"What problems, if any, are attendant in
crossing the International Dateline?"
Crossing the Dateline can lead to an interesting practical problem in
relation to Shavuot. (1) Not everybody realizes it, but this festival
is unique in that the Torah does not assign it a specific date. Instead,
it associates it with the fiftieth day of the Counting of the Omer.
Furthermore, the mitzvah of the Count is specifically expressed in the
singular--"You shall count for yourself"--implying
that each Jew keeps his own subjective count.
Therefore, a Jew who crosses the Dateline during the seven weeks of counting
may be creating a real problem for himself. Travelling from Los Angeles
to the Orient on an innocent weekday (let's say Tuesday) between Passover
and Shavuot (let's say halfway), upon arrival at Hong Kong he will find
himself a day behind. That is, if he counted "Tonight is the 24th
day of the Omer" in Los Angeles on Monday night before he left, then
in transit on Tuesday he crossed the deadline and got shifted into Wednesday,
so he will count "25" in Hong Kong on Wednesday night while
the rest of the congregation, (2) all of whom counted "25" on
Tuesday night, will be counting "26." Not only that, but when
it gets to be the 50th night, the 6th of Sivan and the Festival of Shavuot
for the rest of the world, he will only be up to "49" and thrust
into a most confusing situation. Is it Shavuot for him, or must he wait
until the next night, the 50th in his personal count, to begin his celebration
twenty-four hours behind everyone else.
Celebrating Shavuot a day earlier or later is not a new phenomenon. Although
the Giving of the Torah is associated with the 6th of Sivan (the date
on which Shavuot always falls on our present calendar), the Torah itself
nowhere connects Shavuot with this event. Until the present exile, the
beginning of each month was determined by the High Court on the basis
of eye-witness sighting of the new moon. This meant that the months of
Nisan and Iyar could each have 29 or 30 days, and so it could often have
occured that Shavuot could fall on the 5th or the 7th of Sivan, and not
just the 6th.
I'll leave it to you to figure out for yourself how someone travelling
in the opposite direction at this time, from East to West, will get to
"50" ahead of everyone else on 5 Sivan. From there it is only
one more step to understand why Omer-counting Jews from Australia or South
Africa traveling to the U.S.A. during this season will go through the
bother of flying the long way around via Europe, rather than cross the
Pacific, just for the sake of avoiding this problem.
1. First pointed out by the Lubavitcher Rebbe nearly
forty years ago.
2. Yes, there is an Orthodox Congregation in Hong Kong! There is also
a Chabad House.