The Latest Time for Mincha and the Earliest Time for Ma'ariv

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May 02 2008
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The Latest Time for Mincha and the Earliest Time for Ma'ariv


It is not uncommon to wonder why certain times are chosen for the synagogue's Mincha and Ma'ariv services and what they correspond to. In this week's issue we will discuss the various opinions regarding the proper time for Mincha and Ma'ariv both on weekdays and on Shabbat.



The Dispute between R. Yehuda and Chachamim


The Mishna, Berachot 26a, records a dispute between R. Yehuda and Chachamim regarding the latest time for Mincha. Chachamim are of the opinion that the latest time for Mincha is the evening (erev, the exact parameters of evening will be defined later in the article). R. Yehuda is of the opinion that the latest time for Mincha is p'lag haMincha. [P'lag haMincha is one and one-quarter hours before the end of the day when calculated in halachic hours. Halachic hours are calculated by dividing the day (from morning until evening) into twelve hours.]


The Gemara, Berachot 27a, notes that the dispute between R. Yehuda and Chachamim is not resolved and therefore, one may follow either opinion. Rabbeinu Asher, Berachot 4:3, explains that this means that one must choose one of the opinions and stay consistent with that opinion forever. Therefore, if one chooses R. Yehuda's opinion, he must always recite Mincha prior to p'lag HaMincha, but he may recite Ma'ariv after p'lag HaMincha. If one chooses the opinion of Chachamim, he may recite Mincha until the evening, but he may never recite Ma'ariv before that time.




Rabbeinu Asher's ruling is codified by Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 233:1. Nevertheless, there are a number of exceptions to this ruling. First, Rabbeinu Yonah, Berachot 18b, s.v. D'Avad, rules that if one accepted the opinion of Chachamim, but accidentally recited Ma'ariv before the evening, he is not required to repeat Ma'ariv in the evening. This ruling is codified by Shulchan Aruch, op. cit.




Second, R. Shmuel ben Meshulam, Ohel Mo'ed, Sha'ar HaTefillah 2:2, rules that in a pressing situation one may adopt the position one does not normally follow as long as he does not contradict himself in the same day. For example, if one normally follows the opinion of Chachamim, but a pressing situation arises that does not allow him to recite Ma'ariv in the evening, he may recite Ma'ariv on that day after p'lag HaMincha. However, on that day he must be consistent with R. Yehuda's opinion and recite Mincha before p'lag HaMincha. Ohel Mo'ed's ruling is codified by Shulchan Aruch, op. cit., and Mishna Berurah 233:11.




Third, Beit Yosef, Orach Chaim no. 233, notes the practice of many congregations to recite both Mincha and Ma'ariv between p'lag HaMincha and the evening. Beit Yosef notes that although this practice is internally inconsistent, one can justify this practice based on the fact that it is too difficult to gather the congregation for services twice. Therefore, these congregations recite both prayers together. Magen Avraham 233:7, cites this leniency. However, Mishna Berurah, Bi'ur Halacha 267:1, s.v. U'BePlag, rejects this leniency.




Fourth, Magen Avraham 267:1, rules that one who normally follows the opinion of Chachamim may follow the opinion of R. Yehuda in order to fulfill the mitzvah of tosefet Shabbat, the mitzvah of accepting Shabbat early. What this means practically is that one who normally recites Mincha until the evening may recite Ma'ariv before the evening in order accept Shabbat early.




R. Ya'akov of Lisa, Derech HaChaim 66:1, combines the third and fourth leniency. He notes that although one cannot normally allow the third leniency (to recite both Mincha and Ma'ariv between p'lag HaMincha), a congregation may rely on this leniency on Friday in order to allow the congregation to accept Shabbat early. Therefore, the congregation may recite the Friday Mincha after p'lag HaMincha and immediately recite Kabbalat Shabbat and Ma'ariv. Mishna Berurah 267:2, rules that one should not rely on this leniency. Rather, one should either recite Mincha before p'lag haMincha or recite Ma'ariv in the evening.









What Constitutes Evening?




There are two issues that must be addressed in defining the parameters of the opinion of Chachamim that the latest time for Mincha and the earliest time for Ma'ariv is the evening. First, when Chachamim name evening as the critical moment, it can refer to sunset (shekiat hachama) or to nightfall (tzeit hakochavim). Second, there is a dispute between Rabbeinu Tam (cited in Tosafot, Pesachim 94a s.v. R. Yehuda) and the Vilna Gaon, Biur HaGra, Orach Chaim 261:2, regarding the actual time of tzeit hakochavim. A major point of contention is Rabbeinu Tam's position that the primary shekiat hachama does not correspond to astronomical sunset, but rather to a later point in time. The Vilna Gaon disagrees and maintains that shekiat hachama corresponds to astronomical sunset.




Rabbeinu Yonah, Berachot op. cit., rules that the latest time to recite Mincha and the earliest time to recite Ma'ariv occurs at shekiat hachama. However, Rashi, Berachot 26a, s.v. Ad HaErev, implies that "erev" (evening) refers to tzeit hakochavim. Rama, Orach Chaim 233:1, states that the latest time to recite Mincha is at tzeit hakochavim and Magen Avraham 233:5, rules that the earliest time to recite Ma'ariv is at tzeit hakochavim.




Mishna Berurah, Sha'ar HaTziun 233:18, notes that the dispute as to whether shekiat hachama or tzeit hakochavim is the start of evening is itself contingent on the dispute between Rabbeinu Tam and the Vilna Gaon. According to the Vilna Gaon, the evening starts at shekiat hachama, and according to Rabbeinu Tam, it begins at tzeit hakochavim. [The logic of Mishna Berurah's idea is alluded to in another of his comments, Sha'ar HaTziun 233:10, where he notes that the issue whether evening is shekiat hachama or tzeit hakochavim is directly related to how one calculates halachic hours. If one calculates halachic hours from sunrise to sunset, the latest time to recite Mincha is sunset. If one calculates halachic hours from dawn until nightfall, the latest time to recite Mincha is nightfall. This question directly relates to the dispute between the Vilna Gaon and Rabbeinu Tam regarding the time of shekiat hachama. The Vilna Gaon, Orach Chaim 459:2, calculates halachic hours from sunrise to sunset and Magen Avraham 58:1, calculates halachic hours from dawn until nightfall, basing himself on Rabbeinu Tam's position (See Magen Avraham 233:3). Therefore, both are consistent in their opinions regarding the latest time to recite Mincha.]




Mishna Berurah 233:14, limits the leniency to recite Mincha until tzeit hakochavim. He cites the opinion of P'ri Megadim, Eshel Avraham 233:7, who rules that one cannot actually recite Mincha until tzeit hakochavim, but rather until Rabbeinu Tam's shekiat hachama which is a few minutes before tzeit hakochavim. [R. Ovadia Yosef, Yechaveh Da'at 5:22, cites numerous Acharonim who disagree with P'ri Megadim and maintain that according to Rabbeinu Tam, one may recite Mincha until tzeit hakochavim.] Mishna Berurah then notes that even those who normally follow the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam should nevertheless show deference to the opinion of the Vilna Gaon and recite Mincha before astronomical sunset. [See also Mishna Berurah, Sha'ar HaTziun 233:10, who discusses a comment of Rabbeinu Yonah (Berachot 18a, s.v. Tefillat HaMincha) that indicates that perhaps Rabbeinu Tam agrees that one should recite Mincha before astronomical sunset.]




For those who follow the opinion of the Vilna Gaon, is there any leniency to recite Mincha after sunset? The Vilna Gaon himself (op. cit.) states explicitly that one cannot recite Mincha after sunset. Nevertheless, Mishna Berurah, Sha'ar HaTziun 233:21, rules that even according to the Vilna Gaon, there is room for leniency in a pressing situation. R. Ovadia Yosef, op. cit., notes that although the Vilna Gaon himself does not allow one to recite Mincha after shekiat hachama, one can argue that within the opinion that shekiat hachama occurs at astronomical sunset (i.e. the Vilna Gaon's opinion) one can still maintain that latest time for Mincha is at tzeit hakochavim. According to R. Ovadia Yosef, the question of whether evening (for the purpose of Mncha) begins at shekiat hachama or tzeit hakochavim is not necessarily connected to the question of whether one follows Rabbeinu Tam or the Vilna Gaon.



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