During the summer months, many families choose to begin Shabbat earlier than required. This is usually done in order to allow for the Shabbat meal to begin at an earlier hour, as well as to enable the younger children to experience the Shabbat meal and atmosphere. Nevertheless, the halachic suitability of this practice is not as simple as it may seem.
We must first establish from when exactly one may begin Shabbat. It goes without saying that one who recited the Friday night Kiddush on Thursday or even Friday morning has accomplished nothing at all. This is because it is not possible to begin or “accept” Shabbat at that time. The earliest that one may begin Shabbat on any given Friday is from the time known as “plag hamincha” which is one-and-a-quarter sha’ot zemanyiot (halachic hours) before the end of the day.1
It is a matter of dispute, however, when exactly plag hamincha is. This is based on the unresolved dispute of whether the day begins at sunrise and ends at sunset2 or if it begins at dawn and ends at nightfall.3 As such, while common custom is to consider plag hamincha as being an hour and a quarter before sunset, many authorities hold that plag hamincha is an hour and a quarter before nightfall.4 According to the latter approach, those who begin Shabbat and recite Ma’ariv earlier than an hour and a quarter before nightfall not only accomplish nothing at all, but their Ma’ariv and Kiddush are deemed to have been recited in vain. This does not even take into account the Shulchan Aruch’s definition of nightfall (72 minutes after sunset) which is much later than the common definition of nightfall (20-45 minutes after sunset). One will note that according to the plag-from-nightfall approach, plag hamincha will sometimes work out to be a mere fifteen minutes before sunset which makes for an “Early Shabbat” that isn’t too early.
We see from the above, that the fundamental issue of when plag hamincha is – the starting point for a discussion on “Early Shabbat” – is complicated, at best. It is interesting to note that in very extenuating circumstances, there are authorities who allow one to recite Ma’ariv and accept Shabbat even before plag hamincha, but that is a topic beyond the scope of this essay.5
Another issue facing one who begins Shabbat early is the general rule that one should not recite both Mincha and Ma’ariv in the same “time zone.” When one accepts Shabbat or recites Ma’ariv during the plag hamincha “time zone,” one is essentially declaring that time zone to be “night.” As such, it would be inappropriate to recite Mincha in that same time zone, as Mincha belongs to the “previous” day. Therefore, one who chooses to make “Early Shabbat” should recite Mincha before plag hamincha and Kabbalat Shabbat and Ma’ariv after plag hamincha.
While many synagogues in Israel make an effort to comply with this view, most synagogues in North America do not. In most North American synagogues, both Mincha and Ma’ariv are recited after plag hamincha. In such congregations, in addition to all the other issues involved with making “Early Shabbat,” one compromises the value of one’s Mincha and Ma’ariv prayer, a disadvantage known as a “tarti d’satri” (contradiction). This is a very b’dieved manner to discharge one’s obligations of both Mincha and Ma’ariv.6
Another problem with making “Early Shabbat” is that one forfeits the preferred time to recite Ma’ariv – which is after nightfall.7 In fact, it is so important to recite Ma’ariv at the proper time that some authorities rule that it is preferable to recite Ma’ariv alone after nightfall than to do so with a minyan before nightfall.8 Although it is ultimately permissible to recite Ma’ariv before nightfall on Friday nights, as the Talmud9 itself clearly rules, one who does must repeat the Shema after nightfall.10 Unfortunately, many people forget or fall asleep before doing so, thereby neglecting a biblical mitzvah.
Contrary to widespread misconception, most authorities permit a husband and wife to accept Shabbat at different times, i.e., one spouse is permitted to make “Early Shabbat” while the other spouse accepts Shabbat “on-time.”11 There are some authorities, however, who require that all the members of a single household accept Shabbat at the same time.12
The halachic issues with reciting Ma’ariv early on Friday nights are even more complicated when Rosh Chodesh falls on Shabbat. This is because Ya’aleh V’yavo must be inserted into the Shemoneh Esrei on Rosh Chodesh. Inserting Ya’aleh V’yavo into a Ma’ariv Shemoneh Esrei that is recited before sunset is problematic, as it is simply not yet Rosh Chodesh. Although one may recite the Shabbat Ma’ariv early, it is not necessarily permitted to do so on an Erev Rosh Chodesh. The reason one may recite the Shabbat Ma’ariv before sunset, even though it is not yet “officially” Shabbat, is due to the principle of “Tosefet Shabbat” (“Extending Shabbat”). Tosefet Shabbat is a unique concept that allows one to begin Shabbat before it actually begins. Indeed, one is obligated to begin Shabbat slightly earlier than it truly begins each week and to conclude it slightly later than it truly ends.13
On Rosh Chodesh, however, there is no such concept. One cannot accept or begin Rosh Chodesh earlier than it officially begins.14 It follows, therefore, that Ya’aleh V’yavo really shouldn’t be inserted into an early Shabbat Ma’ariv Shemoneh Esrei when Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh coincide.15 While common custom is indeed to include Ya’aleh V’yavo when reciting Ma’ariv early on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh,16 the value of one’s Shemoneh Esrei is compromised by doing so.
(To be continued)