Shabbat Parashat Beaalotchai| 5766
Ask the Rabbi
Question: It is important for my small children that we make “early Shabbos” (daven Ma’ariv an hour or so before sunset). I feel funny doing so, because it compromises the correct time of davening, which I am careful about. What should I do? Is it better to accept Shabbat early, make Kiddush, eat, and catch Ma’ariv with the late minyan?
Answer: There is a machloket among Tannaim whether the cut-off between the times of Mincha and Ma’ariv is nightfall or plag hamincha (=pl ham- a proportional hour and a quarter before night) (Berachot 26a). There is also a post-Talmudic machloket whether night begins basically at sunset (G’ra) with bein hash’mashot (halachic twilight) or around an hour later (Rabbeinu Tam). Our communities primarily follow the G’ra that sunset is the main cut-off time. We regularly daven Mincha until sunset and Ma’ariv somewhat afterward.
The gemara (ibid. 27a) is flexible regarding the earliest time for Ma’ariv, saying that one can follow either opinion in the machloket of whether the cut-off is night or pl ham. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 233:1) says that one should be consistent about which opinion he follows. Places that daven Mincha until night, should not daven Maariv at that time, barring a situation of specific need (sh’at had’chak). We admire that you try to avoid using a leniency that was accepted only in a sh’at had’chak. However, let us discuss your specific question.
The Shulchan Aruch (267:2) says that at Shabbat’s entrance, we daven Ma’ariv earlier than during the week. The Mishna Berura (=MB) (ad loc.:2) explains that we rely on the lenient opinion regarding the earliest time for Ma’ariv to gain the halachic benefits of accepting Shabbat early. The Magen Avraham (ad loc.:1) suggests that because of changes on Shabbat in the service in the Beit Hamikdash that Ma’ariv mirrors, there is an inherent reason to daven Ma’ariv earlier. If we accept the concept that it can be done before halachic night, it should be permitted from pl ham. The MB (233:11) does warn that on a day that we allow Ma’ariv to be done from pl ham, we should be careful to daven Mincha before pl ham to avoid an internal contradiction (tarti d’satri). Even though he raises the possibility of allowing tarti d’satri in certain cases of need, especially on Shabbat, he objects to it being as early as we are discussing (MB 267:3).
Let us move on to practical halacha. We believe that if starting one’s Shabbat early during the summer brings significant enhancement, this is sufficient grounds to make “early Shabbos.” If this is the only practical way to meaningfully include one’s children, this is reason to prefer, if not require, doing so. Every father, or probably better, mother, should decide what works for the family. Furthermore, realize that there is an old minhag to make Shabbat Ma’ariv relativelyearly and a widespread minhag in many communities to do so from pl ham. Just as we take a minhag of strictness seriously, so too we take one of leniency (or one with elements of leniency) seriously.
Your idea of accepting Shabbat (after having davened Mincha), eating, and joining a late minyan for Ma’ariv will solve some time problems. (Why Kiddush can be done early is beyond our present scope). The MB (271:11) says that one may do this, if he starts eating a half-hour before night, as otherwise he should wait to daven Ma’ariv. (There is an issue for standard “early Shabbos,” of eating a half-hour before the time for Kri’at Shema, which one recited too early. However, there may be relatively more room for leniency there- see Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 47:(106). Other ideas for leniency in the matter are beyond our scope). Kaf Hachayim 272:3 does cite the Ari’s kabbalistically-basedobjection to switching the order of Ma’ariv and Kiddush. To us, a greater issue is that the minhag in our communities is to do early Shabbat oneway, and going out of one’s way to do it differently can potentially be divisive. If you want to use your system discretely, you have the right to do so, but we should not be the one’s to teach new minhagim.
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