 6a s.v. Ashkechei), told her that kindling too early is also not halachically correct (Shabbos 23b).

The Ran notes that the Gemara’s anecdote requires explanation. How close to Shabbos could Rebbitzen Yosef have been lighting that her husband felt it appropriate to correct her? She certainly did not kindle the lights at a time when it was questionably Shabbos, and, certainly, she also observed tosefes Shabbos correctly. If so, she was kindling at the correct time, so why was Rav Yosef admonishing her?

The Ran explains that Rebbitzen Yosef opined that kindling the lights is meant to sserve Shabbos and, as such, should be conducted as close to Shabbos as possible. In other words, although one should not perform any melachah during tosefes Shabbos, she mistakenly thought that kindling the Shabbos lights is an exception that could and should be done immediately before Shabbos. Rav Yosef corrected her, pointing out that tosefes Shabbos applies also to kindling the Shabbos lights.

Having accepted Rav Yosef’s admonition, she now felt that she should make sure to kindle her Shabbos lights before she finished her other last minute Shabbos preparations. This was also not correct – the kindling should be the last melachah activity performed before one accepts Shabbos.

How early is too early?

Some of the rishonim rule that one can kindle as early as plag haminchah, provided that, when doing so, one accepts upon himself the sanctity of Shabbos (Tur, Orach Chayim 267; Rabbeinu Yerucham, Tolados Adam Vechavah 12:2). Accepting Shabbos after kindling early is necessary in order to demonstrate that the kindling is for Shabbos. This is the ruling accepted by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 263:4) and later authorities.

When is plag haminchah? Plag haminchah is the earliest time of day that one may daven maariv. It is definitely before sunset — the Gemara explains that plag haminchah is 43/48 of the day. This means that if one divides the daylight part of the day into 48 quarter-hours, counting back 5 of these quarter-hours from the end of the day is plag haminchah.

When does the day begin and end?

There is a major dispute among authorities whether these hours are calculated from alos hashachar, halachic dawn, which is halachically the beginning of the day, to tzeis hakochavim, when the stars appear, or whether they are calculated from sunrise to sunset. Accepted contemporary practice follows the opinion that plag haminchah is measured from sunrise to sunset, which makes plag haminchah in the summer about 1½ hours before sunset (Levush, Orach Chayim 267; Gra, to Orach Chayim 459:2; Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 261:10).

Why no kindling earlier?

Why is it prohibited to kindle the Shabbos lights before plag?

Rashi (Shabbos 23b) explains that if one kindles the lights too early, it is not noticeable that one is kindling the lights for Shabbos. This implies that the reason one cannot light Shabbos lights this early has nothing to do with accepting Shabbos early – one can accept Shabbos as early as one wants. The problem is that one who kindles Shabbos lights this early does not properly fulfill his mitzvah of kindling lights in honor of Shabbos. Thus, the Aruch Hashulchan (263:19) assumes that although one may not kindle Shabbos lights earlier than plag haminchah, someone who accepted Shabbos earlier is required to begin observing Shabbos.

However, other early authorities (Tur, Orach Chayim 267) imply that it is impossible to accept tosefes Shabbos earlier than plag haminchah, and this is the approach accepted by the Magen Avraham (261:10) and the Mishnah Berurah (261:25). In their opinion, if someone accepted Shabbos upon himself before plag haminchah, it has no effect.

An earlier authority seems to agree fully with the position of the Aruch Hashulchan. The Terumas Hadeshen, who lived in 14th century Austria, records the following question:

“In most communities, they daven maariv in the long summer days three or four hours before the stars appear. Is there any halachic basis for this practice, particularly since many talmidei chachamim follow it?”

The Terumas Hadeshen then endeavors to explain why communities davened maariv this early, suggesting that people could not wait until it got dark to eat the Shabbos meals. One way to avoid this would be to eat a meal before minchah, but this practice was not followed out of concern that people would make this into their Shabbos meal and not attend shul later. The Terumas Hadeshen notes that, precisely for this reason, many halachic authorities prohibit eating even a small meal before one has davened minchah, even if one eats the meal very early in the afternoon (after minchah gedolah). Because people found it difficult to eat so late on Friday evening, the custom developed of davening the Friday night Shabbos prayers very early. He then quotes a few authorities who held that this may not be done, but they did not stop the practice. He then recounts a story of a city, whose rav was one of the gedolei Yisrael, where they davened so early that, after davening and the seudah, there was ample time for the entire community to go for a walk on the bank of the local river, the Danube, by daylight and return home before dark! Although he does not provide a halachic basis to permit davening this early, nevertheless, he concludes that a talmid chacham may join the tzibur and daven with them, if he is unable to influence them to daven later.

There are some other curious questions about this practice of davening very early that the Terumas Hadeshen does not address:

How could they accept Shabbos before plag haminchah?

How could they kindle Shabbos lights before plag?

It seems that the Terumas Hadeshen held that, since they were accepting Shabbos immediately after kindling the lights, there is no problem with kindling the Shabbos lights early, or with accepting Shabbos this early.

Asking for help

At this point, we can address another of our opening questions: “If I accepted Shabbos early, may I ask my neighbor, who is beginning Shabbos at the regular time, to turn on a light?”

The Rashba (Shabbos 151a) rules that someone who already accepted Shabbos may ask someone who did not yet accept Shabbos to do melachah. Accepting Shabbos early does not forbid me from asking someone else to do work (Magen Avraham 263:30). The Magen Avraham (261:7) rules that if the entire community accepted Shabbos, one may no longer ask another Jew to do work for him, but he may ask a gentile to do work (see also Rema, Orach Chayim 261:1).

Some like it late

We are now ready to discuss the next question: “If all the shullen in my neighborhood make Shabbos early, am I obligated to do so?”

Some rishonim rule that once a community began davening maariv Friday night, all individuals in that community are obligated to observe Shabbos (Mordechai, Shabbos #298, quoting Rivam). This approach is followed by the Shulchan Aruch as normative halachah (Orach Chayim 263:12); however, the ruling is true only if every shul in the community has already accepted Shabbos, or if every shul that this person usually attends has already accepted Shabbos (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:38). Some authorities suggest that if everyone is accepting Shabbos early only because it is convenient, but not because they want to be more machmir, an individual may not be bound to accept Shabbos when they do (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:38).

Early hubby

If a husband davens at an early minyan, must his wife began observing Shabbos as soon as he does, or can she wait until he returns home from shul?

Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that the fact that a husband was mekabeil Shabbos does not require his wife to do so, just as his making a personal vow or oath is not binding on her (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:38; cf. Shu’t Shevet Halevi 7:35, who disagrees). He discusses, at length, whether it is permitted for her to do melachah activities for her husband after he was mekabeil Shabbos, and concludes that it is proper that she does not.

Conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos in order to provide a day of rest. This is incorrect, he points out, because the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melachah, which implies work with purpose and accomplishment. On Shabbos, we refrain from altering the world with our own creative acts and, instead, emphasize Hashem’s role (Shemos 20:11). We thereby acknowledge the true Builder and Creator of the world and all that it contains.