Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Bein hashemashot: A Reevaluation of the Texts Part IV

Bein hashemashot: A Reevaluation of the Texts Part IV
by: Dr. William Gewirtz
This is the last of four posts based on a forthcoming monograph by Dr. William Gewirtz that addresses the period of bein hashemashot, the most fundamental area of dispute in the area of zemanim.

The previous post summarized the main sections of the monograph; this post summarizes some of the areas of innovation and is followed by concluding observations.

Much of what was proposed tacitly made two basic assumptions:

 First, both halakhic practice and its conceptualization were influenced by the migration of Jews from the Middle East to Central and Northern Europe during a period when the impact of latitude on zemanim was not yet understood.
 Second, with the subsequent growth of clocks, increasingly, halakhic practice was specified using time in preference to observation of natural events.

It is probable that both of these factors were consequential. (Increasingly, time replaced observation as the basis for specifying halakhot. Preference for a time based halakhic rule (72 minutes, for example) over the underlying event from which the interval of time was derived has become increasingly common. More subjectively defined phenomena like misheyakir or the approximate boundary between a medium and a small star were less often utilized and, as a result, became less well understood.)

The PDF of the entire epilogue is attached. The epilogue includes a complete list of the innovations that have been proposed and a more extensive version of post 3. A subset of the innovations proposed and a concluding example and remarks follow below:

1. The dispute between the geonim and Rabbeinu Tam revolves around placing the interval of bein hashemashot, whose length is the time to walk ¾ mil, within the interval between sunset and tzait (kol) hakokhavim whose length is the time to walk 4 mil. It is normally assumed that:

 the opinion of the geonim places bein hashemashot at the start of the interval, while
 Rabbeinu Tam places it at its end.

Those two alternatives represent opposite extremes. Two modifications were suggested throughout:

 First, separate the dispute between the geonim and Rabbeinu Tam into two distinct components; the first concerns the beginning and the second the end of the bein hashemashot period, subject to a constraint on the length of the bein hashemashot interval.
 Second, assume that there are multiple hybrid / intermediate positions, bracketed by these two alternatives. (These positions might be more properly characterized as variants to the position of the geonim as they are all much closer to their bein hashemashot interval.)

This allows:

 an interpretation of the gemara in Shabbat similar or more likely identical to that of the overwhelmingly compelling position of the geonim relative to the end of the bein hashemashot period,

 while defining the beginning of bein hashemashot using a variant of the textual approach of the Shulchan Aruch and Rabbeinu Tam.

While I have not seen this conceptualization formulated explicitly (Throughout R. Kapach’s commentary on Mishneh Torah, however, he asserts that this is the position of Rambam.) in the classic halakhic literature, practice and a number of pragmatic opinions are supportive of such an approach. This approach impacted sections 5 - 8 and is central to many of the suggested innovations. The opposite implication:

 Anyone who rejects the start of Shabbat precisely at or even some number of minutes after sunset must embrace the approach of Rabbeinu Tam

which does not follow logically, is often found in the literature.
2. It is preferable to read the gemara in Shabbat assuming that all opinions vary insignificantly concerning the end of Shabbat; this is the opinion of almost all rishonim and independent of the position of Rabbeinu Tam. The gemara’s focus is primarily on the beginning of bein hashemashot on Friday evening, and that point is in dispute.

3. Modern practice, contemporary halakhic literature, as well as colloquial idiom, typically refers to time intervals calculated from sunset. Assuming that way of thinking when reading specific sources, we fail to consider that the gemara, various rishonim and achronim (we referenced R. Lorberbaum, R. Adler and R. Sofer) refer to intervals of time counting backward from the end of Shabbat as well, not always counting forward from sunset.

4. Rabbah’s interval, the time to walk ¾ mil, is more likely an upper bound on the length of bein hashemashot (the length of bein hashemashot in the summer) counting back from the point of chashekha versus a lower bound (the length of bein hashemashot in the spring) counting forward from sunset. Treating the gemara in Shabbat similar to the gemara in Pesachim as referring only to the (fall and) spring equinox is unnecessary when thinking of the interval as a practical upper bound. (First suggested by the Gaon in OC 261 and widely assumed in recent halakhic literature. Note while the gemara in Pesachim assumes an average that occurs at both the spring and fall equinox, the Gaon’s argument assumes, not an average, but a minimum and referring only to the spring, but not the fall equinox. No rishonim, who limit the gemara in Pesachim to the equinox periods in the fall and spring, make any such assertion with respect to the gemara in Shabbat. A maximum, as opposed to a minimum, would apply year round, as one might also conclude from the lack of commentary.) All the other measures in the gemara of chashekha, the appearance of the horizon, or the visibility of three stars apply year-round. Some of the arguments in favor of such a position include:

 The gemara in Shabbat is discussing Friday night and the beginning of bein hashemashot, as opposed to its end. If the time to walk ¾ of a mil were a minimum, counting forward from the beginning of bein hashemashot, it would address the end of bein hashemashot and the end of Shabbat, as opposed to its beginning.
 The three fractions of the time to walk a mil that are given as alternatives for the length of bein hashemashot would all have identical semantics counting back from the assumed point of chashekha.
 The interval of bein hashemashot is of practical consequence providing a useful upper-bound as opposed to a theoretical lower bound.
 If someone were countering the position of Rabi Yosi, who says bein hashemashot is instantaneous, it is more likely that he would say that it can be as long as opposed to as short as.

5. Shmuel’s assertion about 1, 2 and 3 stars is likely to mean that one star can still occur during daytime, but two stars only (If we assume that bein hashemashot begins 14 -15 minutes after sunset then “only” should be replaced with “almost always.” Though proposed by R. Kapach in his interpretation of Rambam, it would make Shmuel’s assertion slightly less useful. The suggested meaning of Shmuel’s statement is more elegant if we assume that bein hashemashot starts at most 12 – 13 minutes after sunset in the Middle East.) appear after the beginning of bein hashemashot (whose start may also precede the appearance of the first star) and three stars confirm that the transition to the next day has occurred.

6. Moving the beginning of bein hashemashot forward from sunset even according to Rabbah, a variant of the generally assumed opinion of the geonim, successively solves the following issues:

 at 4 - 5 minutes, the minimal time reported as the custom of Jerusalem as well as the opinion of R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the point when the sun disappears from the highest elevations around Jerusalem, Shmuel is consistent at least in a limited sense with R. Yosef while remaining completely inconsistent with Rabbah.
 at 6 minutes, the opinion of R. Chaim Volozhiner and the appearance of a single star in the spring to an expert observer, Shmuel is more easily consistent with R. Yosef but consistent with Rabbah only in a limited sense.
 at 7 - 15 minutes depending on a variety of factors, Shmuel is entirely consistent with Rabi Yehudah and the time to walk ¾ mil can be easily considered a practical upper bound.

7. While many equate and then struggle to resolve Rambam’s approach to Shabbat and Kiddush Hachodesh; I assume they are dissimilar. (Why so obvious an approach was not considered may be related to the assumption that safek chashekha and bein hashemashot are coincident. Though the two notions may be practically coincident, they are certainly not conceptually the same. For those following an opinion akin to the geonim for the end of Shabbat, they may not even be practically coincident. Within the halakhic literature there are differing opinions about the relationship between safek chashekha and bein hashemashot.) In both instances, Rambam considers chashekha as defining the end of a day. For a beit din declaring the beginning of a new month, Rambam sees no necessity to impose an interval of bein hashemashot. Thus, Rambam in hilkhot Kiddush Hachodesh states the halakha in (2:8) and then the recommended practice in (2:9). However, in hilkhot Shabbat, as noted in our opening paragraph, when dealing with a community, Rambam utilizes a notion of bein hashemashot, an interval that he defines practically as opposed to theoretically.

8. While the appearance of the horizon and the visibility of stars are difficult to reconcile with the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam, the argument between Abaye and Ravah, looking east and west at the same point in time, is most challenging. I cannot conceive of anyone in the Middle East detecting any change looking at the eastern sky 50 – 60 minutes after sunset. This is perhaps the greatest challenge to Rabbeinu Tam’s definition of the end of Shabbat.

9. It is probable that R. Adler’s 24/35 minute period of bein hashemashot is computed counting back from Rabbeinu Tam’s conceptual end of Shabbat. The alternatives, either counting back from the time that the Frankfurt community typically observed as the end of Shabbat or counting forward from any point in time, are less plausible. While this formulation faces textual challenges, other attempts to explain R. Adler’s opinion including that assumed by the editors referenced by Dr. Leiman as well as multiple suggestions of R. Benish face far more difficulty.

10. A number of recent essays on zemanim, including those by R. Kotler and R. Willig, suggest specific dependencies linking

 the dispute between the geonim and Rabbeinu Tam,
 the dispute whether shaot zemaniot are calculated from sunrise or from alot hashachar,
 and in the case of R. Willig even the time to walk a mil.

I see no such logical dependency and found that custom and / or authorities supported almost every possible combination of alternatives.

11. It is puzzling that when calculating the opinion of the Magen Avraham / Trumat Hadeshen attention to the impact of latitude and/or seasonality is rarely taken into account. In addition to morning zemanim, like the latest time for kriat shema, being earlier, this approach would also provide an alternative for plag haminkha (that many communities in US latitudes might find useful.) Similarly, adjusting alot hashachar would often imply an earlier start for those fast days that start at daybreak (particularly the 17th of Tammuz.) (While not a Magen Avraham specific issue since alot hashachar is applicable according to all opinions, invariance of the 72/90 minute interval is likely inherited from similar practice applied to the position of Rabbeinu Tam with respect to the end of Shabbat which then influenced the calculation of shaot zemaniot according to the Magen Avraham. (See summary for category 3. where this is further explained.) Though conceptually challenging in both contexts, a fixed 72/90 minutes does not create obvious observational issues, except for alot hashachar and only at latitudes further from the equator, like northern Europe.) That would avoid a practice that allows eating on the morning of a fast as late as (or even after) the time of misheyakir.

A concluding example:

The migration of Jews from the Middle East to other locations required adjustment in practice that often necessitated creating concrete concepts in areas that might have otherwise been left unexplored. That process contributed to a wealth of material with which many poskim have had to grapple. Both the categorization and the new approaches that have been proposed should make this vast halakhic literature more understandable.

As I mentioned in the preamble, criticism within the rabbinic literature has been muted, (There are a few very notable and important exceptions.) and potential inaccuracies have often not been identified and discussed adequately. As a result, it is impossible (perhaps even for great poskim who are unacquainted with astronomy or the impacts of season and /or latitude) to read the literature without intense effort.

Let me illustrate using the most widely followed posek of our times, and conclude with a few words, which I hope will be taken as they are meant. I choose R. Feinstein because I assume that many will conclude that if his responsa illustrate my concerns, I could have easily chosen any number of other poskim.

Consider five decisions of R. Feinstein:

1. In the New York area, Shabbat ends 50 minutes after sunset even in accordance with Rabbeinu Tam.
2. One can pray as early as 90 minutes before sunrise under special circumstances.
3. Perform a brit the following week on Wednesday, for example, for a baby born late Wednesday afternoon until 9 minutes after sunset.
4. In the New York area, allow specific activities forbidden only at a rabbinic level on the Shabbat until 40 minutes after sunset on Friday.
5. Unlike other zemanim, chatzot is always at the same time (that varies by location) and does not vary throughout the year.

Summarizing issues discussed previously, these tshuvot are challenging in six (R. Feinstein’s mention of the time to walk 4 mil as 96 minutes while given no practical consequence is also problematic.) different areas:

1. Like R. Pimential approach to Holland, R. Feinstein’s derivation of 50 minutes for New York, reasons by analogy on the appearance of stars, using Lithuania as his base for 72 minutes. Were R. Feinstein to have used Babylonia, certainly a more logical choice, he would undoubtedly have reached a radically different conclusion. R. Willig expresses a similar point, albeit less directly. (This issue was raised directly in a recent sefer by R. D. Heber, Shaarei Zemanim, page 90.) Generally, this psak is quoted without hesitation or comment. (Perhaps new meaning for the term chassid shoteh can be ascribed to the publishers of a sheet I picked up at the Kotel, that provide R. Feinstein’s 50 minute zman for New York for use in Jerusalem.)
2. As R. Feinstein is following the conceptual approach of Rabbeinu Tam, then the end of Shabbat and the time for alot hashachar ought to be treated identically. Instead, R. Feinstein:

 relies on a 22.5 versus 18 minute time to walk a mil for alot hashachar but never even suggests a 22.5 minutes based stringency for Shabbat,
 adjusts only Shabbat’s end but not alot hashachar based on latitude (R. Feinstein does briefly mention the possibility of latitude adjustments for alot hashachar in the tshuva but chooses not use it.) and
 never addresses the relationship between his rulings that, according to the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam that he is following, are conceptually linked.

3. Adjusting zemanim based on latitude to correlate to a physical occurrence like the appearance of stars or the degree of light is strongly supported. However, directly adjusting the time to walk a mil whose length is linked neither to latitude nor to season by location, has no logical basis and leads to conclusions that are in fundamental conflict with observation. (While there exists imprecise language in the literature prior to R. Feinstein that talks in terms of such adjustments, using it as a basis for a psak that reduces / equates 13.5 minutes to 9.375 minutes is inexplicable. As we have noted, this is logically equivalent to asserting a watch that moves 72 minutes in Lithuania, only moves 50 minutes in New York.)

4. Deriving the beginning of bein hashemashot by subtracting from the time that Shabbat ends is common in psak and rooted in the text of the gemara. However, it requires that the end of Shabbat be accurately established. The time that R. Feinstein uses for the end of Shabbat is his (and R. Y. M. Tukitzinsky’s) calculation that is among the most stringent methods for calculating what is already a stringency based on three small stars and not the point that the gemara uses, three medium stars. This is further impacted by R. Feinstein’s use of a “truncated / adjusted” time to walk ¾ mil of 9.375 minutes (as opposed to 13.5 minutes) for the New York area, resulting in a significant leniency. To be concrete, as opposed to the 40 minutes (50 minutes and subtracting 9.375 minutes for bein hashemashot) after sunset that R. Feinstein derives, three medium stars are visible approximately 27 - 32 minutes after sunset, safek chashekha and certainly bein hashemashot precedes that point by some number of minutes. Of course, R. Feinstein, operating within the framework of Rabbeinu Tam, may not consider 50 minutes as a stringency.

5. Chatzot varies slightly day to day (given the tilt of the earth in its orbit) according to the all methods for calculating the hours of the day; the variation is approximately 20 minutes in the New York area.

6. At a very fastidious level, R. Feinstein calculates adjustments based on latitude without regard for the non-linear relationships that exist between the duration of different sub-intervals of bein hashemashot.

In all but the third item above, R. Feinstein had an extensive literature from which to derive support. As was noted, R. Soloveitchik carefully recast the opinion Rabbeinu Tam to avoid these and other issues. However, he ended up with a conceptual approach to Rabbeinu Tam as well as a personal chumrah, which is almost unheard of in the halakhic literature and widely divergent from practice. However, given that this is an area with a long tradition of practice, great poskim, of which R. Feinstein is a unique example, exhibit an impeccable sense (In addition to or perhaps as a result of siyatta di’shemaya.) that guides them in how to decide. I remain struck by the accuracy of the psakim, independent of their problematic rationale. Let us reexamine the five decisions and how they might be alternatively justified:

1. Shabbat ends 50 minutes after sunset in the New York area. Despite this not being the conceptual opinion of Rabbeinu Tam, as R. Feinstein assumes, it is precisely the opinion of the geonim as calculated by R. Yechial Michal Tukitzinsky, the first major contemporary figure to write extensively on this topic combining knowledge of both halakha and astronomy. (R. Belsky’s (re)interpretation of R. Feinstein makes this correspondence precise. See the commentary supporting the www.myzmanim.com website.)
2. One can pray as early as 90 minutes before sunrise in special circumstances. A latitude and seasonal adjustment of 90 minutes provides a basis for yet greater leniency. Beyond the reliance on a 22.5 minute mil, 90 minutes in New York is close to both the scientific point of first light (approximately 90 to 120 minutes), and, more importantly, a latitude/season adjusted 72 minutes (approximately 80 to 110 minutes). The fact that R. Feinstein was willing to rule so differently on the end of the Shabbat and alot hashachar aligns with tradition, albeit in conflict with the conceptual viewpoint of Rabbeinu Tam.
3. Perform a brit the following week on Wednesday, for example, for a baby born late Wednesday afternoon until 9 minutes after sunset. Clearly, this psak is in perfect alignment with the views developed and similar to the tradition of Jerusalem over the generations that assumed that a baby born a few minutes after sunset has his brit on the same day the following week. (See Minhagei Eretz Yisrael by R. Yaakov Gliss, pages 102 and 282 who mentions 4 - 5 minutes and Zemanim Kehilkhatam by R. Boorstyn, chapter 2, section 1, footnote 7, who claims that R. Shmuel Salant, would rule that a baby born after sunset but before the call of the mugrab, seven to ten minutes after sunset, has his brit on the same day the following week.) Even rejecting Rabbeinu Tam’s late end of Shabbat based on the overwhelming arguments of the Gaon and others, a start to a day a few minutes after sunset is supported by generations of practice. Even R. Feinstein’s reliance on Rabbeinu Tam for a slightly delayed beginning to bein hashemashot is often rejected.
4. Allow specific activities forbidden only at a rabbinic level on the Shabbat until 40 minutes after sunset. Perhaps the most challenging given the undisputed assumption that the gemara meant bein hashemashot to extend back from three medium stars (a depression angle of about 6 degrees) versus R. Feinstein’s roughly 8.5 degrees and R. Feinstein’s use of a “truncated / adjusted” 9.375 minutes to walk ¾ mil. Nonetheless, being exceedingly liberal with respect to a rabbinic prohibition, especially, in the face of need, has a long tradition. Unfortunately, in most, if not all seasons of the year, 40 minutes after sunset, is well past the point of chashekha, in the New York area.
5. Chatzot is always at the same time. As with R. Feinstein’s 50 minutes, there is a need for seasonal adjustment. It appears, like a number of Rabbis who oppose this type of complexity in psak, R. Feinstein’s tradition was to use a single time.

On the first three rulings, R. Feinstein’s psak can be easily justified on other grounds. The last two are somewhat less critical and more problematic. However, it is often dangerous for Rabbis to apply or extend elements of R. Feinstein’s logic to other areas where zemanim are critical without his innate sense of psak.

Final Comments:

This monograph was intended to address seminal issues relevant to bein hashemashot without covering in depth many important sub-topics. Hopefully, the approach and observations will make this vast literature easier to study. While I did not want to address explicitly either philosophic issues or practical issues of psak, I suspect that my personal opinions on both are clear. I was strongly motivated to defend minhag Yisroel, a mimetic tradition that for many centuries, even until the Second World War, relied on the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam in many parts of Europe.

As I studied this topic, I was repeatedly revisiting three issues:

 If in ancient times, sunset, a very easily identified occurrence, was considered the precise starting time for Shabbat, how could it have ever been forgotten and / or abandoned? If Shabbat started sometime after sunset, then the position of Rabbeinu Tam and an overwhelming number of rishonim is more plausible. As Jews migrated northward, the required beginning to Shabbat separated even further from sunset, particularly if bein hashemashot was thought to have an unchanging maximum length - the time to walk ¾ of a mil.

 If observation challenged only Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion while leaving the approach of the geonim free of any issues, why did major figures living in southern Europe and even the Middle East, including Ramban and (likely) R. Yosef Caro, adhere to Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion?

 How could generations of practice that relied on the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam or some related variant be so easily discounted? In my mind, the modern bias to treat sunset as a given (and reject even R. Feinstein’s limited reliance on the position of Rabbeinu Tam) is unwarranted.

I hope that what I have written, at least partially, addresses these questions.

The approach developed posits that bein hashemashot begins after sunset, later than many assume, while its end is somewhat earlier than current practice. (R. Y. C. Sonnenfeld’s tshuva 33 (an approbation to a sefer on zemanim) on this topic is remarkably supportive. While speculating that we may have to wait for Elijah to defend the fundamental difficulties with Rabbeinu Tam’s end to bein hashemashot and Shabbat, he raises issues with the approach of the Gaon as to the beginning of bein hashemashot from texts of gemara that imply that the day extends past sunset. While suggesting that we follow both chumrot and stating a personal preference not to attempt to decide on a matter so long in dispute, he expresses hope that this will be clarified one day. I believe that I have taken a step in that direction. In any case, regardless of his suggested practice, like this monograph he raises issues with both the end time of Rabbeinu Tam and the start time of the geonim. While R. Sonnenfeld suggests that one adopt the stringencies of both positions, the approach developed and generations of practice often made use of the leniencies of a hybrid approach.) While some will contend that the criticism, suggested innovations, and conclusions do not exhibit sufficient deference to recent generations of psak, I hope that this monograph demonstrates a commitment to integrity, clarity, simplicity, consistency with basic astronomic observations, faithfulness to basic texts and respect for generations of halakhic insights and in particular, practice.

In summary, a fulsome defense for a later start to Shabbat is anchored on three points:

1. Mishetishkeh hakhamah refers to a point after sunset.

2. The time to walk ¾ of a mil is the maximum length of bein hashemashot not the minimum.

3. When applying the gemara’s interval of bein hashemashot to other locations, its length need not be extended.

The first is the preferred reading of the gemara in Shabbat according to most rishonim. The second is strongly supported by simple logic and arguably by the statement of Shmuel, though certainly at variance with the prevalent contemporary interpretation. The third is clearly debatable, but the viewpoint of some major poskim. All three are needed to defend fully historical practice. However, even the first, or certainly the first two points, should influence contemporary psak in extenuating circumstances.

Those familiar with R. Kapach’s approach to Rambam throughout Mishnah Torah, will recognize that his conclusions as to Rambam’s position on the twilight period and much of this monograph are consistent. While R. Kapach’s approach tacitly assumed stars, as opposed to darkness, as defining both the beginning and the end of bein hashemashot, something I believe that Rambam did not support, R. Kapach’s practical conclusions and insights into Rambam aligns Rambam across Mishnah Torah closely with the ideas that have been developed. (1. R. Kapach also insists on bein hashemashot beginning at 15 minutes after sunset, something we are not convinced that Rambam necessarily maintained. 2. As has been mentioned previously, objections to the approach of the geonim derive from sugyot where sunset does not appear to be a precise delimiter. Similarly, despite Rambam’s clear identification with the position of the geonim, some try to align his position with Rabbeinu Tam based on the fact that he did not consider sunset as critical as many assumed that an approach like that of the geonim had to maintain. As has been argued throughout this monograph, the “either-or” assumption of either Rabbeinu Tam or the geonim, without intermediate positions is an assumption that I find neither conclusive nor correct. 3. Building on R. Kapach’s approach, a future paper will attempt to demonstrate that Rambam maintained a hybrid / intermediate position, similar to the position of the geonim, consistent with the text of the gemara, astronomic observation and supportive of the approach taken in this monograph.)


It should also be clear, that while their rationales were entirely different, many poskim who in practice followed R. Pimential’s approach supported a position akin to what has been suggested throughout the monograph. In practice, they allowed work after sunset proper and awaited only three (small) stars, not a full 72 minutes. As well, they would never allow work on Friday, anywhere near as late as Rabbeinu Tam’s conceptual position would suggest.

Both the practice suggested by these poskim and R. Kapach’s interpretation of Rambam conceptually aligns with the approach developed throughout this monograph.

Clearly, in the study of zemanim, one has to “look up” as well as “look in.” Over the last few hundred years, careful observation of the skies has often been replaced with a fixation on time and timepieces. This contributed a false sense of accuracy as opposed to enhanced clarity to an already complex area.

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