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Every week, we utilize one of the greatest human powers even though it has no tangible effect. God created the world for six days and then rested on the seventh. He then blessed and sanctified the seventh day on which He rested (Gen. 2:2-3). Every week, Jews rest on Shabbos, the seventh day, from sunset through dusk. But we begin a little earlier, adding to Shabbos, sanctifying mundane time like God sanctified time.

In the US, most calendars advise starting Shabbos 18 minutes before sunset. In Israel, some advise 20 and some 30 minutes. This leaves a bit of a buffer in case you are running late. It also allows for adding onto Shabbos a few minutes. This additional sanctification fulfills a biblical commandment. Those 18 minutes are man-made holiness, accomplished by verbally declaring that it is Shabbos. Personally, I say the actual words after I finish my afternoon prayers but most people accomplish this sanctification with the Kabbolas Shabbos liturgy, the passages we recite before the evening prayers.

Once you accept Shabbos early, you bring onto yourself all the obligations and restrictions of Shabbos. You say the Shabbos prayers and recite Kiddush, while refraining from any forbidden labors, even though the sun has not yet set. As always, if you face a life-threatening situation, you violate the Shabbos rules. The question arises whether you should accept Shabbos early if you know you will have to violate it — more accurately, override it — to save a life.


Rav Shlomo Aviner (Piskei Shlomo, vol. 5 pp. 65-66) was asked whether someone should refrain from accepting Shabbos early if he knows he will have to perform life-saving labor during that extra time. Rav Aviner responded that you should accept the minimum extra time to fulfill the biblical commandment of adding to Shabbos — approximately two minutes (others say five minutes). In other words, you must fulfill your obligation even if you will have to violate it. But not add to Shabbos beyond the basic requirement. Rav Mordechai Tzion, the editor of the volume, posed this question to a number of other rabbinic authorities and included their response in the book.

Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl responded “yes,” meaning you should refrain from lengthening Shabbos if you will have to break it. Rav Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg explained that there are two competing concerns. On the one hand, we should not intentionally create a situation in which we violate Shabbos to save a life. On the other hand, someone in a life saving profession may not otherwise find time to say Kiddush. Imagine a soldier who is sent on a mission a half hour before Shabbos. If he accepts Shabbos an hour early, he will have half an hour to pray, say Kiddush and eat. Otherwise he will not be able to do so. Or consider a woman who begins labor an hour before Shabbos. She may have time to light Shabbos candles before going to the hospital, where she will not be able to light candles. Rav Goldberg does not reach a conclusion.


Rav Eliyahu Schlesinger offers a third option. He suggests lighting Shabbos candles with a condition that you do not accept Shabbos until five minutes before sunset. In this way, a woman can light Shabbos candles and go to the hospital without overriding early Shabbos. (Presumably someone will remain at the house when she goes to the hospital. Never leave Shabbos candles unattended.)

Somewhat similarly, Rav Chaim Rotter points out that this additional, man-made Shabbos does not fall under the normal Shabbos prohibitions. Rather, it is part of a positive obligation to add to Shabbos (Mishnah Berurah 261:19). Therefore, discussions over whether life-saving matters override additional Shabbos are irrelevant. This time is less than full Shabbos.

Rav Rotter suggests following the Mishnah Berurah’s (263:31) recommendation for a late Friday afternoon wedding. How can a woman light candles if she is at the wedding ceremony until just before (or a little after) Shabbos begins? In theory, she can accept Shabbos early but that would preclude her from performing any forbidden labor, which might prove uncomfortable. The Mishnah Berurah says that the consensus is that a woman should light candles with a blessing and a condition. Rav Rotter says that every moment that a woman does not perform one of the forbidden labors, she fulfills the mitzvah of adding to Shabbos.

I’m not sure what condition Rav Rotter means. If it is “I accept Shabbos early on condition I don’t have to perform forbidden work,” then when the woman subsequently overrides Shabbos for life-preservation, retroactively she never accepted early Shabbos. How can she be said to have fulfilled the mitzvah?

We have seen that we have the ability to add sanctity to this world. However, we have to apply holiness responsibly. We have to look ahead, ensuring that the good we create does not become undone by foreseeable circumstances. The power of sanctification comes with responsibility to use the power wisely.


Gil Student