A Traveler’s Guide To The International Dateline


international-datelineBy Rabbi Dovid Heber, Star-K Kashrus Administrator

In today’s global market, the furthest regions of the Earth are much closer to home than one could ever imagine. For example, citric acid, an integral ingredient in soft drinks, and ascorbic acid (vitamin C), a common nutrient and preservative, are produced in a variety of Chinese factories. Amino acids, used in numerous food items, are produced in Star-K certified Chinese plants. Star-K certified glycerine is manufactured in the Philippines and shipped to the United States. Mashgichim are frequently sent to Thailand, Fiji, Vietnam, and Indonesia to oversee production of kosher spices, tuna fish, and canned fruits and vegetables. The Star-K has an office in Shanhai with a mashgiach who is fluent in Chinese to administer the supervision and inspect facilities.

When assigning a mashgiach from the United States to inspect these factories, besides briefing the mashgiach on ingredients, equipment, and products at the plant, the halachic issues of crossing the International Dateline often must be addressed. This issue is not unique to mashgichim. Tourists, businessmen, and individuals traveling to the Pacific Rim and South Pacific regions are confronted with such shailos on a regular basis.

What is the International Dateline? The International Dateline accepted by most countries (hereafter referred to as the Civil Dateline) is an imaginary line zig-zagging around 180° Longitude through the Pacific Ocean (see Line C on attached map), separating one day from the other. If it is 1:00 p.m. Monday on the eastern side of the Dateline, it is 1:00 p.m. Tuesday on the western side. Therefore, if one travels from the United States to China a day is “lost.” For example, if one crosses at noon Monday, one would turn his watch (with date display) ahead from noon Monday to noon Tuesday as he crosses the line from east to west, “skipping” Monday afternoon and night, and Tuesday morning. When one travels from China to the United States a day is “gained,” as one would turn his watch back from noon Tuesday to noon Monday. This person will experience Monday afternoon and night, and Tuesday morning, twice.

Halacha addresses two aspects of the Dateline: The location and halachic implications of crossing the Dateline.

I. Location: Various Rishonim, early commentators, and many Acharonim, later commentators, have written extensively on this topic. The three major opinions are as follows:

A. The Chazon Ish bases his opinion on the Baal Hamoer‘s (and other Rishonim) explanation of a complicated gemara in Rosh Hashana (20b, which discusses the appearance of the new moon in different regions of the world). The Dateline “technically” runs 90 degrees east of Yerushalayim, where the time is six hours later. This line is at 125.2°E (line B) and runs through Australia, China, and Russia.

However, if the Dateline in reality ran through the Chinese and Australian continents, the line could run through Main Street of Changchun, China, and Rawlinna, Australia. Families on one side of Main Street would recite kiddush while families on the other side recite havdala. It may be possible for those who want two days of Shabbos to cross from west to east after shalosh seudas and start Shabbos again. Those who want to skip almost all of Shabbos could cross Main Street from east to west and go from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. However, halacha does not allow for such a situation. Instead, we consider the eastern land masses of the Asian and Australian continents tafel, secondary, to the western land masses of these same continents. Therefore, eastern sections of Australia, China, and Russia observe the same day for Shabbos as the western sections (based on Yesod Olam – a student of the Rosh).

Therefore, the halachic Dateline of the Chazon Ish avoids going through land by gerrymandering along the Russian and Korean coasts, then along the 125.2°E longitude line, through the East China Sea, Philippine Sea, and Indonesia. Finally, the line cuts eastward, around most of the Australian coast, and south towards Antarctica. According to the Chazon Ish, Japan, New Zealand, and Fiji are on the same side of the Dateline as the United States. When the Japanese and New Zealand residents say it is Saturday, halacha says it is Friday. When they say it is Sunday, it is halachically Shabbos.

B. Rav Yechiel Michel Tucazinsky, the author of the Gesher Hachaim, in Sefer Hayoman B’Kadur Ha’aretz, bases his ruling on Chazal‘s Judaic principle that Yerushalayim is “the center of the world.” If so, the Earth “starts and ends” (i.e. the dateline) on the exact opposite side of the Earth, halfway around the globe at 144.8°W (line E). This line runs from the Gulf of Alaska through the Pacific Ocean east of Hawaii, placing Hawaii on the “other side of the Dateline” from the United States. Hawaii would then be nineteen hours ahead of Baltimore, rather than five hours behind, as it is on the same side of the Dateline as Asia. The day Hawaiians call Friday is halachically Shabbos, and the day they call Saturday is halachically Sunday.

C. “Mid-Pacific Poskim – Several Poskim, including the Bnai Tzion (Rav Dovid Shapiro z”tl), are of the opinion that the halachic Dateline runs through the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and closely resembles the Civil Dateline. According to these opinions, Japan and New Zealand are on the western side of the Dateline (similar to Asia), and residents of these locations observe Shabbos on the local Saturday. Hawaii is on the eastern side of the Dateline (similar to America), and residents observe Shabbos on their local Saturday.

The exact location varies among the Mid-Pacific Poskim. The Bnai Tzion‘s Dateline slants westward through the Bering Straits (between Alaska and Siberia), touching the Siberian coast, through the Pacific Ocean at approximately 177°E (west of Fiji), then turns east of New Zealand. Due to the slanting, the line intersects the Civil Dateline at three points. Other Mid Pacific Poskim, including the Atzei Sodeh (Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Siegel) and Rabbi B. Rabinowitz Thumim (in Hapardes Iyar 5714), are of the opinion that the line is at 169.7°W (Line D) – from the eastern tip of Siberia, directly southward through the Pacific Ocean, 10° east of the Civil Dateline.

What is the Halacha? One should consult with his Rav prior to crossing the Pacific Ocean, especially if he must stay over Shabbos in Japan, New Zealand, or Hawaii. The halachic ruling of Rav Moshe Heinemann, shlit”a, Rabbinic Administrator of the Star-K, is as follows: One should follow the majority of opinions in determining which day is observed as Shabbos, and also observe dinei d’oraisa shel Shabbos, Shabbos prohibitions of the Torah, on the day of the minority opinion. However, Rabbinic prohibitions, such as shopping and the handling of muktzah, are permissible on the day which the minority opinion considers Shabbos. In addition, performing even a biblically prescribed violation of Shabbos through a shinui, unusual manner, or through the action of a Gentile, would be permitted on the day which the minority opinion considers Shabbos.

The halachic ramifications of this psak (ruling) are as follows: In New Zealand and Japan, “Saturday” is Shabbos according to the Gesher Hachaim and the Mid Pacific Poskim. Therefore, the local Saturday should be fully observed as Shabbos, with Shabbos Prayers and kiddush, etc. (Incidentally, this is the day the Orthodox Jewish community in New Zealand observes as Shabbos.) However, according to the Chazon Ish, Shabbos is on the local Sunday. Therefore, one should not perform any melacha d’oraisa on Sunday. Nevertheless, on Sunday, one should daven regular weekday tefillos, donning tefillin during Shacharis.

In Hawaii, “Saturday” is Shabbos according to the Chazon Ish and the Mid Pacific Poskim. Therefore, the local Saturday is fully observed as Shabbos. (This is the day the small Orthodox Jewish community in Hawaii observes as Shabbos.) The day known locally as “Friday” is Shabbos according to the Gesher Hachaim, and one should not perform melacha d’oraisa on that day. Cooking for Shabbos should be done on Thursday.

Determining the majority opinion on the Aleutian Islands or South Pacific Islands, including Fiji and American Samoa, is complicated and beyond the scope of this article. However, in the following locations, Shabbos is observed on the local Saturday, and a “second day” is not necessary: Australia, China, Mainland Russia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Mainland Alaska (below the Arctic Circle; there are halachic concerns above the Arctic Circle – for a full discussion, see “When Does One Pray When There Is No Day”), and Manila, and other areas of the Philippines west of 125.2°E.

II. Crossing the Dateline: Repeating or skipping a day by crossing the Dateline poses various concerns in many aspects of halacha, including davening, sefira, Holidays, and laws of family purity. The guidelines are as follows: Halachos relating specifically to the time of day are not affected by crossing the Dateline. For example, if one davens Shacharis on Monday morning on a plane flying westbound, and crosses the Dateline “into” Tuesday morning, one does not daven Shacharis again. The person has already fulfilled his obligation and is not required to perform these mitzvos until the sun sets and rises again. However, mitzvos that are dependent on the day of the week or month are affected by crossing the Dateline. For example, if one crosses the line westbound from 1:00 p.m. Thursday to 1:00 p.m. Friday, one must begin preparing for Shabbos as it is Erev Shabbos and Shabbos will begin in several hours. If one flies westbound from 1:00 p.m. on Monday, the 16th of Tammuz, and crosses the halachic Dateline to 1:00 p.m. Tuesday on the 17th of Tammuz, one fasts until nightfall.

Sample Itineraries:

A. Westbound – “Lose a Day” – Qantas Airlines Flight #12
Leave Los Angeles 10:30 p.m. Sunday – Arrive Sydney 6:05 a.m. Tuesday

Except for landing, the entire 14½ hour flight is through the night. One davens Maariv in Los Angeles. After crossing the Dateline, an additional Maariv is not required, even though it instantaneously becomes the next night. If Sunday night is 32 b’omer, and one counts sefira in Los Angeles, one counts 33 b’omer, without a bracha, upon landing in Sydney on Tuesday morning. On Tuesday night, 34 b’omer, and on the remaining nights of sefira, a bracha is recited. On Chanukah, if one lights three Chanukah candles on Sunday night, before leaving Los Angeles, one lights five candles on Tuesday night in Sydney. The fourth night is “skipped.” If a hefsek tahara was performed on the previous Shabbos, Sunday is Day #1 of the shiva n’kiim, Monday is skipped, Tuesday is Day #2, etc. Sunday is Day #7, and one goes to the mikvah on Sunday night.

B. Eastbound – “Gain a Day” – United Airlines Flight #896
Leave Hong Kong 12:40 p.m. Tuesday – Arrive Chicago 2:15 p.m. Tuesday

The sun sets several hours into this thirteen hour flight. It then rises several hours later. One davens Tuesday’s Mincha an hour after take-off, Maariv after nightfall, and Shacharis after sunrise. Although the Dateline has been crossed before sunrise, and it is Tuesday morning again, one davens the Tuesday Shacharis on the plane and Tuesday Mincha in Chicago. One davens two Tuesday Shacharis‘ and Minchas as these laws are governed by cycles of sunrise and sunset, not days of the week. If Tuesday is 33 b’omer, 33 b’omer is counted on Monday night in Hong Kong. After landing in Chicago on Tuesday, 33 b’omer is counted again without a bracha. On Tuesday night, 34 b’omer, and on the remaining nights of sefira, a bracha is recited. If Tuesday is the third day of Chanukah, three candles are lit on Monday night in Sydney and four candles on Tuesday night in Chicago. Hallel is recited nine times, as one davens Shacharis on Tuesday morning (the third day of Chanukah) twice.

One should preferably not depart Sydney on Sunday as, according to the Chazon Ish, it is Shabbos shortly after take-off, when the plane begins flying northeast over the Pacific Ocean. If one flew on Sunday, one should not do any melacha d’oraisa until nightfall. It is preferable that one should not depart from Australia (to fly east toward America) on Friday. L’maaseh, if one departs on Friday, one must keep Shabbos from before sunset until crossing 144.8°W longitude, when it is Friday again according the all opinions, including the Gesher Chaim.

In the summer of 1894, the Rav of Melbourne, R’ Avraham Abir Hirschwitz, traveled by ship from Sydney to Auckland, New Zealand, and San Francisco. The details of his trip and psak were published in 1908 in his sefer, Shailos U’ Teshuvos Beis Avrohom. Perhaps at the time, those studying this sefer thought this is halacha she’aino nogaya l’maaseh, non-practical, non-relevant law. Little did they realize that less than one hundred years later Jews from all over the world would fly this route on a regular basis, and the laws would become more relevant than they could ever imagine.

The author wishes to thank Rabbi S.D. Siegel, author of Atzei Sadeh, Rabbi Yisroel Taplin, and Mr. Chaim Brumer for their invaluable assistance.

 {Matzav.com Newscenter}