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Chapter 76:1
The Sabbath and Festival Prayer

1. It is customary to recite the Maariv (evening service) of Shabbos earlier than one usually recites Maariv during the week. It is proper to do so, in order to begin Shabbos (1) as early as possible (2), as long as its after "Plag HaMincha" (3). Even those who generally recite Maariv at its proper time, that is, after the appearance of three stars (4), may recite it earlier on Shabbos.

Although during the week people occasionally recite Mincha (afternoon service) at the same time that they are now reciting the Maariv of Shabbos, there is no reason to be concerned in this case (5), because [by reciting the Maariv of Shabbos early], one fulfills the Mitzvah of adding time from the "Non-Holy" to the "Holy.(6)"


(1) In Talmudic times, it was customary to begin Shabbos with the recital of "Barchu" at the beginning of Maariv. According to the Mishna Berura (261:30), nowadays, when the congregation in Synagogue sing the words "Boie Challah" ("Welcome Bride") in the song "Lecha Dodi," (recited just before Maariv) they are accepting Shabbos upon themselves.

(2) There are two reasons for beginning Shabbos early. Firstly, most authorities rule that it is a Mitzvah to begin Shabbos while it is still considered to be "daytime" on Friday, i.e., before sunset. This concept is called "Mosif Mechol Al HaKodesh" (lit: "adding part of the non-holy to the holy"). Secondly, even those authorities who rule that it is not an actual Mitzvah to begin Shabbos early, still rule that everyone should refrain from performing prohibited acts a short time before sunset, because if one got into the habit of waiting until a moment before sunset to begin Shabbos, one could easily end up performing a prohibited act after sunset (See Shulchan Aruch 261 and commentaries). In many communities, the women would wait to light candles until they saw that the evening prayers were beginning in the synagogue; consequently, if Maariv wasn't recited early (before sunset), many would end up lighting candles after sunset, thereby desecrating the Shabbos (Aruch HaShulchan 267:4).

(3) It is permissible to begin Shabbos anytime after "Plag HaMincha" on Friday afternoon, which is always one and a quarter seasonal hours ("Shaos Zemanios") before sunset (a "seasonal hour" is equal to one twelfth of the total time from sunrise to sunset (some say from dawn to dark) ) (See Rema 261:2).

(4) Three small stars which are relatively close to each other.

(5) There is a dispute in the Talmud as to what is the correct time frame within which to recite Mincha and Maariv. Rabbi Yehuda rules that one can only recite Mincha up to "Plag HaMincha" (see note 3), and from then onwards, one can recite Maariv. The Rabbis, however, rule that the time for Mincha extends until nightfall (in practical terms, this means sunset, because after that point we are not sure when nighttime actually begins), and one can only recite Maariv after nightfall (that is, from the time we are certain that nighttime has begun, which is when 3 stars appear).

Now, it is generally forbidden for those who customarily follow the Rabbis, by waiting until after nightfall to recite Maariv, to randomly decide to pray Maariv before nightfall, like the ruling of Rabbi Yehuda. However, since by praying Maariv of Shabbos before sunset, one is fulfilling the Mitzvah of adding from the non-holy to the holy (see note 2) by accepting Shabbos early, the authorities permitted changing one's custom in this case. However, when following Rabbi Yehuda by praying Maariv before sunset, one must be careful to be consistent and follow his ruling regarding Mincha as well, that is, by praying Mincha before "Plag HaMincha." There is an opinion which states that if one is praying with the congregation, one may pray Maariv before sunset, even if one prayed Mincha after "Plag HaMincha." However, the Mishna Berura (267:3) rules that one can only rely on that leniency in pressing circumstances, and only if one waits until after sunset to pray Maariv (that is, during "Bein HaShemashos", the time period in which we are uncertain whether it is "day" or "night").

(6) See note (2).

The Sabbath and Festival Prayer
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Halacha-Yomi, Copyright (c) 2000 ProjectGenesis, Inc.



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