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It's my understanding that Judaism defines the start of a day as sunset. However, on one of my calendars, several Jewish holidays are indicated as starting at sundown (approximate).

Does the Jewish day start exactly at sunset, or is it actually a few minutes before or after sunset? How does this apply to holidays?

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The day begins at sunset, based on Bereishit 1:5 "and there was evening and morning, one day". However, doing creative work (melacha) on a major holiday or on Shabbat is a violation of biblical law, so to be safe we add some time to both ends. Most communities (not all!) begin Shabbat or a holiday 18 minutes before sunset and end it about an hour after sunset the next day (full dark).

Your calendar is presumably trying to reflect this "fudge factor" -- the day begins at sunset, but the observance of the day begins a bit before, so "approximate". This is good enough for most users of that calendar and considerably better than some calendars (which simply note the day on the next secular day). Those who are observing the day know to adjust.

For some sources about the 18-minute calculation, see this answer.

  • Nice link to a good answer. Q to OP - in addition to the link, do you want to know why there is a concept of adding ANY extra time prior to sunset. That is mentioned in either Talmud Shabbat or Rosh Hashannah. If interested, let me know. I have to research the source. The linked answer focuses only on the aspect of why it is specifically 19 minutes. – DanF Sep 2 '15 at 14:54

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