Years ago, a Litvishe individual was on his way to Camp Sternberg, a girls’ camp in Narrowsburg, New York. Although there were married men on campus, it was always difficult to find ten men for the minyanim. If they had a minyan for Minchah and Ma’ariv, it would only be close to shkiah time.
Since it was already dark, he knew that even if there were a Ma’ariv minyan, he had already missed it. So he pulled into a Satmar bungalow colony to catch a minyan for Ma’ariv. To his dismay, they were already up to Shemoneh Esreh. He began davening Shemoneh Esrei with them, intending to say Kriyas Shema and the berachos afterward. Lo and behold, in the middle of his silent recitation of Shemoneh Esrei, he hears the chazan begin chazaras ha’Shatz! Everyone knows there is no chazaras ha’Shatz at Ma’ariv! It suddenly dawned on him that he was davening Ma’ariv while everyone else was davening Minchah!
The debate regarding the proper time to daven Minchah and Ma’ariv is at least 1,000 years old; this unresolved debate still garners discussion. On one extreme is the Chazon Ish. He rules that one should not even begin Minchah unless he can finish his Shemoneh Esrei by sunset. On the opposite extreme are the chassidishe poskim who say you can daven Minchah l’chatchilah even 50 minutes after sunset.
The general opinions are sometimes referred to as the Gra and Rabbeinu Tam. The Gra, or the Vilna Gaon, says that only until sunset can one say it is definitely daytime. Rabbeinu Tam in Tosfos (Zevachim 56a) says that definite daytime extends longer. While there is some uncertainty in this regard also, it seems that as originally promulgated, definite daytime according to Rabbeinu Tam extends up until 58 and a half minutes after sunset; 72 minutes after sunset it is definitely nighttime. Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, is of the opinion that if Rabbeinu Tam had lived in New York, he would have said that 50 minutes after sunset is definitely nighttime.
This debate exists regarding any issue that is dependent on when the halachic day ends and when the halachic night begins. The most common issue is regarding Shabbos. According to the Vilna Gaon, after sunset on Friday it may already be Shabbos. According to Rabbeinu Tam, one may do melachah at least until 40 minutes after sunset. This created an untenable situation in the New York metro area, where many Litvishe Jews assumed it was already Shabbos after sunset on Friday, and they witnessed chassidim still performing melachah. Rav Aharon Kotler, zt’l, forged an agreement with the chassidic community such that everyone would agree to refrain from melachah beginning at sunset on Friday.
In terms of ending Shabbos in New York, virtually no one ends Shabbos using the Vilna Gaon’s earlier time. A common custom in New York is to end Shabbos at 50 minutes past sunset. Still, scrupulous individuals end Shabbos 72 minutes past sunset to comply with Rabbeinu Tam’s original opinion.
If you are wondering what the correct time is to end Shabbos, don’t feel bad if you cannot figure it out. Honorable Johnny Lee Baynes, a judge in the Kings County Supreme Court in the 2nd Judicial District of New York, couldn’t really figure it out either.
A lawsuit is generally initiated by serving the opposing party a copy of the court papers. New York’s General Business Law § 13 requires that defendants not be served during their Sabbath. If a Jewish person is served on Shabbos, that may be grounds for dismissal.
A frum Jewish couple was being sued by a corporation. There is no question that the business entity was aware that the defendants were religious Jews. The couple moved to dismiss the lawsuit by claiming that they were served the papers on Shabbos. The affidavit of service submitted by the plaintiff stated that the summons and complaint were served at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, November 26, 2016. However, the plaintiff countered by stating that Shabbos was already over at that time — 5:21 p.m. was 50 minutes past sunset. By 5:30 p.m., Shabbos was certainly over. (Perhaps the plaintiff should have brought a copy of Igros Moshe to court to prove that 50 minutes after sunset is the correct time to end Shabbos.)
Now if you were the defendant, what would you say? The defendants said, “We keep Rabbeinu Tam!” (They might have had to explain that “Tam” here means complete and perfect, as Rabbeinu Tam was a perfect tzaddik, as opposed to the Tom who manufactures organic toothpaste.)
Honorable Johnny Lee Baynes had to decide if the lawsuit should be dismissed because the papers were served when it was still Shabbos according to Rabbeinu Tam. What follows is an exact quote from his decision:
“Defendants’ sworn statement is that Sabbath ended for them at 5:43 p.m. on November 26, 2016. In support of this position, defendants submit information to show that among Chassidic communities such as defendants’, it is actually common practice to wait for 72 minutes past sundown to resume post-Sabbath activities. (See Jewish Calendar Nov. 2016.)
“The court understands that there is disagreement as to the time at which Sabbath ends among different groups of observant Jews. This court does not believe it would be appropriate for it to determine the manner in which religious custom should be observed by any individual group or require that one particular group’s traditions be adhered to uniformly. The time asserted by defendants is not unreasonable given the conflicting opinions contained in different religious sources. Thus, the court finds that plaintiff was in violation of General Business Law § 13 when it served defendants during their Sabbath observance.
“Wherefore, it is hereby ordered and adjudged that defendants’ motion for an order pursuant to CPLR 5015 vacating the default judgment herein entered on the 8th day of February, 2017, and dismissing the summons and complaint herein is granted in all respects.”
This couple ended Shabbos according to Rabbeinu Tam’s later z’man and they were blessed!
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.