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Home > Holidays > Shabbat: Early, late, no matter

Editor's Column
Shabbat: Early, late, no matter

Senior Editor
November 2, 2000

CHICAGO—With the changing of the clocks behind us, this week Shabbat starts at 4:24 in Chicago. The train I take home runs on the hour, and my ride is 20 minutes. I live ten minutes from the train. To be safe, I'll probably take the 12:35.

Yes, Shabbat starts early in the winter. But I don't get why people say things like "I hate early Shabbos." I've said it myself, but only in the summer, when some people start Shabbat earlier than required (halacha, or Jewish law, allows for starting Shabbat early, up to 1 hours earlier). People who say it in the winter mean they just don't like that Shabbat starts so early for the next few months.

Here's my take on the changing Shabbat calendar, which dips to its earliest starting time in December and its latest at the end of June: I love it when Shabbat starts at 4:02. And I love it when it starts at 8:02.

When I was a kid growing up in Cincinnati, I loved it more in the winter, since the early start meant a long Saturday night. Combine that with my then-firm rule about never eating cold cuts at seudah shlishit (the late afternoon Shabbat meal) in shul on the remote chance of having ice cream on Saturday night, and you had the makings of a wild evening. Wild in the going to a PG movie with my parents and then watching television before bedtime sense.

But the late summer starts also worked in my favor, particularly when the Reds were on TV. On those Friday nights I suddenly didn't have such an urge to go to shul, which started an hour before candlelighting. With candlelighting as late as 8:45 in Cincinnati, I could catch the first four innings. And yes, Shabbat ended late, but living in the Eastern Time zone, I could still catch Fantasy Island. And Saturday Night Live, of course.

Now that I'm a bit older, I appreciate the different Shabbat seasons for their own merits. I love Shabbat in the summer, when the late starting time allows me to get home from work without rushing, to enjoy the time between work and Shabbat. Of course, hosting company for Shabbat dinner adds some hustle and bustle, but that's true year-round.

Shabbat in the spring and early summer is great for that warm breeze that accompanies a walk home from lunch. And I love when the late fall brings the first time that, upon walking out the door Friday afternoon for shul, I feel the cold on my face, slipping in between the collar of my "Shabbos coat" and my TJ Maxx cowboy hat. Sure, it's cold the rest of the week, but there's something different about it on Shabbat, when the cold lasts longer than the walk from building to car.

So why don't I like early Shabbat in the summer? For one thing, as much as Shabbat brings rest and calm to my life, it's long enough as it is. I love Hershey candy bars, too, but I don't buy the King Size.

More than that, I love the fact that Shabbat has variance, that it's not the same exact day every week of the year. Think of a winter Shabbat and you think of finding a place for your boots in the coatroom at shul. I think of when it was so cold in Cincinnati my mom insisted we wear two pairs of thermal underwear. At least I think she did, but my mind was so numbed from the experience that the details were sketchy.

A summer Shabbat brings to mind a long lunch with friends, with no one concerned about getting home quickly. A walk through the park where dozens of Jewish kids are playing on the junglegym and swings. Hopefully a decent nap. Perhaps an occasional seudah shlishit with friends.

When I interviewed radio personality Dennis Prager two years ago, he said he didn't consider walking in the freezing cold or snow to be oneg Shabbat, enjoyment of Shabbat. I don't love freezing my butt off either, but I love that we do it, the commitment that it shows of a people toward a holy day.

Call me old school, but I tend to immerse myself in the experiences of life, Judaism and otherwise. I love riding the "L" train to Wrigley Field and seeing the green grass for the first time each year. I love the character that the dirty tables and bathrooms bring to kosher fast food restaurants. And I love it when Shabbat naturally starts early. Or late. Or even in the middle.

©, 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission.

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