Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Iyar 5759, April 28 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Opinion & Comment
The International Date Line in Australia
By Rabbi B. Z. Rosenbaum

On the Sunday after Pesach (25 Nisan), Pinchos had a flight from Melbourne, Australia back to Los Angeles where he resides. As he made his way to the airport, the sun was already setting. After checking in his luggage he went to a corner and davened ma'ariv. For Sefiras HaOmer he counted 11 days.

He boarded the plane, and after a fourteen hour flight he touched down in Los Angeles. The sun was shining. It was Sunday afternoon. When he went to Shul that night for ma'ariv, for Sefiras HaOmer the Chazan counted 11 days!

Pinchos was confused. He was sure he had counted 11 days the night before. Had he made a mistake?

Pinchos had made no mistake, but he had flown over the International Date Line, thereby going back one day so that when he arrived in Los Angeles it was Sunday again. This obviously must have some halachic ramifications, and many of the poskim of our generation go to great lengths discussing what to do in such instances.

HaRav Betzalel Stern zt"l (in his responsa Betzeil Hachochma) advises that one should avoid travelling across the dateline during the days of Sefirah. In the above- mentioned case he says that one should count again (the 11th day) in Los Angeles without a brocho, and from then on he can continue to count with a brocho.

There is however a more problematic case. If someone traveled west from the U.S.A. to Australia (or Asia) during Sefirah, he will move forward one day when crossing the dateline. Therefore if, for example, he left Los Angeles on Sunday night (the halachic beginning of Monday), when he arrives in Australia 14 hours later it will be in the middle of Tuesday, not Monday. In this case HaRav Betzalel Stern says that although it is still the 12th day of the Sefirah in Australia when he arrives however, since he has experienced only 11 sunsets and sunrises (because when it became light for him on the way to Australia it was Monday morning and the sun didn't set before he got to Australia where it was already Tuesday), he should count the 12th day in Australia without a brocho, and carry on counting without a brocho.

He adds that it might be of benefit thereafter to say two "countings" every night, i.e. to count both 12 and 13 on the night after he arrives, since 12 is the number of days he has experienced since beginning his counting of Sefirah, and 13 is the number of days that have been counted in the place where he is now.

This is but one of the many questions that can arise in regard to the International Date Line. Even when traveling during the rest of the year there can be interesting cases and questions.

If one crosses the dateline and thereby changes Monday morning into Tuesday morning, does he have to put on tefillin again (since he has not put on tefillin on Tuesday yet) or to say Shema or daven again? There are a host of similar and related questions.

Also, if one leaves the U.S.A. on the night before Taanis Esther and arrives in Australia on Purim night (in which case all the way would be in darkness) -- where did his Taanis Esther disappear to?

There is another interesting point related to the issue. The International Date Line of the non-Jewish world as we know it, runs through the Pacific Ocean and was designed conveniently so as not to split any country in half in a way that in half it would be Tuesday and in the other half Monday. It is therefore not a straight line, but zigzags around New Zealand and other countries.

According to halacha, this is -- not unexpectedly -- not the true dateline. There have been many letters written by many rabbonim over the years to explain exactly where the Torah Date Line is. Many hold that it cuts through Australia. Theoretically this would mean that people in the eastern part of Australia would keep Shabbos on what is known there as Sunday. However, the common practice throughout Australia is to keep Shabbos on what is known as Saturday.

The Chazon Ish explains that one does not divide a single land mass into two days (see Chazon Ish, Orach Chaim, 64). This would mean, however, that as soon as one leaves the mainland of Australia on the eastern side, one is travelling "into" the previous day, since the Torah Date Line is on the eastern shore of Australia.

There are, therefore, some people who are machmir not to go out on a boat into the ocean on Sunday, because as soon as they leave the shore it becomes Shabbos for them!

Also when travelling east from Australia (towards America) on Sunday, the practice is to refrain from doing any melocho de'Oraisa (Biblical prohibition) from the time one crosses the shoreline until nightfall, as this time would be Shabbos according to some poskim. Furthermore in New Zealand, which is east of Australia, it would definitely be Shabbos on the so-called Sunday there, according to the Chazon Ish. In practice many chareidi Jews travelling to New Zealand from Australia keep all melochos de'Oraisa on Sunday.

It is interesting to note that these questions were actually first discussed by the Mirrer Yeshiva which had fled during World War II to Japan and later to Shanghai. Their questions first arose with regard to Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur that year was on Wednesday in the rest of the world, and their question was whether the so-called Wednesday (corresponding to 10 Tishrei) in Japan was, according to halacha, actually Tuesday (corresponding to 9 Tishrei). Since Japan is near the Torah Date Line and in a questionable zone, if it is really on the eastern side of the dateline then one would have to fast on the so called Thursday, since it would really be 10 Tishrei. Many rabbonim ruled that they should fast on Wednesday, however the Chazon Ish said: "Eat on Wednesday and fast on Thursday." Some bochurim in fact fasted for two whole days!

[Note: There are many opinions on these matters and each person should consult his rav for practical guidelines and questions.]

Rabbi B. Z. Rosenbaum is a chaver hakollel, Beis Hatalmud in Melbourne, Australia.

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