"Shoot!" (Q & A)

The Ascent Question & Answer Forum

conducted by Yrachmiel Tilles, Editor of the Ascent Quarterly

"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.

Yrachmiel Tilles

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.

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