Starry Starry Night
Ian Pamensky wrote:
Why does Shabbat end plus or minus 1 hour after sunset? Can you rely on the 3 stars? Many thanks in advance.
Dear Ian Pamensky,
The Talmud says that three medium-sized stars together in the sky signify nightfall. Halachic opinions about when this is range from 20 minutes to 72 minutes after sunset.
Ideally, you shouldn't rely on "three stars." Cloudy skies can make it hard to know exactly when this is. And even on a clear night, it's difficult to determine exactly which stars are considered "medium" and which are considered "large." Furthermore, the Chafetz Chaim writes that "three medium stars" was a reference for people in Babylon (Middle East). But people who live far to the north (Europe and America) where the sky takes much longer to darken should wait for three small stars. Ideally, you should go by the clock and a reliable Jewish calendar.
Did you hear about the ship's captain who, one foggy night, perceived a glowing light out in the distance? He watched it intently, but couldn't figure out why it grew no closer to his advancing ship. Finally, after staring at it for 20 minutes, he realized that the light was coming from the bowl of his pipe!
- Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 261
- Ibid. Mishna Berura 23