If you were thinking of spending this Shabbos in Samoa, you might want to think twice. Tonight, at the stroke of midnight, the tiny South Pacific nation, and its neighbor Tokelau, will skip over Friday and leap to Saturday, December 31, as it crosses westward over the International Dateline.
The International Dateline is drawn by mapmakers and not mandated by any international body. It is a country’s prerogative to choose where it lies. Samoa has been on the eastern side of the International Dateline for 119 years, the same side as Hawaii and currently five hours behind New York. By re-drawing the line, and changing to the western side, it will make it easier for the nation to do business with their increasingly important trading neighbors, New Zealand and Australia, for it will be on the same side as these countries, and put it 19 hours ahead of New York. To facilitate this change, Samoa and Tokelau are skipping Friday, December 30th. Two minutes after 11:59 pm Thursday, December 29, 2011 will be Saturday, December 31st, 12:01 a.m. [This all happens at 5:00am EST Friday morning].
How would a Jew keep Shabbos in such a location, which all of a sudden goes from Thursday night to Saturday morning? STAR-K Kashrus Administrator, Rabbi Dovid Heber, received this shaala twice today:
“You may have heard that the island of Samoa is changing from the east of the Dateline to the west, in order to be in sync with Australia and New Zealand. They will go from Thursday to Saturday. When will Erev Shabbos be? When will Shabbos be? Will Shabbos now be observed on a different day of the week?”
According to Rabbi Heber, “According to almost all opinions, the Halachic Dateline is not determined by what the locals call “Saturday” and therefore, the fact that Samoa changes the Dateline does not change when we keep Shabbos.
“How to keep Shabbos in Samoa is a question every Shabbos, as there are differing opinions as to Halachically where the International Dateline is,” continues Rabbi Heber. “According to the Chazon Ish, the International Dateline runs along the East Coast of much of Asia and Australia and longitude of about 125°E when at sea. This makes Samoa east of the International Dateline. Until now, when the locals say it is Friday, the Chazon Ish would also say it is Friday, and Saturday is Shabbos. Rav Yechial Michal Tuchatzinsky disagrees and says the Dateline is on the opposite side of the globe from Yerushalayim (the longitude is about 145°W). This makes Samoa west of this Dateline. So, until now when the locals say it is Friday, it is really Shabbos. There are other opinions, as well – for a full explanation see here. L’halacha, in Samoa it is safek Shabbos (questionable) every week and one certainly should not do melocho (work) on either day. Shabbos would begin every Thursday night at sunset and end when it gets dark on Saturday night- or 49 hours of Shabbos.”
Rabbi Heber further explains, “As of next Shabbos (January 7, 2012) after the switch, one would begin Shabbos from sunset Friday until it gets dark on Sunday. That is because with the new Dateline, according to Rav Yechial Michal Tuchatzinsky, the locals are now keeping the correct Shabbos as the International Dateline is now east of Samoa. So, Friday is Friday and Saturday is Shabbos. However, according to the Chazon Ish, when locals say it is Sunday, it is really Shabbos since he holds the Halachic Dateline is still west of Samoa.”
So, what is the bottom line when it comes to keeping this Shabbos in Samoa?
Rabbi Heber advises, “This Shabbos, with the Dateline change, one would not perform melocho in Samoa for the 49 hours beginning at sunset on Thursday, December 29 and ending when it gets dark on Sunday, January 1st!”
In general, says Rabbi Heber, given these doubts, the areas where there is “safek Shabbos” should be avoided. One should consult with a halachic authority before traveling to Japan, New Zealand, Hawaii, and other areas in the Pacific for a weekend.
“The problem is further compounded with the question of whether one wears Tefilin and when one davens Tefillos Shabbos and makes Kiddush,” notes Rabbi Heber. “This would depend on whether one went with the opinion of the Chazon Ish or Rav Yechial Michal Tuchatzinsky. There is much to add beyond the scope of this discussion; the main point is that according to almost all opinions, the Halachic Dateline is not determined by what the locals refer to as “Saturday”, and therefore, the fact Samoa changes the Dateline does not change when Jews keep Shabbos.”
Rabbi Heber concluded by saying that the minority opinion of Rabbi Menachem Kasher was that one follows the local population. Although we do not hold like this opinion it is interesting to ponder what Rav Kasher would advise a Jew who is spending this Shabbos in Samoa, where this Friday night does not exist.
(Margie Pensak – YWN)