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Halakhic International Date Line issues

I was reading the answers, or actually the source quotations, and realized that the answer to the questions about circumnavigation during Omer, Shabbat on the North Pole etc. should really be based on a more fundamental issue:

Take any Mitzvah of the form: "Do X at time Y every Z time units."

Is it more important that all Jews do this simultaneously, or in a consistently-synchronized manner? Or is it generally the case that you should make some Drash into the timing? Or maybe it's more of a symbolic/spiritual aspect of the exact timing?

For example, "Rest for the entire day every 7 days." (Yes I know that's not a very exact definition.) If the second option is true, maybe a Jewish community on another planet might make it every 6 days because the day is longer, and the intention is more that people rest and that the community allot Qodesh time appropriately. If the first option is true, then why even have a dateline, and not just have Shabbat start whenever it starts around Jerusalem? And if the third options is true, maybe you do need sophisticated ritual arrangements for flying over the north pole...

PS - I'm actually an Atheist of Jewish descent so please excuse my lack of religious perspective.

  • 1
    It's obviously not important for all Jews to perform X ritual simultaneously, because Jews in different time zones follow their time zone. The reliance on Jerusalem is merely in a non-ideal circumstance where relying on present location Earth time is impossible. And the sophism/casuistry is what we live for over here :-) Jul 11, 2014 at 19:57
  • I would think we need a system whereby wherever you are you can figure out relevant times. Using astronomic phenomena is very convenient for that.
    – Double AA
    Jul 11, 2014 at 21:24
  • @Matt: That's why I said "or consistently-synchronized".
    – einpoklum
    Jul 11, 2014 at 21:35
  • @DoubleAA: But is it, and excuse the crass phrasing, God's will that Jews base the decision to rest on some arbitrary astronomic calculation?
    – einpoklum
    Jul 11, 2014 at 21:36
  • 1
    @einpoklum Ya. Why not? I'll leave my arbitrary decisions up to the best Arbiter I know.
    – Double AA
    Jul 11, 2014 at 22:44

2 Answers 2


The Baal HaTanya explains that time is a creation, like the rest of the world, so therefore the underlying spiritual state which creates the specific event - the two examples he speaks about are the times of Shabbat and of Kriat Shema - exist above time, and thus exist constantly.

Rather, it is the specific time and place where this spiritual state is revealed below that creates those obligations. In other words each place has its Mitzvot in its time because that is when the underlying constant spiritual source is revealed in that place, different from other places.

So I guess closer to #3 of the options in the question.


I think your question can be addressed with the Gemara in Shabbos (69b) what a person is supposed to do if he finds himself in the desert unable to know when Shabbos is (This is a machlokes Amoraim). The Talmud explains that Rav Huna, focuses on the Creation of the universe. From this perspective, first there were six days of the week and only then came Shabbos. The law is decided in accordance with the opinion of Rav Huna.

The Torah wants to inculcate in us the point that Hashem is the Creator of the Universe and our counting 6-days and resting on the 7th parallels that process.

The verses in Bereishis 1:1-26 seem to indicate that the creation of the planets (on Day 4) are incidental to Creation as a whole. I.e. the perspective is one of us on Earth and how G-d views the creation as focussed entirely on the Earth.

So, planetary living is like the desert - we count six earth-days as the basic unit of measure and Shabbos will be the 7th earth-day.

However, in the book Contemporary Halachic Problems by Rabbi Dr. J. D. Bleich, he mentions the issues of mitzvos in the Polar Regions (Ch. 3), Vol. 5.

He writes that the first contemporary to write about is R. Yaakov Emden (Shaarei Teshuva O. Ch. 344:1). The issues are complex, and various opinions abound. Acc. to Emden, every traveller counts his own starting day from the last place he left as being normative. I.e. a traveller who left Anchorage on Tuesday and ended up so far North the sun never set would count from Anchorage 24 hour periods until he reached Shabbos and would celebrate Shabbos 4-days later, whereas a second traveller who left Helsinki on Wednesday would count 3-days later.

The Tiferes Israel argues, and writes that the determination of Shabbos is objective, based on the revolutions the sun makes in the sky. (this is only relevant in the summer months).

Bleich argues a different position where days are not defined by 24-hour periods. He argues that earth transcends time and that there is no galactic status of time where time ceases to be practically relevant. Then there are other considerations. But time-bound mitzvah become irrelevant in such a situation, according to this view.

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