03 – Shabbat Times

01. Shabbat times

In the Torah, night precedes day for all matters. This is derived from the description of the world’s creation, about which the Torah states: “And there was evening and there was morning, day one” (Bereishit 1:5). This tells us that each 24-hour day begins at night, and thus Shabbat, the seventh day, begins at night. An important concept is enfolded within this Jewish outlook – night and darkness precede day and light. First questions and dilemmas arise and one is mired in darkness and uncertainty, but from this answers emerge and light shines upon him. This is also true of our history. At first we were enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt, but from there were freed, received the Torah, and entered Eretz Yisrael. This is how it always is for the Jewish people – darkness and troubles are followed by light and redemption. First we must deal with our problems, but from within them we are elevated and refined.

In contrast, when it comes to the nations of the world, day precedes night. Nation after nation ascends the stage of history, makes a vast noise, and shakes up the world. But when difficulties arise and problems begin, the night draws nearer, and finally the nation declines and disappears. It happened to the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans. The secret of Jewish immortality is connected to the fact that for us, the night precedes the day.

Since the night precedes the day, the seventh day begins at the beginning of the night. But the Sages were uncertain as to exactly when night begins. Is it when the sun sets and is no longer visible to us, or is it when it becomes dark and three medium-sized stars can be seen in the sky? In other words, are day and night defined by sun or by light? In Eretz Yisrael, about twenty minutes separate sunset and the emergence of the stars, though this interval fluctuates based on the time of year and the particular locale’s elevation above sea level, as explained in n. 1 below.

Another unique feature of Judaism is that not every question has an absolute answer. Doubt and uncertainty occasionally play a role, and the present halakha is an example of this. The time between sunset (shki’at ha-ĥama, or “shki’a”) and the emergence of stars (tzeit ha-kokhavim, or “tzeit”) is classified as a time when it is uncertain whether it is day or night and is called “bein ha-shmashot.”

In practice, for all Torah laws, including Shabbat, we follow the well-known principle: “Safek de-Oraita le-ĥumra,” that is, we rule strictly when in doubt about Torah law. Therefore, Shabbat begins at shki’a and ends at tzeit.[1]


[1]. The topic of bein ha-shmashot is discussed in Shabbat 34b-35b. There it emerges that in R. Yehuda’s opinion, bein ha-shmashot extends from shki’a until the reddish tint disappears from the west and is replaced by a silvery hue; R. Yossi disagrees and maintains that bein ha-shmashot is very short, like the blink of an eye, occurring after the end of R. Yehuda’s bein ha-shmashot. In terms of practice, R. Yoĥanan maintains that we follow the stringencies of both (ibid. 35a), which means that bein ha-shmashot begins with shki’a and concludes after the time suggested by R. Yossi. The Sages provide us with an indicator for the end of bein ha-shmashot according to R. Yossi: the emergence of three stars. This perforce means three medium-sized stars, as large stars can be seen even during the day and small ones are visible only at night (ibid. 35b). The Talmud goes on to explain that according to Rabba (whom the Rif and Rosh follow in their ruling), bein ha-shmashot begins at shki’a and lasts for the time it takes to walk three quarters of a mil (roughly equivalent to a kilometer). Rashi, the Vilna Gaon, and many others say that the time of bein ha-shmashot according to R. Yossi is immediately after the time of R. Yehuda, so no more time needs to be added. In contrast, Ramban and Rosh maintain that it is a bit later and one must add half a minute. Others say that it is even later and one must add a few minutes (Raavan). See Ha-zemanim Ba-halakha 40:8-16.

Shki’a refers to the time when the sun disappears from sight entirely (Responsa Maharam al-Ashkar §96). It would seem that nearby hills that hide the sun are not taken into consideration; rather the horizon is determinant. However, it is possible one should take into account distant mountains that span the entire horizon. See Peninei Halakha: Prayer ch. 11 n. 7 regarding hanetz ha-ĥama (sunrise). In terms of tzeit, several uncertainties arise, for different times have been suggested for the appearance of three middle-sized stars. The uncertainty is rooted in the question of who must be able to see these three stars. Is it those with perfect or impeccable vision who know about star charts and know where the first stars appear in each season, or is it determined by the average person on the street? It would seem that people with impeccable sight can see three stars once the sun sinks more than 4.8 degrees below the horizon. Regular people can see three stars when the sun is 6.2 degrees below the horizon. One should also know that there are three factors that impact the interval between shki’a and tzeit: 1) The season; in the spring and fall, the sun sets along a line that is perpendicular to the horizon, and therefore the interval is shorter, while in the winter and summer it sets on a line that intersects the horizon diagonally, so the interval is longer. 2) Elevation; the higher the elevation of a place, the longer the sun is visible (and thus the later shki’a is). Tzeit, however, will be at the same time regardless of elevation. Therefore, in higher places, the time separating shki’a and tzeit is shorter. 3) Latitude; the closer one is to the equator, the shorter bein ha-shmashot is. As one approaches the poles, it lengthens. There are places where it can last for hours and even days.

In practice, in Eretz Yisrael at sea level the time of bein ha-shmashot based on those with good vision (4.8 degrees) in the middle of spring and fall is about 19 minutes, and at the height of the summer it is about 21 minutes. Based on people with regular vision (6.2 degrees), in the middle of spring and fall bein ha-shmashot is 25 minutes, and at the height of the summer it is nearly 30 minutes. In Jerusalem, whose highest hills are about 830m above sea level, shki’a is about five minutes later, so bein ha-shmashot is about five minutes shorter. Thus, in Jerusalem, bein ha-shmashot based on those with good vision in the middle of the spring and fall is about 14 minutes, and at the height of summer it is 16:22 minutes. Basing it on people with normal vision, in spring and fall bein ha-shmashot is about twenty and a half minutes, and at the height of summer is about 24 minutes. (One who explores this issue will come to understand how these calculations work out with the traditional time for bein ha-shmashot as equal to the time it takes to walk three quarters of a mil. All this is explained at length in Harĥavot and briefly in Peninei Halakha: Prayer ch. 25 n. 3 in the context of the time for the nighttime recitation of Shema.)

Everything written here so far follows the approach of the Ge’onim. However, Rabbeinu Tam has a different approach. He maintains that after shki’a, the day continues for the time it takes to walk 3.25 mil, or approximately 58.5 minutes. Bein ha-shmashot begins only after that, and lasts for the length of time it takes to walk three quarters of a mil, or approximately 13.5 minutes. This is followed by night. Although many follow this approach, including SA 261:2, it is still very puzzling, because in fact we see three medium-sized stars much earlier than R. Tam’s reckoning of tzeit (see BHL ad loc.). In fact, in Eretz Yisrael and its environs, the custom has always followed the Ge’onim. Some explain that Rabbeinu Tam’s approach was based on his location. He lived in France, which is further north, and there bein ha-shmashot lasts longer. In any event, common practice is not to take R. Tam’s opinion into account (Tzitz Eliezer 17:62; Shemesh U-magen 1:5; Ha-zemanim Ba-halakha chs. 43-45, 48, 50). Some write that ideally one should be stringent like Rabbeinu Tam and assume that Shabbat ends 72 minutes after shki’a (Yabi’a Omer 2:21). See Harĥavot.

02. The Mitzva of Tosefet Shabbat

The inherent sanctity of Shabbat is present only from the beginning of the seventh day, when Shabbat starts. However, the Torah commands that we extend the sanctity of Shabbat into the mundane week. That is, we are meant to accept the holiness of Shabbat upon ourselves a bit before the start of the seventh day. The same applies to the end of Shabbat: it ends at the end of the seventh day, but we are commanded to extend this holiness a little longer after Shabbat (SA 261:2; Bi’ur Halakha states that most authorities consider this extension to be a Torah law).

This extension of Shabbat, called tosefet Shabbat, demonstrates that Shabbat is very dear to us. We go out to greet it before its arrival, and we prolong its stay by accompanying it upon departure. It is like an honored guest whom we go out to greet and whom we escort when it is time to take leave.

We have already learned that the status of the time between shki’a and tzeit is uncertain, and thus one must be stringent then. Therefore, in order to fulfill the mitzva of tosefet Shabbat we need to accept Shabbat a bit before shki’a. Women customarily accept Shabbat when they light the Shabbat candles. In Jerusalem the custom is to light candles forty minutes before shki’a, in Haifa thirty minutes before, and in Tel Aviv and most other Israeli cities twenty minutes before. Men who recite the Minĥa prayers close to shki’a are accustomed to accept Shabbat later, but they too must be careful to accept Shabbat a few minutes before shki’a in order to add to the holy from the mundane.

One who wishes to accept Shabbat even earlier is commendable, as long as it is within a seasonal hour and a quarter before shki’a. According to many poskim, one may not accept Shabbat earlier than this (SA 263:4; MB ad loc. 18).[2]

Shabbat concludes with the appearance of three medium-sized stars, but the Sages were worried that people might make a mistake and think that three large stars were medium-sized. Therefore, to be on the safe side, they said that one should wait until the appearance of three small stars grouped together (SA 293:2). Nowadays we do not need to look at the stars. Rather we can rely on clocks and calendars, where the times listed for the end of Shabbat already incorporate tosefet Shabbat.[3]

This mitzva teaches us that there is a connection between the weekdays and Shabbat, which is why we can add from the mundane to the sacred. We can also see, based on this, the inner striving of the mundane to be connected to the sacred.


[2]. Many maintain that one may accept Shabbat only from plag ha-minĥa, which is one and a quarter seasonal hours before the end of the day. One may then light the candles with a berakha, pray the Shabbat prayers (following the opinion of R. Yehuda), and make kiddush (Tosafot, Rosh, and Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona to Berakhot 27a; SA 267:2; Rema 261:2). Others maintain that one may accept Shabbat even earlier, as long as it is clear that the candles are being lit to honor Shabbat (Rabbeinu Asher of Lunel; Pri Ĥadash; Pri Megadim. R. Avraham b. Azriel maintains that one may accept it two hours early). However, poskim disagree regarding what is considered the end of the day for plag ha-minĥa purposes. Terumat Ha-deshen calculates it from tzeit, while the Vilna Gaon calculates from shki’a. We follow the opinion that the calculation is done from shki’a. This is because, first, that is the dominant position, and second, there is an opinion that one may accept Shabbat earlier than plag ha-minĥa. See Peninei Halakha: Prayer ch. 24 n. 9 and Peninei Halakha: Zemanim ch. 13 n. 14.

[3]. As we saw in n. 1 above, the longest time between shki’a and tzeit in Eretz Yisrael is just under 30 minutes (at the height of the summer in low-lying areas). Calendars nowadays generally record the end of Shabbat as 35 minutes after shki’a, so that there is always tosefet Shabbat.

03. How to Accept Tosefet Shabbat

One can accept tosefet Shabbat verbally by saying “I hereby accept upon myself the sanctity of Shabbat.” Some maintain that one can even accept tosefet Shabbat mentally (MB 261:21). Once one has accepted Shabbat, he must be careful not to do any melakha (as will be explained in the next section).

As mentioned, women customarily accept Shabbat when reciting the berakha over lighting Shabbat candles. Since they invoke Shabbat, they intend to accept it upon themselves, thus fulfilling the mitzva of tosefet Shabbat. According to most authorities, a woman may light candles conditionally, having in mind that she is not accepting Shabbat with the lighting. In such a case she may do melakha or drive to shul after lighting. Nevertheless, it is preferable that she accept Shabbat when she lights, since some maintain that one may not light conditionally, in which case once she lights Shabbat candles she has accepted Shabbat and may not do melakha. Furthermore, if she does not accept Shabbat when she lights candles, there is concern that she will forget tosefet Shabbat altogether (SA 263:10; SSK 43:24; Yalkut Yosef 263:44).

At one time, men customarily accepted Shabbat during prayer with the recitation of “Bo’i kalla, Shabbat ha-malka” (“Enter O bride, O Shabbat queen”) in the liturgical poem Lekha Dodi. However, nowadays in many shuls they do not finish Lekha Dodi before shki’a. Accordingly, in order to fulfill the mitzva of tosefet Shabbat, the gabbai should announce after Minĥa: “Bo’i kalla, Shabbat ha-malka,” at which point everyone should accept Shabbat. If the gabbai does not make this announcement, then each individual should say to himself “Bo’i kalla, Shabbat ha-malka” or “Hineni mekabel al atzmi kedushat Shabbat” (“I hereby accept upon myself the sanctity of Shabbat”). Additionally, if one is afraid that the ĥazan will not complete the repetition of the Minĥa Amida before shki’a, he may whisper the declaration to himself during the repetition, to ensure that he not lose the opportunity to fulfill the mitzva of tosefet Shabbat.[4]


[4]. In a locale where there is only one synagogue, the congregation’s acceptance of Shabbat obligates the entire community. However, in practice this does not come up often, because generally we do not accept Shabbat as a community very early, and if it is just a few minutes before shki’a everyone is obligated to accept Shabbat anyway to fulfill the mitzva of tosefet Shabbat. Nevertheless, if the entire community accepted Shabbat, some say that this acceptance is more binding than an individual’s acceptance, and in such a case even for a mitzva or great necessity one would still be prohibited from transgressing anything, even rabbinic prohibitions (MB 261:18, 28). Others maintain that anything permitted after an individual accepts Shabbat (as we explain below in ch. 4 n. 5) is also permitted after the community accepts Shabbat (quoted by BHL 261:4, s.v. “ein me’arvin”). See Harĥavot, which explains that in a case of great necessity one may rely on the lenient opinion. In any case, even after the community has accepted Shabbat, as well as during bein ha-shmashot, one may ask a non-Jew to do melakha on behalf of a Jew for the sake of a mitzva or a great need (SA 342:1; MB ad loc. 7; MB 261:18, 28).

04. Laws Pertaining to One Who Accepts Shabbat upon Himself

From the time one accepts tosefet Shabbat, he must refrain from all melakhot forbidden by Torah law. Rabbinically prohibited actions are also forbidden at this point, unless the melakha to be done is for a mitzva, for a Shabbat need, or for some other great need, because in such situations the Sages did not intend for their prohibitions to apply. For example, if one forgot to tithe produce and wishes to eat it on Shabbat, he may tithe it even if he has already accepted Shabbat, because tithing produce on Shabbat is only prohibited rabbinically.

One who has already accepted tosefet Shabbat may ask a fellow Jew who has yet to accept Shabbat to do melakha on his behalf. Women generally light candles and accept Shabbat at the time listed on calendars. Men, in contrast, go to shul to pray the weekday Minĥa (which usually begins shortly after candle lighting), and only then accept Shabbat. In the intervening period, a woman may ask her husband to do melakhot such as turning on a light or adjusting the oven, even though she has already accepted Shabbat (SA 263:17; MB ad loc. 64). Similarly, on Saturday night one who has not yet made havdala may ask one who has to do melakha for him.[5]


[5]. To complete this discussion, we must add three laws. 1) The general rule that one may transgress rabbinic prohibitions during tosefet Shabbat for a mitzva or a great need does not apply to rabbinic prohibitions whose transgression is likely to lead one to a violation of Torah law. For example, one would not be allowed to do a melakha she-eina tzerikha le-gufah or to carry objects in the public domain by moving them less than four tefaĥim at a time. This is explained in MB 342:1. 2) Although the general rule is that one who has accepted Shabbat may not transgress a rabbinic prohibition unless there is a mitzva involved or a great need, the rule does not apply to asking a non-Jew to do melakha for him. This is permitted even if it is not for a mitzva or great need, as explained in MB 261:18. 3) Technically, if one has not accepted Shabbat, the rabbinic Shabbat prohibitions do not take effect until the end of bein ha-shmashot. The body of the text does not mention this because it is almost irrelevant in practice. If one is part of a local Jewish community, he may assume that the majority of the community will accept Shabbat before shki’a, and all melakhot would then be prohibited for this person as well (except for asking a non-Jew to do melakha, which is permitted during bein ha-shmashot, as explained above). If he lives in a locale where there are no Jews, there is still a mitzva of tosefet Shabbat before shki’a, and transgressing rabbinic laws will still be prohibited except for a mitzva, for Shabbat, or for a great need, when he may be lenient, as we have learned.

A woman who has good reason to travel by car after lighting candles, such as to go to the Kotel, to shul, or to see her family, may get into a car if the driver has not accepted Shabbat yet. However, she must make sure not to open or shut the car door herself if this would make the light inside the car go on or off (see Harĥavot).

05. May One Pray Minĥa after Accepting Shabbat?

There are shuls where the weekday Minĥa on Friday is finished after shki’a, so that if the participants wait to accept Shabbat until after Minĥa, Shabbat in fact has already begun, and they are unable to fulfill the mitzva of tosefet Shabbat. Thus the question arises: may one accept Shabbat but then pray the weekday Minĥa?

According to some authorities, one who has accepted Shabbat may no longer pray the weekday Minĥa, because one may not pray a weekday Minĥa after Shabbat has begun (and one may not pray Shabbat Minĥa, because that is to be said only on Saturday). Therefore, in their opinion, one who mistakenly accepted Shabbat before praying Minĥa has lost the opportunity to pray Minĥa, and during Ma’ariv he should pray the Amida twice. The first time serves as the regular Ma’ariv of Shabbat and the second time is to compensate for the Minĥa that he missed (SA 263:15; MB ad loc. 60). This applies to women as well, and thus a woman may not pray Minĥa after she has lit candles – how can she pray a weekday Minĥa after she has accepted Shabbat? If she wishes to compensate for missing Minĥa, she should pray the Amida twice at Ma’ariv (MB ad loc. 43). The only alternative is to pray Minĥa earlier, while it is still day, and to accept Shabbat afterward. Where Minĥa is prayed after shki’a, one must pray Minĥa earlier on his own so that he will be able to add tosefet Shabbat. For the mitzva of tosefet Shabbat is a Torah law, while praying with a minyan is a rabbinic requirement (SSK 46:5).

Several authorities maintain, however, that even after one has accepted Shabbat, he may still pray the weekday Minĥa. They reason that tosefet Shabbat only requires that one not transgress any Torah prohibitions of Shabbat, but does not extend to the realm of prayer; thus, one may still pray the weekday Minĥa. Just as in the service of a mitzva one may do things that are rabbinically prohibited during tosefet Shabbat, so too he may pray the weekday Minĥa then. Only one who accepted Shabbat with the congregation may not pray the weekday Minĥa. Therefore, if one has still not prayed Minĥa and it is very close to shki’a, he should accept Shabbat verbally and then pray the weekday Minĥa (Tzitz Eliezer 13:42; Minĥat Yitzĥak 9:20). Still others maintain that in such a case one must be careful to accept Shabbat only mentally. On the one hand, one may accept Shabbat this way; on the other hand, since it was only in his head, he may still pray the weekday Minĥa (Yabi’a Omer 7:34).

The widespread custom is that if shki’a is approaching and one has still not prayed Minĥa, he accepts tosefet Shabbat – whether verbally or mentally – and then prays the weekday Minĥa. Be-di’avad, women too may pray Minĥa after lighting candles. If one knows that the minyan is going to pray Minĥa late, he should preferably fulfill his obligation in conformity with all opinions by praying Minĥa on his own and accepting Shabbat before shki’a. If he is sure that he will be able to accept Shabbat during the repetition of the Amida, it is best that he pray with the minyan and accept tosefet Shabbat during the repetition.[6]


[6]. Following the first opinion, if one comes to shul close to shki’a and knows that if he begins to pray the weekday Minĥa he will not finish his silent Amida before shki’a, he should preferably accept Shabbat and later pray the Amida of Ma’ariv twice. This is the opinion of MB 263:43, SSK, and R. Mazuz. A woman who does not have time to pray Minĥa and then light the candles should light the candles and not pray. If she prays Minĥa regularly, she may pray the Amida of Ma’ariv twice, with the second recitation being compensatory. See Peninei Halakha: Women’s Prayer 13:6.

Following the second opinion, if one comes to shul close to shki’a, he should accept tosefet Shabbat and pray the weekday Minĥa. One may pray the weekday Minĥa even after accepting tosefet Shabbat, as tosefet Shabbat only causes melakhot to be prohibited but does not affect prayer. This is the position of Tzitz Eliezer, following Zera Emet and other Aĥaronim. Minĥat Yitzĥak 9:20 agrees and adds another reason: even on Shabbat itself one may pray the weekday prayer, but in order to shorten the service the Sages formulated an abbreviated version. Therefore, when necessary, one may pray the weekday Minĥa even after accepting tosefet Shabbat. Piskei Teshuvot §263 records this approach as that of many Aĥaronim.

Some follow the second opinion but maintain that one must accept tosefet Shabbat only mentally but not verbally. In other words, he decides to refrain from melakha from here on, thus fulfilling the mitzva of tosefet Shabbat, but since he has not verbalized this acceptance he may still pray the weekday Minĥa. R. Ovadia Yosef writes this in Yabi’a Omer 7:34, p. 97 and Livyat Ĥen §6; see also Menuĥat Ahava 1:5:6.

An additional dispute among the Aĥaronim concerns the questionable status of one who responds with the congregation to the ĥazan’s declaration of “Barkhu.” According to Yeĥaveh Da’at 6:18, one may not respond to Barkhu and still maintain that he has not accepted Shabbat. Thus one who responded may no longer pray the weekday Minĥa. On the other hand, Igrot Moshe OĤ 3:37 maintains that if one thinks to himself that he is not accepting Shabbat, he may respond to Barkhu and still pray the weekday Minĥa afterward; however, based on SA 263:15, he should make sure to pray outside of shul.