Rabbi Jachter's Halacha Files

(and other Halachic compositions)

Rosh Hashana

1 Tishrei 5767

September 23, 2006

Vol.16 No.3

Air Travel on a Fast Day - Part Two - Part 2

by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

Last week, we began our discussion of the implications of airplane travel on the concluding time of fast days. We mentioned the consensus view that eastbound travelers who encounter Tzeit HaKochavim (nightfall) earlier than they would have had they remained at home may end their fast even though their fasting time is shortened. We began our discussion of the problem of westbound air travelers who find their fasting time to be extended. We noted that we fast today on Shiva Asar BeTammuz, Tzom Gedaliah and Asarah BeTeiveit because of a custom dating back to the Rishonim, not due to rabbinic law. Therefore, there might be potential for a lenient ruling excusing westbound travelers from extending their fast until they encounter nightfall.

The Stockholm Precedent

Rav Yosef Cohen (the grandson of Rav Zvi Pesach Frank who authored a commentary entitled Harerei Kodesh to his grandfathers work Mikraei Kodesh) presents such a lenient ruling (Harerei Kodesh to Mikraei Kodesh; Pesach volume 2 p.214). Rav Cohen cites the precedent of the Jewish community of Stockholm that concluded their fasting on Shiva Asar BeTammuz at 9:30 P.M., even though nightfall arrives much later in that city. The Nachal Eshkol (commentary to Sefer HaEshkol, Hilchot Tisha BeAv), writing in the nineteenth century, justifies this practice by noting that at the time the Jewish People accepted the practice to fast on Shiva Asar BeTammuz, Tzom Gedaliah and Asarah BeTeiveit in all circumstances, no Jewish community extended as far north as Stockholm. Thus, he argues that the original acceptance to fast never applied to fasting later than 9:30 P.M., since no Jewish community at that time fasted any of these three fasts later than 9:30 P.M.

Rav Cohen rules that the same can be said for westbound travelers on these three fasts. The original acceptance did not apply to such an extended fast. It is not clear, though, when Rav Cohen would permit a westbound traveler to end his fast. Rabbi David Pahmer (a leading student of Rav Hershel Schachter, writing in the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society Spring 1991 p.78), though, presents this opinion as permitting westbound air travelers to conclude their fast at 9:30 P.M., regardless of when nightfall arrives.

Rav Feinstein and Rav Wosner

Not all authorities agree with this approach. Rav Moshe Feinstein (cited by Rav Aharon Felder, Moadei Yeshurun p. 109) rules that westbound travelers must continue their fast until they encounter nightfall. Rav Moshe is not cited as making special exemptions no matter how long the fasting time is increased. This is not an exceptional ruling, since we explained at length last week that a persons Halachic status is determined by his location, not by his residence. Thus, if one is located in an area at a time that is still the seventeenth of Tammuz or the third of Tishrei, he must continue fasting.

Rav Shmuel Wosner (Teshuvot Sheivet HaLevi 7:76) adopts somewhat of a compromise approach between Rav Cohen and Rav Moshe. He expresses considerable reservations about the Stockholm-precedent and even questions its validity. His basic concern is that there is no source for the Nachal Eshkols assertion in the Gemara or Rishonim. Moreover, he reasons that it seems that when the Jewish People accepted upon themselves the obligation to fast on the aforementioned three fasts, they accepted the obligation to fast in accordance with the rules of fasting. Since the Gemara (Taanit 12a) states, Any fast that does not conclude with sundown is not considered a proper fast day, a fast day by definition means fasting until nightfall, regardless of how late it is.

Accordingly, Rav Wosner reasons, when we accepted the obligation of these three fasts, we accepted the obligation to complete the fasts regardless of how late they end. Indeed, I was told that observant communities in the sections of England where Tzeit HaKochavim is quite late in the summer end their fast long after 9:30 in the evening. Moreover, Rav Hershel Schachter told me (in a personal conversation) that when he once discussed the practice in Stockholm, a Talmid in the Shiur whose father served as a Rav in Stockholm mentioned that the Jewish community there no longer ends the fast at 9:30 P.M.

Nonetheless, Rav Wosner allows westbound travelers to conclude their fast at sundown (Shekiat HaChama) rather than the usual Tzeit HaKochavim. Rav Wosner notes that the proper time to end a fast was already disputed in the time of the Rishonim, and he permits relying on the lenient opinion in case of great need in combination with the Nachal Eshkols reasoning.

Although the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 562:2) rules in accordance with the Rosh (Taanit 12a) that even the three fasts conclude at Tzeit HaKochavim, other Rishonim (such as the Rabbeinu Yonah cited in the Rosh, Shabbat 2:23) believe that they end at sundown. Tosafot (Avodah Zara 34a s.v. Mitanin) note that the straightforward reading of the aforementioned Gemara (Taanit 12a) indicates that these three fasts end at sundown, but they record that the common practice was (and remains until this day) to conclude even these three fasts at nightfall.

Nonetheless, the Aruch HaShulchan (O.C. 562:9) believes that both the Rambam and the Vilna Gaon (O. C. 562:1 s.v. Ad Tzeit HaKochavim) rule that these three fasts end at Shekiah, and therefore concludes that a Rav who rules that one may conclude these three fasts at sundown is not to be denegrated. In practice, some Rabbanim will rely on these lenient opinions for someone who experiences an unusually difficult fast (other Rabbanim will not rely on these opinions even in case of need, as the Mishnah Berurah does not even cite these lenient opinions). Accordingly, Rav Wosner permits westbound travelers who are experiencing an extraordinarily long fast to rely on the lenient opinion.

Moreover, Rav Wosner writes that if one feels that it is too difficult to fast the extended hours to the extent that he feels overwhelmed by the fast, it would be permitted to eat enough to restore his well being, even before sundown. However, Rav Wosner writes that the rules of the Taanit remain in effect, even though he ate a bit to restore his well-being (see Shulchan Aruch O.C. 568:1). Citing Teshuvot Chatam Sofer (O.C. 157), he writes that in such circumstances one should eat only what is necessary, not more. Rav Wosner does not mention a requirement that one eat less than a Shiur as is required on Yom Kippur (see Shulchan Aruch O.C. 618) and, according to some Poskim, on Tisha BeAv (as we discuss in an essay that is available at www.koltorah.org).

Westbound Travelers who Cross the Dateline

Although most westbound air travelers will find their fasting time extended, some potentially have the fast shortened or even avoid it altogether. One would avoid the fast if he begins his travel on the evening of the seventeenth of Tammuz and flies west, and before dawn crosses the dateline when it becomes the eighteenth of Tammuz (recall that one who crosses the dateline from east to west loses a day). In such a case, one will not encounter the (day) time Shiva Asar BeTammuz when one is obligated to fast. The question is whether a person in such circumstances is completely excused from observing the fast.

Rabbi David Pahmer (ad. loc. p.77) writes the following (echoing the views of Rav Hershel Schachter): Consider someone crossing the dateline from Tuesday 3 P.M. into Wednesday 3 P.M. Even if he has already davened Mincha, he must daven again because his first Mincha is for his obligation to daven on Tuesday, and he now has an obligation to daven on Wednesday (he must also be sure to recite Mincha for Tuesday before crossing the dateline- C.J.). Similarly, he must put on Tefillin.... If he crosses the line during the 49 days of the Omer, he must count for the new day. A woman in the midst of her seven clean days of Niddut has just jumped into the next day. Generally (Pidyon HaBen might be an exception), the dateline affects any issue which depends on the calendar day.

This approach is hardly surprising, as we saw last week that nearly all of the contemporary Poskim have concluded (based on rulings of the Radbaz and Chavatzelet HaSharon) that one follows the standards of the community in which he finds himself. For example, almost all Poskim agree that if one began the seven clean days in America and subsequently flies to Israel, the immersion may take place in Israel after nightfall even though it is still day in America. Indeed, the Encyclopedia Talmudit (22:405 and see note 620 as well as p.403 note 608) notes that this approach is endorsed by many Acharonim, including the Chazon Ish and Teshuvot Eretz Zvi (number 44; Rav Schachter is fond of quoting this Sefer, which was written by the Rav of Kozhiglov).

Accordingly, one is not obligated to fast if he is located in a place in which it is not the seventeenth of Tammuz or the third of Tishrei, even though it is Shiva Asar BeTammuz or Tzom Gedalia in their place of residence. Thus, one would either avoid the fast altogether or end the fast as soon as he crosses the dateline. Indeed, Rav Hershel Schachter told me that this is his opinion. He remarked that this is analogous to the situation described by the Chazon Ish (Orach Chaim chapter 152, where further details are presented) of one who spends the fourteenth of Adar in Yerushalayim and the fifteenth in Tel Aviv. The Chazon Ish rules that such a person is not obligated to observe Purim on either day. We should note, though, that one certainly should not schedule a trip to dodge or limit the obligation to fast (or observe Purim), as noted by Teshuvot Eretz Tzvi (number 44, based on Menachot 41a) in the specific context of crossing the dateline.

Next week we shall (IYH and BN) conclude our discussion of air travel on fast days with a discussion of eastbound travelers crossing the dateline.