of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel


Bet Midrash Virtuali


249:1 Laws Concerning the Day Before Shabbat

On Friday a journey that is more than three leagues long should not be undertaken, so that one can reach home while it is still day and have time to prepare what is necessary for the Shabbat meal. [This applies regardless of] whether one is going to stay with others or going to his own home. This regulation presumes that one is in a populated area where one can prepare the needs of Shabbat; but if one is somewhere where it is not possible to prepare what is needed for Shabbat, or if one is not in a safe populated area, it is permitted to travel even several leagues. If one has sent in advance a message to advise of one's arrival for Shabbat it is permitted to travel even several leagues in all circumstances.


Since the purpose of our study is concentrated on the general theme of Friday night in the home, we shall not be following the sections of the Shulĥan Arukh in consecutive order. We shall omit those sections that have no immediate relevance to our main topic. Thus we omit sections 243-248, which are concerned with the circumstances in which it is permitted to avail oneself of the services of a non-Jew on Shabbat. We resume our study at section 249, which consists of four paragraphs; but only two of these paragraphs are pertinent to our present purposes.

I have given the section the general description in English of "Laws Concerning the Day Before Shabbat". The original Hebrew circumscription, of course, refers to Erev Shabbat. I tried to avoid this term (and its cognate English rendition Sabbath Eve) because, as I pointed out in our last shiur, it is now customary to refer to Friday night as Erev Shabbat. Strictly speaking this is a misnomer. In rabbinic parlance Erev Shabbat denotes Friday ('the day before Shabbat'), and the appropriate term for Friday night is Leyl Shabbat [Sabbath night].

We have already noted several times that the 'magic' of Shabbat is created by careful preparation (perhaps that should have been spelled care-full). If it is to be allowed to work its full magic one must leave time to prepare for the holy day. In our last shiur we saw how in bygone days sages would think of the needs of Shabbat on every day of the week, and take the opportunity to prepare something for the day whenever the opportunity presented itself. We also saw how an ancient regulation required laundry to be done on Thursdays so as to leave Friday free for Sabbath preparations. Section 249 now introduces a new consideration: travel. If one is travelling long distances on the day before Shabbat one cannot prepare for Shabbat as freely and as fully as one would do if one had dedicated the whole of Friday to Sabbath preparations.

However, it is interesting to note how the urgency of the prohibition of extensive travel on Fridays decreases as the means of travel improve. The unit of length used in paragraph 1 of section 249 is the Hebrew term parsah. This is a unit of length which was originally borrowed from the Persian parasang. I have translated the term into English as 'league'. According to information that I found on the Internet the length of a league is now given as 4.828032017384 kilometres - how exact does one need to be?!. In the Gemara [Pesaĥim 93b] the length of a parsah is defined as being the equivalent of four mils. From various sources we can compute the length of the rabbinic mil as being the equivalent of 0.96 kilometres. (The rabbinic mil was cognate to the Roman mile, which was approximately one thousand paces [mille pasuum] at the Roman army's regulation pace.) We can thus compute that the 'league' (or parsah of our present section answers to very nearly 4 kilometres.

We can now appreciate the initial stipulation of our present section: "on Friday a journey that is more than three leagues [about twelve kilometres] long should not be undertaken, so that one can reach home while it is still day and have time to prepare what is necessary for the Shabbat meal." From various classical sources we know that a seasoned traveller on a weekday could expect to cover about forty kilometres between sunrise and sunset. That works out at around 3 1⁄3 kilometres per hour on an average day of twelve hours of daylight. This would suggest that one was expected to leave at least eight hours on Friday to prepare for Shabbat.

This was written by Rabbi Yosef Karo in mid 16th century, and obviously refers to a man travelling on foot. In his commentary on our section, called Pri Megadim, Rabbi Yosef Teomim [1727-1792], barely two hundred years later, hedges the restriction in the direction of liberality:

But someone travelling by cart or on horseback, when distances can be covered much more quickly, can travel much more than three 'leagues' - up to the end of one third of the day.

In other words what counts is not the distance travelled but the amount of time left upon arrival for preparing for Shabbat - eight hours before sunset. However, yet another authority is even more liberal, and permits someone travelling by cart to arrive at his destination even after noon - provided he leaves enough time to prepare adequately for Shabbat.

Even Rabbi Karo permits extensive travel on Friday when the people at one's destination are expecting one's arrival.

Nowadays most people tend to ignore this regulation and permit themselves to travel even great distances on Friday. Most modern poskim [decisors] will permit this provided the traveller is expected at his eventual destination and provided that he expects to arrive there in good time. Rabbi Avraham Gombiner [1637-1683], in his commentary Magen Avraham writes that if one is on one's way home one can arrive late even if one is not expected because

in these lands [Poland and Eastern Europe] people prepare for Shabbat with plenty left over, so people [do not have to be] careful in this regard at all, regardless of whether one is travelling home or to visit others.

Most other poskim concur with the obvious proviso that one may travel on Friday right up to the time of sunset, but must arrive at one's destination in time to make at least personal preparations for Shabbat.


The mention of the continuous succession of Sabbaths since creation according to the Jewish calendar has produced some more correspondence. Lee Irwin writes:

In 1752, when the American colonies accepted the Gregorian calendar, 11 days were eliminated (on paper!). I assume that if Sept 2 were on a Wednesday, then September 14th would be on Thursday, so that Shabbat would still be on the 7th day. You comments would be appreciated.

I respond:

Lee is quite correct. When Great Britain and her then colonies finally went over from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar Wednesday 2nd September 1752 was followed by Thursday 14th September 1752. However, this had no meaning for the Jewish calendar: Wednesday 5th Tishri was followed by Thursday 6th Tishri, as usual, and Shabbat Shuvah followed on 8th Tishri [September 16th]. It is incredible that people in London were outraged, and paraded up and down Whitehall with banners demanding "Give us back our lost eleven days!" Let me add one curiosity: the change of the calendar meant that July 4th 1776 fell on a fast day, 17th Tammuz.

In a previous shiur I had occasion to mention that creation is presumed to have taken place a few days before the "first Rosh ha-Shanah" - a proleptic fiction. Joshua Peri writes:

I have always thought, after being so told, that the date of creation was the first of Nissan.

I respond:

There are two views reported in the Gemara [Rosh ha-Shanah 10a-b] records a Maĥloket [difference of opinion] between two giants of the Tannaïtic age, Rabbi Eli'ezer and Rabbi Yehoshu'a. Rabbi Eli'ezer is of the opinion that the world was created in Tishri, whereas Rabbi Yehoshu'a is of the opinion that the world was created in Nisan. (Actually, both of these are circumlocutions, since according to accepted calendrical calculations the "First Day" of the creation story must have been on 25th Ellul according to Rabbi Eli'ezer and on 25th Adar according to Rabbi Yehoshu'a.) Be all this as it may, there has never been any calendrical system in vogue among the sages which taught that creation too place on 1st Nisan. Whoever told this to Josh must have meant to indicate the opinion of Rabbi Yehoshu'a. It is interesting to note that according to neither view was the creation on Rosh ha-Shanah!