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The Exotic Traveler

In my last article (“Davening on the Go,” Parshas Baha’aloscha), I discussed many halachos of davening that are relevant for one who is traveling. At the end of that article, I cited several scenarios of travel itineraries that could be halachically problematic for the frum traveler. This week, we will elaborate on those issues and provide some of the background information in order to better understand better why they are so problematic.


The Arctic Circle is a line of latitude that circles the globe at approximately sixty-five and a half degrees north of the Equator. It cuts through Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Iceland. From this point northward there is at least one day a year when the sun does not set and at least one day a year when it does not rise above the horizon.

The corresponding line of latitude in the Southern Hemisphere is called the Antarctic Circle and is located at approximately sixty-five a half degrees south of the Equator. The only difference between the two areas is that the seasons are reversed, i.e., while it is summer in the Northern Hemisphere, it is winter in the southern and vice versa. Thus, when the sun does not set north of the Arctic Circle, it will not rise south of the Antarctic Circle.

The amount of days when this occurs will depend on how far above the Arctic Circle one is. For example, at sixty-five and a half degrees latitude, there is one day in the summer when the sun does not set and one day in the winter when it does not rise. At seventy degrees latitude, the time period extends to two months; at eighty degrees latitude, four and a half months, while at the North Pole itself, the sun does not set for six months in the summer and does not rise for six months in winter.


It is interesting to note that this phenomenon is alluded to in the Zohar (vol. III [Vayikra] 10a): “There is a place that is completely day and there is no night there except for one short hour.”

Although there are Rishonim such as Rav Avraham bar Chiya HaNasi (Spain, early twelfth century) and the Redak (1160-1235) who mention this idea that there are places where the sun does not rise or set for six months (see Sefer HaIbur, Sha’ar III, Ma’amar 1, and Sefer HaSherashim [Redak], root of “ayin-vav-pei”), they do not discuss the halachic ramifications of this phenomenon.


Not until the period of the Acharonim are there discussions of how to define day and night in these locales. We find three opinions:

1) A full day is defined by a complete circumnavigation of the sky by the sun, whether above or below the horizon. In other words, every twenty-four hours is considered one day, regardless of whether one experiences the rising or setting of the sun.

2) The actual setting of the sun indicates the conclusion of one day. Therefore, a full day is measured from sunset to sunset, even if several months pass in the interim.

3) There is no concept of day or night in those places and anyone there is exempt from all time related mitzvos.

Let us briefly discuss the sources of these opinions.


According to the first opinion, a day is considered to be twenty-four hours, regardless of whether or not there was a sunrise or a sunset (Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi, Sefer Ma’asei Hashem, section of Ma’asei Bereishis, chap. 3). He basis this on the following: The passage of days during the six days of creation is signified by the pessukim, “and it was evening, and it was morning.” This cannot refer to the fact that it became dark and then light in the conventional sense, for if this were to be true, there is no indication that the six days of creation were in fact six days long. Perhaps, when the Torah states, “and it was evening, and it was morning,” it is referring to the passing of six days and six nights at the poles, since before the world was populated there is no practical difference between the poles and anywhere else, and therefore the six days of creation took six years. Rather, “and it was in the evening, and it was in the morning” refers to the passage of twenty-four hours, whether or not there was darkness or daylight.

Additionally, the fact that the Torah states that the sun is the “great luminary which rules over the day” also indicates this idea. For if it were true that the day is defined by the presence of the sun, it would be superfluous to say that the sun “rules over the day.” If day is defined by the sun’s presence, then of course the sun “rules over” it. Rather, the Torah indicates that the day is defined by the turning of the earth, regardless of whether of whether the sun is seen or not.

Sources for this idea that the passing of days occurs even without any indication from the heavenly bodies can also be found in the Rishonim.

Rabbeinu Avraham ibn Ezra comments (Bereishis 1:13) that during the first three days of creation when there was no sun or moon, whenever the Torah states, “and it was evening, and it was morning,” it is not referring to darkness and light, rather to the turning of the earth, “for when any part of the sky rises, that is its morning, and when it sets, that is its evening. However, from the fourth day and onwards, after the creation of the luminaries, evening and morning refer to the light.”

There are many more proofs from the Gemara and Medrashim to this approach, however, in order not to overburden the reader, we will suffice with what we have already cited. If one wishes to pursue this further, I recommend Sefer HaZmanim b’Halacha by Rav Chaim Banish, chap. 8.


The second opinion cited earlier is that sunset indicates the end of the day, and the day is measured from sunset to sunset. Therefore, at the North Pole, one full day will consist of twelve months – six months of light and six months of darkness. Hence, if a person would arrive there on Shabbos, as long as he is there, it will remain Shabbos until the next sunset (Shu’t Minchas Elazar, vol. IV, #42).


The third opinion maintains that just as if one does not have a house he is exempt from the mitzvah of mezuzah and the mitzvah of a ma’akeh (a fence on the roof), so too if one is in a location where there is no sunrise and sunset, he is exempt from time related mitzvos. The fact that the sun rises and sets once every six months is not considered sufficient to create the conventional concepts of night and day (Rav Yehudah Muskato [died 1590], in Pirush Kol Yehudah on Kuzari, Ma’amar II, chap. 20).


Although the majority of Acharonim agree with the first opinion that in the absence of a regular sunrise and sunset, the day is defined by twenty-four periods (see: Mor u’Ketzi’ah, Orach Chaim 344, Machzik Bracha, Orach Chaim 344:4 and the Tiferes Yisrael at the end of Brachos, chap. 1), anyone who foresees being in this situation either because of a trip to areas above the Arctic Circle or due to an airplane flight over this area, should definitely discuss it with a rav before traveling. This is not as uncommon as one might think. Excursions to northern Alaska and Scandinavia are not unheard of, and there are many airline flights that fly over the Arctic Circle, e.g., Los Angeles-Tel Aviv and from the Far East to New York.

Calculating the times of davening on any airplane flight can prove to be quite problematic (see my last article, “Davening on the Go”). An extra dimension of difficulty is added when flying over the Arctic Circle. For example: A flight from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv during the spring and summer months, can depart Tuesday afternoon and arrive on Wednesday afternoon without experiencing sunset. When does one daven Maariv on such a flight? Additionally, it is not clear when sof zman krias Shema will be on Wednesday morning, for it is possible that by the time the plane leaves the Arctic Circle and is over a locale where zmanim can be calculated, the time of Shema may have already passed.


The Tiferes Yisrael maintains that when one determines Shabbos at the North Pole by counting twenty-four hour periods, he is only obligated to observe Shabbos miderabbanan. In order to understand this, a short introduction is required.

The Gemara (Shabbos 69b) discusses the situation where someone is cut off from society, loses track of the days and does not know when Shabbos is. In order that he does not forget the concept of Shabbos, the Chazal enacted that he should count six days from the day when he became aware of his dilemma and the seventh day will be his Shabbos. The Tiferes Yisrael draws a comparison between someone at the North Pole for Shabbos and one who has lost track of the days. Just as in the former case the obligation to keep Shabbos is Rabbinic, so too in the latter.

He also points out that since the traveler will be keeping time according to his point of embarkment, an interesting hypothetical situation could result. For example, if Reuvain arrives there from Europe at six o’clock p.m. on Tuesday according to his watch, and several hours later, Shimon arrives from North America at six o’clock p.m. according to his watch (as North America is several time zones behind Europe), each of them will keep Shabbos at a different time! This is because each of them will count three twenty-four “days” from his time of arrival (Tuesday, six o’clock p.m.) and then make Shabbos.


In order that the reader should not think that as long as one does not fly over the Arctic Circle, everything is o.k., this writer wishes to emphasize that there are halachic issues in areas close to the Arctic Circle as well. It must be pointed out that although below the Arctic Circle, the sun does rise and set 365 days a year, in the summer, the sun never goes very far below the horizon and it might not be considered night. This has ramifications for when Shema during Maariv is recited and when Shabbos is over. A very common situation when this issue is relevant is a night flight from Eretz Yisrael to New York. During the first half of the flight, the plane flies northwest and reaches latitudes where the sun has not dropped far below the horizon and it is therefore considered to be alos hashachar. This can occur an hour or two into the flight. The ramifications of this for the frum traveler are enormous: once it is alos hashachar, it is forbidden to eat until after davening.


In my previous article, I mentioned that Shabbos observance in the Pacific Basin area could be halachicly complicated. This is because of the question as to the location of the halachic dateline. Before discussing the halachic controversy and ramifications of the dateline, let us first define what the dateline is and why it is necessary.

Due to the sun’s apparent east to west movement through the sky, locations that are further east of a given point are “ahead” in time, while those that are further west are “behind.” For this reason, when it is 12:00 noon on Monday in New York, it is 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles and 7:00 a.m. Monday morning in Hawaii. Assuming for a moment that there is no dateline, if one continued towards the west, he would reach a point where it is 12:00 midnight between Sunday and Monday. This would occur twelve time zones to the west of New York. On the other hand, moving eastward from New York, in Eretz Yisrael it will be 7:00 p.m. Monday evening. Twelve time zones to the east of New York, it is 12:00 midnight between Monday and Tuesday. This is presents a contradiction; twelve time zones to the east is late Monday night, while twelve time zones to the west is early Monday morning!

Because of this, it is necessary that at some point on the globe there should be a dateline. When crossing it from east to west, a day is lost (Monday becomes Tuesday) and while crossing from west to east, one gains a day (Tuesday becomes Monday). In 1884, it was decided at the International Meridian Conference that the line of longitude that lays one hundred and eighty degrees from Greenwich, England would be the International Dateline. Of course, this line was picked arbitrarily, as it is located in an area of the globe that is sparsely inhabited and therefore does not disrupt daily life. However, according to most poskim it has no halachic ramifications.


So where is the dateline according to halacha? This is a matter of much debate among the Rishonim, Acharonim and the poskim of the previous generation. For the purposes of this article, we will only discuss a few of these opinions. The first to deal with the issue is the Cuzari (2:20), written by Rav Yehuda HaLevi (1080-1145), and Rabbeinu Zerachiah HaLavi, also referred to as the Ba’al HaMa’or (1125-1186). Their opinion is drawn from how they explain a complex Gemara in Rosh HaShanah (20b). To cite their explanation is beyond the scope of this article, however, they maintain that the day starts ninety degrees to the east of Yerushalayim. Any place further east than that is “behind” Eretz Yisrael in time and will observe Shabbos some eighteen hours later.

Although most Rishonim agree with the Ba’al HaMa’or (see Ra’avad, Ritva and Chidushei HaRan ad loc.), other Rishonim argue with his contention that day begins ninety degrees east of Yerushalayim and maintain that it actually begins further to the east (see Sefer HaIbur [Ma’amar I, Sha’ar10] and Sefer Yesod Olam [Ma’amar I, chap. 17 and Ma’amar IV, chap. 8-9]). Additionally, these Rishonim understand that according to the Ba’al HaMa’or, one draws a straight line from pole to pole at ninety degrees east of Yerushalayim; anything to the west of this line is ahead of Yerushalayim, while anything to the east of the line is behind. This can cause a very unusual scenario. Since this line passes through eastern Siberia, China and Australia, if it were to cut through a city, it could happen that while people on the west side of the street would be reciting havdalah at the end of Shabbos, those on the east side would be reciting kiddush. Similarly, if one were to cross the street from west to east at Seudah Shlishis time, he could enjoy another day of Shabbos, while if one crosses from east to west, he could avoid most of it altogether. (This example is provided only as an illustration. Whether one can obligate himself in another twenty-four hours of Shabbos or whether one can absolve himself of Shabbos is matter of debate among the poskim [see Sefer Ta’arich Yisrael, chap. 5].) We will discuss this problem shortly.


Another opinion as to the location of the halachic dateline is based on the idea that Yerushalayim is the center of the world. This is derived from a possuk in Yechezkal (38:12), “dwelling on the navel of the earth.” Additionally, the Gemara Yerushalmi (Rosh HaShanah 2:4) indicates that half of the world lies to the west, while half is in the east. Based on this, several poskim maintain that the halachic dateline is halfway around the world, or one hundred and eighty degrees, from Yerushalayim (Rav Shmuel Moliver, Av Beis Din of Bialistock, in Kuntress Divrei Chachamim, Warsaw 5636).


Before outlining the practical ramifications of the halachic dateline in various locations on the globe, we must discuss the previously mentioned difficulty with the Baal HaMa’or’s opinion that the dateline is ninety degrees east of Yerushalayim, namely, can the dateline divide a continent. Although the International Dateline swerves to avoid the landmass of Siberia and to allow various territorial islands to be on the same side as their respective counties, e.g., the Aleutian Islands and Alaska, that is arbitrary and a matter of convenience. Because of this difficulty, several gedolim of pre-war Europe maintained that those who were exiled to eastern Siberia had a serious problem with regards to keeping the correct day as Shabbos (see Sefer Moadim u’Zmanim, vol. VI, #14, who quotes the opinion of Rav Yizchak Zev Soloveichik zt’l and Rav Aharon Kotler zt’l; see also Sefer Ta’arich Yisrael, pg. 13, footnote #28).


The entire issue of the halachic dateline was brought to the fore in 1941 when many European refugees arrived in Kobe, Japan. The question of when to keep Shabbos was sent to Eretz Yisrael. The Chasidishe community and especially the talmidim of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, forwarded the shaylah to the Imrei Emes of Gur, who presented it to Rav Yechiel Michal Tukachinsky zt’l, while the talmdim of Yeshivas Mir sent the question to the Mirer Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Eliezer Yehudah Finkel zt’l, who brought it before the Chazon Ish zt’l.

Rav Tukachinsky, who expressed his opinion in a sefer written especially to answer this shaylah, Yomam b’Kadur Ha’Aretz, agreed with the view that the dateline is one hundred and eighty degrees from Yerushalayim. Therefore, since Japan is located approximately one hundred degrees east of Yerushalayim, Shabbos there starts approximately seven hours before it does in Eretz Yisrael.

However, the Chazon Ish in his Kuntres Yud-Ches Sha’os, refuted Rav Tukachinsky approach and contended that since most of the Rishonim agree with the Ba’al HaMa’or’s view that the day begins ninety degrees east of Yerushalayim, one must follow his opinion. And as to the issue regarding dividing a populated area into two different days, the Chazon Ish maintains that the correct way to understand the Ba’al HaMa’or is that one does not divide a land mass. Rather, when the dateline hits northern Siberia, it swings eastward to avoid the Asian continent and follows the eastern coast south until it reaches the longitude ninety degrees east of Yerushalayim. Thus, in his opinion, Japan is east of the dateline and only starts its Shabbos some eighteen hours after Eretz Yisrael, on the day considered there to be Sunday.


These two opinions, i.e., that the halachic dateline is either ninety or one hundred and eighty degrees to the east of Yerushalayim, are the most extreme in regards to the global position of the dateline. There are many other opinions which hold the dateline falls at various points in between. In fact according to the sefer Kav HaTa’arich HaYisraeli (chap. 36), there are no less than thirteen different opinions as to where the dateline is.

Let us briefly discuss where these two datelines appear. Yerushalayim is located thirty-five degrees east of Greenwich. Therefore, according to the first opinion that the dateline is ninety degrees east of Yerushalayim, the dateline will be one hundred and twenty-five degrees east of Greenwich. This line goes through eastern Russia and China (cutting through the city of Changchun). It continues through the Yellow Sea to the west of Korea and the East China Sea to the west of Taiwan. It passes through the Philippines, the Indonesian Islands and Western Australia. According to the Chazon Ish, the dateline does not pass through the continent, rather along the eastern coast in between China and Japan. With regards to Australia, although most of the continent lies to the east of the dateline and logic would dictate the dateline should swing westward, thus putting Australia “behind” Eretz Yisrael, since the custom there is to observe Shabbos “ahead” of Eretz Yisrael, the dateline instead swings eastward and runs between Australia and New Zealand.

According to the opinion that the dateline is one hundred and eighty degrees east of Yerushalayim, it is located two hundred and fifteen degrees of the east, or more conventionally, one hundred and forty-five degrees to the west, of Greenwich. This line of longitude passes through eastern Alaska, just west of the Canadian border, to the east of Hawaii and further south, to the east of Tahiti.

Thus all of the locations that fall between the dateline of the Chazon Ish and the dateline of Rav Tukachinsky are potentially problematic when it comes to Shabbos. For example: According to the Chazon Ish, Shabbos in Japan and New Zealand is on Sunday, while according to Rav Tukachinsky, it is on Saturday. On the other hand, according to Rav Tukachinsky, Shabbos in Hawaii is on Friday, while according to the Chazon Ish, it is on Saturday. Of course, if one wishes to take into consideration the opinion that the halachic dateline can divide a continent, the areas of doubt would expand to include eastern Siberia and China, most of Australia and most of Alaska.


It is interesting to note that Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlit’a maintains that according to the Chazon Ish’s opinion, one should not go boating on Sunday in Melbourne, Australia. This is because, as we mentioned, according to the Chazon Ish, the dateline swings east to include Australia, and follows its eastern coast southward. Therefore, if one were to go boating on Sunday from Melbourne, once he leaves the techum of the city (the 2,000 ammah Shabbos boundary), he will cross the halachic dateline and enter an area where it is Shabbos (Shu’t Teshuvos v’Hanhagos, vol. I, #269). Not only is boating a halachic shaylah according to the Chazon Ish, but flying as well. Therefore, any eastbound flights from mainland China or Australia on Motzai Shabbos or Sunday would run into an area that is Shabbos according to the Chazon Ish (Sefer Ta’arich Yisrael, chap. 1, footnote 79).


Aside from all of the various opinions of where to place the halachic dateline, there is yet a totally different view among some of the poskim. They contend that if in fact a halachic dateline does exist which can change the day of Shabbos, then such a concept should appear in Shas or Shulchan Aruch. Since it does not, therefore no matter where one finds himself, he counts six days and the seventh day is Shabbos. Every place keeps Shabbos according to the established tradition of that locale (Shu’t Har Tzvi, Orach Chaim #138; Rav Isur Zalman Meltzer zt’l, quoted in Sefer Ta’arich Yisrael, pg. 32).


Crossing the halachic dateline affects many different areas of mitzvah observance: Shabbos, Yom Tov, fast days, bris milah, pidyon haben, sefiras haomer, and family purity. Whenever one will be traveling through the Pacific Basin, he should seek halachic guidance from a rav.

May the Merciful send us much blessing in our travels and in our dwellings, forever (Mishnah Berurah 193:27).

This article originally appeared in the US edition of Yated Neeman.

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