Monday, September 05, 2005

The international dateline and halacha

I may be traveling to Japan on business so this may be very relevant halacha lamaaseh to me.

There are 3 major opinions on where the halachic dateline is.

1. The Chazon Ish, Brisker Rav and others hold that the dateline is 90 degrees east of Yerushalayim. This is based on the Baal Hamaor's interpretation of the gemara in Rosh Hashana 20b. The Baal Hamaor explains that Bait Din has until noon on the day that they see the molad, new moon, to declare Rosh Chodesh on that same day. However, if it is after noon, then Rosh Chodesh is on the next day. This explanation would only make sense if the Halachic Date Line was at the Kitze Hamizrach which is 90° east of Jerusalem. This is so because the reason why the Baal Hamaor said noon is because that is the last time in Israel that somewhere else in the world that the day is just starting. In order for Rosh Chodesh to be on that day, it must be possible for Rosh Chodesh to last 24 hours somewhere in the world. Since noon is 18 hours into the day (starting from sunset on the night before), the place where the day is just starting is 18 hours to the west of Israel which is 270° west of Israel because every time zone is made up of 15°. So, the place where the new day starts, or the Halachic Date Line, must be six hours to the east of Jerusalem which is also 90° east of Jerusalem. This Line is on the 125E meridian (the explanation of the Baal Hamaor is taken from David Pahmer, The International Date Line and Related Issues, The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society Number XXI, Staten Island, NY, 1990). This line passes through Australia, China, and Russia. The Chazon Ish writes that all the Rishonim who discuss the topic (the Baal Hamaor, the Kuzari, and others) agree with this opinion.

The Chazon Ish however, throws in a wrinkle. He claims that the dateline doesn't split up a continent and therefore all of China, Russian and Australia, are on the same side of the dateline as Eretz Yisrael, even the parts that are more then 90 degrees east of Yerushalayim. The Brisker Rav disagrees on this point.

As an aside, RHS pointed out that it would seem that the Chazon Ish and Brisker Rav are l'shitasam. The Brisker Rav takes his analysis to it's logical conclusion and that is it. If the Halacha states that on this side of the street it is Shabbos and on the other side it is Sunday so be it. The Chazon Ish on the other hand says that it can't be so (it would be too confusing, people could walk in and out of Shabbos, even skip Shabbos, etc.) and therefore comes up with his chiddush about landmasses. We find a similar machlokes by taking Terumos and Maasros from fruit juice. The Brisker Rav says tough luck, since the halacha states that fruit juice is just maya b'alma you can't take teruma from it so the juice remains tevel. The Chazon Ish writes that you can't have something that is Tevel that has no way to be mesaken it and therefore disagrees.

RHS (and others including R' Sternbuch) point out the following anomoly according to the Chazon Ish. If one is on the East Coast of Australia and sails out to sea on a boat or takes off in a plane on Sunday (anywhere in Australia past 90 degrees), you will sail or fly into Shabbos. The Chazon Ish's chiddush only applies on the continent itself, however, once you leave the continent (either by plane or boat) then since you are past 90 degress from Yerushalayim, you have crossed the dateline and Sunday turns into Shabbos. This has very serious halachic implications for people living in these places with regards to plane and boat travel on Sunday.

According to the Chazon Ish Japan is on the other side of the dateline from EY and therefore what the Japanese call Sunday is really Shabbos.

2. Rav Yechiel Michel Tucazinsky holds that the dateline is 180 degrees from Yerushalayim based on the gemara that states that Yerushalayim is the the center of the world. If so, the dateline is on the exact opposite side of the Earth, halfway around the globe at 144.8 degrees. This places Hawaii on the other side of the Dateline from the United States. Hawaii would then be nineteen hours ahead of NY, rather than five hours behind, as it is on the same side of the Dateline as Asia. The day Hawaiians call Friday is halachically Shabbos, and the day they call Saturday is halachically Sunday.

According to this opinion Japan is not an issue because it is on the same side as the international dateline puts it.

3. Some poskim claim that there is no such thing as a Halachic Dateline. Instead, a person just follows the day that the country that he is in is observing. In other words the halachic dateline is the international dateline. There are other poskim who put the halachic dateline very close to the international dateline (2 or 3 degrees difference).

To sum up, the problematic places are Japan, Hawaii, and New Zealand.

According to the Chazon Ish, Sunday is Shabbos in Japan, according to opinions 2 and 3 Saturday is Shabbos in Japan.
According to the Chazon Ish and opinion 3, Saturday is Shabbos in Hawaii, while according to R' Yechiel Michel Tucazinsky, Friday is Shabbos.
New Zealand
Same as Japan.

Someone I know went to Japan and asked what he should do for Shabbos. The answer he got was to observe shabbos on Saturday, but to refrain from melacha d'oraysa on sunday in deference to the Chazon Ish's shita. This seems to be the consensus of the poskim today.

Some other interesting issues that come up with regards to the dateline are what if you cross the line during sefira, Chanukkah?


Anonymous said...

Sometimes a question like this can involve actual "life & death" situations. Maaseh Shehoyo:In September,1941, a substantial number of Roshei Yeshiva & Yeshiva Bochurim who had escaped from Eastern Europe via Siberia, had obtained visas that enabled them to travel to Canada. Because the voyage would take place over Yom Kippur, most opted to wait for the next sailing, which was scheduled for December 9. Those who left were able to survive WWII in relative comfort in North America, joining in rescue efforts through the Vaad Hahatzoloh. Those who waited for the next sailing were overtaken by the attack on Pearl Harbor--that sailing never took place--and were forced to live in hunger, disease & squalor in Shanghai, many not surviving, until the end of WWII. The dateline played a very important role in their lives.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Mu understanding is that during WWII, there were bochrim in Shanghai that kept 2 days of Yom Kippur (I forot who gave the psak for this).

When I used to travel to the Far East a few years back for work, and I ended up in Manila, I would always go back to Hong Kong for shabbat. Manila is close to the dateline, so I always made sure to be back in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a lot nicer anyway...

The shul next to the JCC is one of the few communities outside of Eretz Yisrael that has Birkat Cohanim all year round, and not only for the Chagim.

bluke said...

I don't think anyone actually fasted 2 days of Yom kippur. The Mir Yeshiva followed the psak of the Chazon Ish and fasted on the next day.

Anonymous said...

yes there certainly were some who did fast two days, I know people who told me they did.

Also this:

"but to refrain from melacha d'oraysa on sunday in deference to the Chazon Ish's shita. This seems to be the consensus of the poskim today."

is assuredly not what people who actually live in these areas do, only the consensus for travelers.

bluke said...

I meant for travelers.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Bluke: They definitly fasted 2 days. Sometime in the second day, they drank minute quantities of water, less than the shiur, over the amount of time which wasn't de'oraita.

bluke said...

You are right, some fasted 2 days, others who felt that they couldn't followed the psak of the Chazon Ish.

Anonymous said...

I don't get it. The gemara in Rosh Hashana (21a) discusses the issue of sfeika d'yoma by Y"K, and says NOT to fast 2 days...anyone know why Shanghai (or wherever) is different than the regular case of sfeika d'yoma? Why would someone be machmir?

bluke said...

The regular sefeka d'yoma relates to when was the Beis Din mekadesh the chodesh, was Elul 29 or 30 days. The gemara in Beitzah comments that from the time of Ezra and on לא מצינו אלול מעובר, meaning that Elul from the time of Ezra and on was never 30 days (it was always 29). In other words there really was no genuine safek regarding Yom Kippur and therefore there was no need to fast 2 says. However, in Japan there was/is a genuine safek when Yom Kippur is because of the dateline and therefore people fasted 2 days.

Anonymous said...

Interesting pshat. A couple of things:

1) Why, then, do we keep 2 days Succos? Or even R"H?

2) The gemara seems to imply that the reason we don't keep 2 days Y"K is because it would be too difficult. Also, the gemara there makes no mention there of the gemara you quoted from Beitza.

bluke said...

We keep 2 days RH and Succos because it is relatively easy and in theory 1 year Elul could have been 30 days. Keeping 2 days of Yom Kippur is very difficult if not impossible for the average person.

When the gemara says it is too difficult to keep 2 days of YK it is implictly relying on this point that it is not really a safek.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


Mizrahhi and Sefaradic shuls outside of Israel say birkat kohanim every day. It's not so unusual.

Cosmic X said...

Fascinating post Bluke.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Bluke: Isnt R'H 2 days because of "Yoma Arichta" and is different than 2 days of Sukkot or other Chagim in Chul? (I feel like adding on a Lulei Demestifina to that)

Steg: Thanks for the comment - I hadn't been aware that it was so common outside of Eretz Yisrael. Conversely, there are some shuls in Mea Shearim that don't say Birkat Cohanim daily like minhag Eretz Yisrael.

bluke said...

Yes, there is a difference betwene R"H and other Chagim in Chu"l. I am going to try to post on this issue next week.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

bluke: Other interesting issues include: Sefirat HaOmer, Brit Mila, Sheva Nekiyim, and Aveilut.

Shabbat Shalom.

Litvshe said...

I spent a month in Japan for work a couple years ago as well. My Rav told me the majority opinion is like the third one. What everyone there holds is Saturday is halachicly Shabbos. That said, one of my co-workers is from Telshe-Stone, the Rav there told him he has to be hold two days of Shabbos. In any event, see also Agan Hasahr by R' Chaim Zimmerman which is all about the date line.

Unknown said...

where can i find a diagram about the jewish dateline from maseches rosh hashana daf 20b?