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On page 188 of my סדור רינת ישראל (or p. 196 in this edition) the instructions for lighting shabbat candles begins as follows: כשהחמה בראש האילנות, מדליקים נר של שבת.

My limited Hebrew has me understand this as "when the sun is at the tops of the trees, light the shabbat candles."

The time for lighting has been expressed in terms of shkiah or evening or something specific to the clock (the notes at the bottom of page 296 of the Artscroll siddur Kol Yaakov speak of "approximately 18 minutes before sunset"). This instruction speaks of the position of the sun relative to trees -- which trees? How tall are they? At what angle am I standing? And maybe it is just me and my understanding of trees, but when the sun is at the rosh of the trees is significantly earlier in the day than candle lighting is usually set for. Is this statement encouraging an earlier shabbat or am I misunderstanding the printed instructions?

Help is, as always, appreciated.

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1 Answer 1

The Talmud (Shabbat 35b) discusses the exact time where Bein Hashemashot (dusk -- the time the Melacha becomes forbidden) and concludes that those who are not experts in the calculations should light while the sun is still atop the trees. This is an approxamite time which is designed to ensure that one definitely does not light too late. This rule is recorded in Shulchan Aruch OC 261:3.

The custom of lighting 18 minutes before sunset is to fulfill every possible opinion in the Rishonim (even those we don't paskin like) about when sunset is, notably the opinion of the Yereim who holds that the "sunset" begins 3/4 of a mil before astronomical sunset. If we take a mil to be 24 minutes (the longest opinion), then it comes out that Shabbat starts 18 minutes before astronomical sunset. (see Shaar Hatziyun 261:21)

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I think I've heard that there are communities that use 40 minutes instead of 18. I don't know what that would be based on. –  Monica Cellio Sep 30 '12 at 2:12
    
@MonicaCellio judaism.stackexchange.com/q/13472/759 –  Double AA Sep 30 '12 at 2:14
    
Both the S"A and my siddur omit that this speaks of date trees (I have no idea if this means a date tree 100 feet away or right above me, or how tall a date tree is). And the siddur ignores the follow up line about what to do on a cloudy day. Chickens, it seems, are less relevant than date trees. But I would still assume that the sun is atop a tree (unless the tree is on a far horizon) much earlier in the day. The siddur's use of IT when by 1981 (the publ date) there were other signifiers seems strange. –  Danno Sep 30 '12 at 3:55
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