I am confused about why we sometimes put print a range of Shabbat times – when does Shabbat actually begin?
Throughout the year, there is a range of time in which a person can begin Shabbat. This is due to the concept of “tosefet Shabbat“, literally meaning extension of Shabbat, which tells us that, due to its sanctity, we should begin Shabbat a little early and not wait until the last possible moment. (There is also a similar idea of ending Shabbat a little later but that is for another time!)
What is the latest time to start Shabbat
The classic UK custom is to begin Shabbat at least 15 minutes before the last possible moment (sunset), although other communities have other customs such as adding 18, 20 or 40 minutes. Throughout the winter, most people are not interested in starting Shabbat any earlier than necessary so we simply publish the final start time (15 minutes before sunset).
When is the earlierst time to start Shabbat?
In the summer, due to the lateness of sunset (particularly in the UK) most communities begin Shabbat earlier for convenience. Nevertheless, one cannot begin Shabbat at any time – there is an earliest time, considered close enough to the end of Friday to be considered Shabbat, which is known in Hebrew as “Plag HaMincha“. (This time is based on seasonal hours (“sha’ot zemaniot” in Hebrew) calculated by dividing the time between sunrise and sunset which obviously vary in length throughout the year and is just under 90% of the way between sunrise and sunset.) Plag HaMincha is the earliest one can begin Shabbat.
Why don’t we just choose one time and stick with that?
Traditionally, a community begins Shabbat at the same time, regardless of individual preference and, in some situations, halacha mandates everyone in a town to follow the Shabbat start time set by the community. In London, where there are so many communities beginning at different times, this compulsory acceptance of Shabbat does not apply, leaving each individual or household to choose when they begin (within the window of time outlined above). During the early stages of the pandemic, when Shul was closed, it became clear that people would begin Shabbat at different times so we began to publish both the earliest and latest time to start Shabbat. Although we are now back in Shul, and Mincha begins at 7:15pm throughout the summer, those who are not attending Shul are able to start Shabbat when they choose so we have continued to publish both times.
How does one begin Shabbat?
Shabbat begins for each household either with candle-lighting or the conclusion of Kabbalat Shabbat prayers (Bo’ee veshalom and Mizmor Shir on pg 270). One can also begin Shabbat by simply verbalising your intent to do so.
Whenever you choose to start, we hope that Shabbat brings you peace, joy and rejuvenation!