Lander College Model Beit Din 2017: Halachah and the International Date Line—TABC’s Fourth Consecutive Victory, Part Two by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


Introduction: An Intense Three-Way Debate

Last week, we introduced the topic of the 2017 Lander College Model Beit Din Competition, the intense debate regarding the location of the Halachic date line. The victorious TABC students were expected to master the opinions of the three major opinions: the Chazon Ish, who believes that the date line lies 90 degrees east of Jerusalem; Rav Yechiel Michel Tukachinsky, who argues that it lies 180 degrees from Jerusalem; and Rav Zvi Pesach Frank, who believes that Halachah accepts the international community’s designation of 180 degrees from Greenwich, England as the date line. 

The Chazon Ish’s Response to Rav Tukachinsky’s Arguments

Last week, we summarized the major arguments put forth by Rav Tukachinsky.  This week, we present the very extensive and very intense response of the Chazon Ish. The Chazon Ish counters that while there is a need for a date line, there is no need for a “center” or prime meridian 180 degrees from the date line. He explains that he does not divide the world into parts of 90 and 270 degrees, as Rav Tukachinsky claims he does. Since there is no “center” (i.e. no prime meridian), we do not speak of east or west.  

The Chazon Ish blends the Yesod Olam with the Ba’al HaMaor/Kuzari approach, arguing that all agree that the date line begins from the “Ketzei HaMizrach” (literally “eastern edge,” meaning 90 degrees east of Jerusalem) and runs along the coasts of the Asian and Australian continents (applying the Halachic concept of Gereirah). This way, the date line does not run through the middle of a community (a possibility that was roundly rejected by the Yesod Olam [4]).   

The Chazon Ish views the border between land and sea as a reasonable place for the date line, as opposed to the middle of the sea, where people on one boat may be located in different days [5].  He argues that Rav Tukachinsky’s interpretation of the Yesod Olam’s phrase “Ketzei HaMizrach” as referring to the middle of the Pacific Ocean, is baseless and unreasonable. The Ketzei HaMizrach, the Chazon Ish insists, refers to the eastern edge of the Asian continent, which may be seen as an extension of Jerusalem (it lies in the same continent).  

The Chazon Ish argues that the idea of the date line lying 90 degrees east of Jerusalem does not emerge from Rosh HaShanah 20b but rather reflects an ancient tradition (Kabalah) to which all Rishonim agree and which the Baal HaMa’or and Sefer HaKuzari use to explain Rosh HaShanah 20b.

Rashi and the Rishonim who interpret Rosh Hashanah 20b differently than the Ba’al HaMaor all agree that the date line lies 90 degrees east of Yerushalayim, but they simply do not apply this idea to interpret Rosh HaShanah 20b. Moreover, the Ritva and Ran to Rosh HaShanah 20b explicitly agree with the Ba’al HaMa’or, and the Ra’avad also interprets Rosh HaShanah 20b in accordance with the Ba’al HaMa’or. The Chazon Ish argues that not one Rishon rejects the idea of the date line lying 90 degrees east of Yerushalayim.

The Chazon Ish clarifies that the significance of the 90-degree line from Jerusalem stems from the fact that the Creation of the world began there, as stated by the Yesod Olam. He also notes an advantage of his approach: Unlike the opinion of Rav Tukachinsky, Alaska poses no problem, as it lies squarely west of the Chazon Ish’s date line.   

The View of Rav Zvi Pesach Frank

Rav Zvi Pesach Frank (Teshuvot Har Zvi Orach Chaim 1:138) rules that Halachah recognizes the international community’s designation of 180 degrees from Greenwich, England as the date line. Although this sounds shocking for Halachah to embrace a foreign idea that is not rooted in classical Torah sources, Rav Frank is not the only major Halachic authority to subscribe to this view. Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer (in his letter of approbation to Rav Menachem Mendel Kasher’s Kav HaTa’arich HaYisraeli) and Rav Moshe Feinstein (recorded in Rav Baruch Simon’s Imrei Baruch, HaMinhag BeHalachah page 236) agree with Rav Frank’s ruling.  

The view of Rav Frank, Rav Isser Zalman, and Rav Moshe is based on the Radbaz (Teshuvot HaRadbaz 1:76), who states “Shabbat is given to every Jew to observe, as the Pasuk states ‘Ot Hi Beini UVeineichem’ (Shemot 31:13). Because Shabbat serves as an Ot for every individual Jew, wherever he is, he counts six days and observes the Shabbat on the seventh day.” Radbaz is supported by Shabbat 69a, where the Gemara describes the case of a person who is traveling in a Midbar (desert) and forgets which day is Shabbat. The Gemara rules that one counts six days and observes the seventh day as Shabbat.  

Rav Frank notes that the Gemara, Rambam, and Shulchan Aruch never mention a date line, proving (in his opinion) that the Halachah does not have a concept of a date line! Rather, one follows the practice of the community in which he finds himself for Shabbat. Thus, if the international community accepts the assignment of days in a certain manner, this is acceptable to Torah Jews as well, even in regard to Shabbat. As support for the Rav Frank-Rav Meltzer-Rav Feinstein approach, we cite Rav Yaakov Emden (Mor UKetzi’ah Or HaChaim 344), who writes that a traveler should abide by the community he left until he reaches a community that regards the days differently.  

A Lesser-Known but Cogent Opinion: Rav Teumim-Rabinowitz

Rav Binyamin Teumim-Rabinowitz (father-in-law of Rav Elazar Meyer Teitz and father of Rabbanit Elisheva Teitz,  a distinguished editor of the Encyclopedia Talmudit) rules based on the Yesod Olam that we should start the date line with the Ketzei HaMizrach—the northeastern edge of the Asian continent, the Siberian coast bordering the Bering Straits—and extend the date line straight south (instead of along the Asian coast as argued by the Chazon Ish [6], [7]). 

Opinions of Contemporary Halachic Authorities

I heard Rav Hershel Schachter advise that one should make every effort to avoid spending Shabbat in countries that lie in the “Safeik (uncertain) zone,” from the eastern Asian coast to the 180-degree line from Eretz Yisrael [8].  These locations include Japan, Hawaii, American Samoa and New Zealand. However, this view does not seem to be practical anymore, as travel to these countries has become commonplace. In fact, Rav Moshe Heinemann does not advocate such a stance even as an ideal [9].  Moreover, Rav David Pahmer, a Talmid of Rav Schachter, presents the Chazon Ish as constituting the majority view [10],  whereas Rav Heinemann (see footnote 6) does not present the Chazon Ish as the dominant view.   

Rav Elazar Meyer Teitz told me that he views the Chazon Ish as a “Da’at Yachid” (minority view), noting that all of the great Rabbanei Yerushalayim rejected the Chazon Ish’s opinion when they issued their response to the Mirrer Talmidim in September 1941. Interestingly, Rav Herzog, the Ashkenazic chief rabbi at the time, instructed the Talmidim to eat less than a Shiur (the amount of food that would cause one to violate Yom Kippur) on the day on which Yom Kippur fell according to the opinion of Chazon Ish, whereas the Chazon Ish told them to fully eat on the day on which Yom Kippur fell according to the Rabbanei Yerushalayim (cited in Encyclopedia Talmudit 22:680 footnote 55).  

Varieties of Pesakim LeMa’aseh Given by Contemporary Poskim for those in the “Safeik Zones” (such as Japan) for Shabbat

As is apparent from our discussions, it is difficult to arrive at a definitive resolution of these issues, as all of the opinions present compelling arguments. Contemporary Poskim offer a variety of means to blend the opinions and arrive at a sort of compromise view between the various opinions.  

1.  Rav Chaim Kanivesky: MeiIkar HaDin (essentially), advises following the Chazon Ish, but recommends refraining from all Melachah (work) when it is Shabbat according to Rav Tukachinsky.  

2. Rav Mordechai Willig: MeiIkar HaDin, follow Rav Tukachinsky, but avoid all Melachah when it is on Shabbat according to the Chazon Ish.

3. Rav Heinemann: MeiIkar HaDin, follow majority opinion [11],  but refrain from Melachah DeOraita (Torah-level prohibited activity) according to the minority opinion.  

4. Rav Baruch Simon: MeiIkar HaDin, follow Rav Rabinowitz-Teumim, but Lechatchilah (ab initio), refrain from Melachah on days when it is Shabbat according to the other opinions.  

Postscript: A Sephardic Approach in the Absence of a Ruling from Rav Ovadia Yosef

As the rabbi of a Sephardic congregation, I have often wondered how Sepharadim should approach this issue, since to my knowledge, Hacham Ovadia Yosef did not address this issue in any of his voluminous writings. Rav Shmuel Khoshkermann of Atlanta told me that Sephardic Jews essentially follow the ruling of Rav Zvi Pesah Frank  to follow the practice of the local observant community.  According to Rav Khoshkermann, it is best to be strict for the opinion of the Chazon Ish (in Japan or New Zealand) and Rav Tukachinsky (in Hawaii), but those who wish to completely adhere to Rav Frank have a legitimate source upon which to rely.  Rav Khoshkermann noted that he would issue this exact ruling to an Ashkenazic Jew as well.  

When we had the privilege of hosting Rav Shlomo Amar at Congregation Shaarei Orah in Teaneck, New Jersey, (in August 2017) I asked him how he rules regarding the international date line. He responded that the approach of Rav Zvi Pesach Frank has been accepted worldwide, thereby affirming the ruling of Rav Khoshkermann.    


Kudos once again to the Torah Academy of Bergen County student members of the Model Beit Din team, who mastered all the opinions and approaches that we presented in these past issues. May the Talmidim continue to grow and merit to master the entire corpus of Halachah.  

[1] Some Poskim, though, including the Brisker Rav and Rav Aharon Kotler, hold to the strict 90-degree-east-of-Jerusalem date line, without the Chazon Ish’s modification of “Ein Mechalkim HaYabeshet,” we do not divide a continent. 

[2] Fascinatingly, Rav Hershel Schachter limits the Chazon Ish’s extension of the 90-degree line to the ground and does not apply it to the air. Thus, according to this view, if one who is located in Eastern Australia takes off on an airplane he immediately enters Shabbat. 

[3] An advantage of Rav Teumim Rabinowitz’s approach is that it avoids the issue regarding Alaska which vexes Rav Tukachinsky. 

[4] My iyH soon to be son-in-law Yisroel Perton notes that Rav Teumim-Rabinowitz’s argument is reminiscent of and perhaps supported by the Gemara (Gittin 8a, codified by Rambam Hilchot Terumot 1:7) that determines the status of islands to the west of Eretz Yisrael by drawing an imaginary line southward from the northwestern tip of Eretz Yisrael to its southwestern tip. Islands that lie east of this imaginary line are considered to be part of Eretz Yisrael. It is reasonable to argue that just as this imaginary line is drawn straight south from the northwestern tip of Israel to include islands within Israel, so too, the date line is drawn straight south from the northeastern edge of the Asian continent to include islands such as Japan and New Zealand within Asia and hence, included in the same day. 

[5] The Star-K posts a very helpful map that clearly delineates the areas of doubt, which may be accessed at line/

[6] Rav Heinemann’s view is presented in an essay posted on the Star K website: line/

[7] Rav Pahmer’s states this in his article that appears in the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society number XXI.  

[8] This essentially accepts Rav Frank’s opinion as the determining factor. West of the international date line, Rav Tukachinsky combines with Rav Frank to constitute the majority opinion, while east of the international date line, Rav Frank combines with the Chazon Ish to constitute the majority opinion.

[9] Hacham Ovadia Yosef as a young man spent a great deal of time with Rav Frank. He remarked that he learned how to render Halachic decisions from Rav Frank. 

[10] Rav Khoshkermann observes that a recurring theme in Hacham Ovadia’s writings is to follow the local Minhag.  

[11] This “big tent” approach of “HaMachmir, Tavo Alav Bracha, VeHaMeikil Yeish Lo Al Mah Lismoch,”

“blessed is the one who is strict, but the lenient have a legitimate source upon what to rely,” is a dominant theme in Hacham Ovadia’s writings. 

My Wife is an Alien! by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

Lander College Model Beit Din 2017: Halacha and the International Date Line—TABC’s Fourth Consecutive Victory, Part One by Rabbi Chaim Jachter