Volume 53 Number 57
                    Produced: Fri Jan  5  4:55:32 EST 2007

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Rabbeinu Tam Time - with Apologies to all you Northern Scum
         [Michael Frankel]


From: Michael Frankel <michaeljfrankel@...>
Date: Thu, 04 Jan 2007 11:23:58 -0500
Subject: Rabbeinu Tam Time - with Apologies to all you Northern Scum

re the recent mailjewish discussion of rabbeinu tam time: Here in Silver
Spring (and hence my apologetic tag line - but more on that later) the
shul in which I daven (at least for one more month) finishes shabbos
anywhere from six to nine minutes after the other shuls in neighboring
communities, while of course some individuals, adherents to shitas
"Rabbeinu Tam", wait longer - 72 minutes.  If you will bear with me (or
even if you won't.  just who - listmeister excepted - is gonna stop me?)
I'll have a pass at unscrambling the major shitos.  In the course of
which you might even reasonably conclude that we are all Rabbeinu
Tamites now, even if we don't wait the touted 72 minutes.  I shall also
review some of the halachic difficulties - some with no real
satisfactory resolution - attending the shitos.

As a necessary preliminary to grasping the different z'manim, we need to
first absorb the following factoids as general background.

A. The time interval between sunset and tzais hakkochovim (nightfall,
taken as the appearance of three bainoni/intermediate stars) is given in
the g'moroh as 4 mil. (for completeness, there's also a shitoh of 5 mil,
but we won't look any further at that).  The two major definitions of a
mil are 18 minutes and, famously by the Gra, 24 minutes.  (there's at
least one other version of a mil at 22.5 minutes but that doesn't seem
as popular).  That means the interval from sunset to nightfall given in
g'moroh may range from a minimum of 72 to as much as 96 minutes.  This
is already difficult since in eretz yisroel or bovel where this was
asserted, nightfall comes much, much more quickly than that.

B. The true interval between sunset and nightfall can not really be a
single number, since it varies both spatially and temporally. i.e. it
depends on the latitude as well as the specific day of the year.  So any
fixed number of minutes given for z'manim, including the 4 mil, must
either be some conservative worst case number, or refer only to a single
day (OK, two) in the year.  Generally this is assumed to refer to the

C.  The entire jewish halachic world, quite broadly, is split into two
major camps as far as z'manim are concerned.  The camp of the Gaonim and
that of Rabbeinu Tam.  Of course what we call R. Tam shitoh was not
innovated by him as he was the great preserver/justifier of early
Ashkenazi minhog and would regularly take the head off (so to speak) of
talmidei chakhomim who wanted to change existing communal customs based
on texts. (i.e. the bavli. imore usually, it was his interpretations
justifying customs that were innovative.). Also we should not talk of
shitas Rabbeinu tam but of shitos Rabbeinu Tam,as there are a number of

D.  References in halachic works to practices in the "old country" as a
source of validation for whichever shitoh need to be taken with a grain
of salt, or at least with an understanding that different writers may
evoke different realities, and all would be correct.  This because the
almost universal practice in europe during the 19th century was R. Tam,
but in the 20th century many communities changed to follow the gaonic
system.  Now for the shitos:.

1. Gaonim: This is relatively simple to articulate.  Sunset marks a
period called Bain Hashsh'moshos (henceforth BH) in which m'lochoh on
Friday is forbidden.  This whole period lasts a total of 3/4 of a mil
(i.e. only 13.5 to 18 minutes).  After which it is halachic night - 3
intermediate stars are visible.  Nor is there the slightest problem -
experts not needed - in this system of determining what is, at most, a
bainoni star. (if visible only after sunset, it can't be a godol
star. viz g'moroh B. Shabbos 35). Now, 18 (taking the most generous
shiur) minutes for the period sunset to nightfall doesn't sound like a
lot to me, but then i live in the great state of Maryland (...Huzza! she
spurns the Northern scum! She breathes! she burns!  she'll come! she'll
come! Maryland! My Maryland!- a few of the, believe me, less incendiary
lines from our state song. Hope none of you northern scum out there take
this personally) at 39 deg 2min latitude, or so i am assured by Google
earth.  At mid east latitudes the interval between sunset and stars is
much shorter. Perhaps some israeli locals might do a time test on a
clear night in march.  But this leaves us with a problem.  The g'moroh
- which must also be talking about local mideast reality - has the time
interval ending in nightfall as 72 -96 minutes, a very far cry from
18. A possible answer is that the g'moroh is referring to a different
stage of nightfall, when all (sun)light has been extinguished from the
sky as opposed to halachic night when stars are first visible but there
will still be a lightening/reddening in the west.

2.  Rabbeinu Tam.   There are at least four versions of R. Tam.

R. Tam #1 (the original/sefer hayyoshor).  Sunset to nightfall lasts 4
mil (72 minutes according to the 18 minute mil), but until nightfall it
is still day. Because of uncertainty in fixing the moment of nightfall
(either uncertainty in the size of a mil, or in determining what's an
intermediate star. Note: while in gaonim shitoh, no difficulty
determining what is not a godol star, in Rabbeinu Tam system, this
doesn't work as a star appearing after sunset may still appear during
the "day"), we stop doing m'lochoh 3/4 of a mil (13.5-18 minutes) before
nightfall.  But a period of 3 1/4 mil AFTER sunset (i.e. a minimum of
58.5 minutes) is still completely day and m'lochoh is muttor. (this
shitoh otherwise known as the Friday travelers' friend, though a few
might feel qualms driving around friday night with the sky full of stars
claiming that it is still "day").

R. Tam #2 (R. Tam according to the Ramban): Operationally for shabbos
comes out the same as #1, but with a different underlying theoretical
basis.  A period of 3 1/4 mil after sunset is OK to do m'lochoh, but
then starts a period of bain hashsh'moshos which last 3/4 mil until
nightfall and during which its osur to do work.  The theoretical
difference here is that the 3/4 mil is a separate entity - BH - whereas
previously it didn't exist and we refrained from work because of sofek
lailoh.  While no practical difference for shabbos application, this
difference may affect other halochos, e.g bris miloh on which day.  This
shitoh also introduces talk of two sh'qios into Rabbeinu Tam's shitoh.
The first sh'qioh is sunset, but that is a process that end in the
second sh'qioh, at the end of "day" and the beginning of BH after
another 3 1/4 mil.

R. Tam #3.  (Rabbeinu Tam according to Minchas Cohen).  Since it is
impossible to deny the evidence of our own eyes (evidently the Minchas
Cohen would not have made the cut for gadlus in our own time, certainly
he'd have been booted from the moetzes in both israel and US for lack of
this particular talent) - that 3 stars are visible long before 4 mil
have passed, nightfall must be acknowledged to occur when the three
stars are visible in your local area, which was about 48 minutes in
Amsterdam where he lived.  On the other hand, it is only osur to do work
3/4 of a mil before nightfall, and all the time after sunset before that
(i.e. until 13.5-18 minutes before nightfall at tzais, even if that time
was less than 3 1/4 mil) it is still permitted to do work.  So the
Minchas Cohen R. Tam still gains the late Friday traveler a great deal
over conventional gaonic shabbos start at sh'qioh (or 18-20 minutes
before sh'qioh for our tos'fos shabbos).

R. Tam #4.  mentioned just for completeness but doesn't seem to have
attracted much of a following.  This takes R. Tam and the g'moroh's 4
mil to actually start at the p'lag hamm'inchoh, so this shito also
eliminates the long unphysical waits until nightfall.

R. Tam #5 (R. Moshe Feinstein, IM, OC, cheileq 4, #62).  R. Moshe
famously presecribes 50 minutes as the appropriate sunset-nightfall
interval in NY (with a suggestion that bnei torah and other y'reim take
on themselves the chumroh of 72 minutes, as was the common practice in
Europe.  he evidently came from one of those localities which had not
changed to Gaonic system).  However R. Moshe implicitly explains this
within the context of a Rabbeinu tam shitoh.  i.e. were he still in
Europe, the correct R. Tam figure would have been 72 minutes.  But 72
minutes needs to be translated to the NY latitude, where it becomes 50
minutes - but this is really a Rabbeinu Tam time.  On the other hand,
while in principle R. Moshe acknowledges that one should be able to do
m'lochoh for 3 1/4 mil after sunset (though he translates the mil as
well.  4 mils in Europe equal 72 minutes, but 4 mils in NY equal 50
minutes.  So a NY mil = 12.5 minutes, so all the time intervals contract
proportionately), he also advises us that it is appropriate in the US,
with its admixture of practice from so many different formerly unitary
communities, to take on the chumrohs of both R.  Tam and the Gaonim.
So, as a chumroh - no work after sunset, even though this is in essence
a RTam shitoh.  (actually he tells us not to do work starting 18-20
minutes before sunset as a tos'fos).  So you see, we are all Rabbeinu
Tam now.

There are also almost irreducible problems with the R. Tam shitoh, which
nevertheless doesn't seem to bother anybody in practice. The major
problem is where R. Tam intended his shiurim to apply.  The first
thought is he must have been talking of Israel, since he's coming to
explain the g'moroh which is discussing matters in Mid east.  But if so,
this contradicts physical reality that 3 stars are seen very long before
that.  One possible dochaq tayrutz - the three stars need to be seen low
in the western sky (i.e when all sunlight has disappeared and the rest
of the sky is filled with thousands of stars.)  But if this is so, when
we translate such a shiur to europe, this kind of nightfall would have
taken much longer than 4 mil - hours in regions of Russia and Lita.  On
the other hand, if it was originally meant to apply only to his own
district in Northern France, one can't understand why the Ramban, who
championed R. tam's shitoh, and moved to Eretz Yisroel never changed the
time there.  More amazing is that R. Ysef Karo who lived in Israel,
pasqined like RT with no change indicated despite R. Tam's application
only for northern France.  So it's a qashe. But as they used to say in
yeshivoh- and i imagine still do - nobody ever died from a qashe.

Who followed the Gaonim's shitoh?  Pretty much everybody, at least by
mid twentieth century.  In Israel and the whole mideast, they always
followed gaonic practice (and this despite the fact that the Shulchon
Aruch - a mideastern work - amazingly ruled like R. Tam against the
gaonim.  Equally amazing, the mid easterners, i.e. sefaradim who always
follow maran, did not do so in this case.  some want to claim that
R. Karo later changed his mind, or else didn't mean it to apply where
there waere existing minhogim to the contrary, but that's hard to
swallow).  In Europe, by mid century, communities had also pretty much
switched to the Gaonim from the almost universal previous practice to
follow R. Tam (my source for this historical claim as well some other
info in this note that was new to me too, is R.  Banish, author of
Hazz'manim B'halochoh who did an exhaustive survey of available
documents and published time tables).

Who followed Rabbeinu Tam?.  Until the twentieth century (with notable
exception of the Gra who followed the gaonim) pretty much everyone in
Europe.  (All the major rishonim, almost without exception, pasqin like
R.  Tam) In general, historically, it would seem fair to say that the
more northerly you went, the more hard-core rabbeinu tam shitoh you
follwed.  i.e in the Mideast they always followed the gaonim.  As they
moved up past Italy into the southern part of Europe (Hungary/Galicia),
they followed R.  tam according to Minchas Cohen.  Moving into
Lita/Russia, became hard core (72 minute) R. Tam territory, for both
stringency and leniency - R. Tam is a quloh for doing work after Friday
sunset and, in the further North, was also a quloh for nightfall, where
tzais was actually longer than 72 minutes during the summer .

The majority practice in the US is effectively either like the gaonim OR
like R. Tam (either Minchas Cohen version, or R. Moshe), as they're all
operationally the same once you follow the (many) ba'ale horo'oh who
urge residents of the US to accept the chumros of both Gaonim and R. Tam
(which they did not do in Europe).

So - why is my shul 6- 9 minutes later than the shuls in Kemp Mill or R.
Brietowitz's shul in Woodside?  Clearly, the Rabbi of this shul holds
from (pardon the non-english, i tend to lapse into yeshivish
conjugations when discussing such matters) R. Moshe's determination that
50 minutes is the appropriately translated R.Tam to his location in NY.
All the other shuls here have apparently further translated R. Moshe's
50 minute standard to the latitude of Silver Spring while our shul in
White Oak just skipped that additional step and follows R. Moshe,
independently of latitude (R. Moshe does add, rather vaguely, that 50
minutes is a good time for "most" of the cities in US).

Mechy Frankel
(301) 593-3949

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End of Volume 53 Issue 57