Time – At North Pole

arcticDoes time ever freeze? Flying to space is an expensive business; every extra ounce carried on board demands expensive fuel to energize it to the beyond. So before shooting off in 5763/2003, Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon and his companions were asked what personal items they wanted to take aboard. Ramon included a Kiddush goblet in his list – not for sentimental reasons but to actually use. Ramon wanted to make Kiddush in space.

Then, some time before blast off, Ramon asked a shaylah that has bothered poskim for centuries – when does Shabbos begin in outer space? At what moment should the astronaut put his thrusters on automatic and lift up his goblet of wine? Does the verse, “Six days you shall work and on the seventh day you shall rest,” apply in outer space where there is no normal sunrise and sunset? Do days and nights exist?


Of course, early poskim examined the shaylah from a more down to earth level– what happens if you visit a location on earth where there is no day and no night?

Head either north or south and you’ll reach one of two poles where the sun rises and sets only once a year. During summer, the North Pole tilts unflinchingly towards the sun enjoying unending day. In spring the sun jumps below the horizon and disappears for six months. Further south the phenomenon lasts a few weeks or months depending how far down you go. The largest city to experience the no-night phenomenon is the Russian port of Murmansk where the sun circles above the horizon for a few weeks.

Even animals seem aware of this phenomenon. Every autumn, the thirteen inch long Arctic tern flies 12,000 miles from the Arctic to the Antarctic and after a few months of non-stop sunlight it sky-hops 12,000 miles back. This strategy helps the tern enjoy more sunlit days than any animal on earth. Not that it’s easy. In the course of its twenty-year long life, this energetic migrant clocks up enough miles to reach all the way to the moon and back.

Jews were long aware of the sunless Polar Regions either through ruach hakodesh or astronomical calculations.

The Zohar (III 10:1) writes: “In the book of Rav Hamnuna Sava it is explained that all the world revolves in a circle like a ball… There are places in the world where it is light for those on one side of the ball and dark for those on the other, for these it is day while for those it is night; and there is a place in the world where it is always day and there is no night except for a short time.”

Sefer Ha’Ibbur by R. Avraham b’R.Chiya who lived a generation before the Rambam is the first sefer to discuss this in detail, writing that Middle East astronomers had figured out that since summer nights get shorter and shorter as one travels north, there must be a place at the roof of the world where there is no night at all:

“It is reasonable and so investigations and logic dictate… that at place 90 degrees from the equator the north star will stand overhead… and the circling firmament [including the sun] will be different and will not rise and set, but be like the circling of a millstone [one will see the sun circling overhead without ever setting]. For six months the sun will be seen above the land… and for six months it will be hidden beneath the earth.”


Does Shabbos exist at the North Pole?

Rav Yehuda Moskito (who lived a generation after the Beis Yosef) takes the extreme position that just as someone with no field is exempt from tithes and someone with no house is exempt from erecting a parapet on his roof, so someone in the far north who has no days and nights is exempt from keeping Shabbos because he has no days.

The Minchas Elozer of Munkatch has a different approach. He holds that for someone at the North Pole the day ends at sunset. Therefore, if someone somehow arrived there on Shabbos he would have to refrain from doing melacha for a full six months until sunset, and his next Shabbos would come around six years later. Does this mean that someone living there would have to wait thousands of years until his bar mitzvah? The sefer Ohr Hameir differentiates – eventhough weekdays last for six months, the calendar keeps in sync with the rest of the planet.

Getting back to Ramon’s shaylah, these two opinions would rule that he either never says Kiddush at all or that he would say it every seven years.

However, most Poskim hold that weekdays are not dependent on sunset at all and the week functions perfectly normally at the North Pole and in space.

The first person to explicitly cite this opinion halachically is Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi, a contemporary of the Beis Yosef, who writes that the calendar turns a new leaf every 24 hours regardless of what the sun is up to:

“There is no doubt that even someone with the north-star over his head is obligated to keep Shabbos every seventh [24 hour] cycle even if there was no darkness at all.”

The earlier Rabbeinu Bechaye had proved this concept from the first days of Creation when there was no sun, moon or stars:

“‘And it was evening and it was morning, a third day.’ During these three days, the Torah mentions evening and morning even though there were no luminaries to show it was evening or morning. Even so, the Torah writes about all three of these days evening and morning – not in relation to light [and dark] but in relation to the galgal [the firmament] that it [light nowadays] is carried around in. Because if any part of the firmament rises one can say it is morning regarding it and when it sets it is evening regarding it. But from the fourth day onwards when the luminaries were created, the Torah mentions evening and morning in relation to the light.”

Rabbeinu Bechaye’s opinion is supported by an episode in the Yerushalmi (Kesuvos 12:3, Kilayim 9:3):

“On the day of Rebbe’s passing there was a miracle. That day was erev Shabbos and all the towns came in to eulogize him, and the day was lengthened for them until each one reached his home, filled a container of water and lit a candle. After the sun set, the cock crowed (announcing that it was already morning). They began to worry and say, ‘Perhaps we desecrated Shabbos!’ A heavenly voice came out and said to them, ‘Whoever was not tardy in eulogizing Rebbe is declared to be worthy of the world to come, except for that certain laundryman who did his own work and was not busy with the hesped the whole night.’ When he heard this, he went up to the roof and threw himself down and died. A heavenly voice went out and said, ‘And even that laundryman (is worthy of the world to come)!’”

Despite the extended sunlight, the laundry-man was accused of desecrating Shabbos!


However, Rabbeinu Bechaye’s opinion seems contradicted by Yehoshua who declared, “Sun stand still in Giveon and the moon in the Ayalon Valley,” with the result that, “the sun stood in the middle of the sky and did not move to set for a whole day” (Yehoshua 10:12, 13).

Pirkei   deRebbe   Eliezer   (ch.   52) explains that Yehoshua did not only halt the sun to provide added hours of daylight but also because Shabbos was drawing dangerously close:

“It was erev Shabbos and Yehoshua was concerned about the problem of Yisroel that they should not be mechalel Shabbos… What did Yehoshua do? He stretched out his hand to the light of the sun and to the light of the stars and mentioned Hashem’s name concerning them, and each one stood for 36 hours until Motza’ei Shabbos.

By holding the sun in place Yehoshua delayed the onset of Shabbos and created an extra long Friday. Time froze. Similarly, many Acharonim insist that time must have officially ceased to exist because otherwise all astronomical calculations based on the movements of the sun and moon since Creation would be 36 hours out of sync.

All this contradicts Rabbeinu Bechaye’s opinion that days are determined not by sunrise and sunset but by the movement of the galgal! Also, why was the laundryman in Rebbe’s time so guilty of chillul Shabbos that he threw himself off a roof? That day too should have been frozen in time?

According to the Korban Eida, Yehoshua’s miracle was different – it was witnessed by everyone in the whole world; the sun, the moon and indeed the whole galgal were frozen in place. Rebbe’s miracle, on the other hand, was a local affair only visible to people at the eulogy. For everyone else the sun set, Shabbos got under way, and even the local cocks began crowing the next morning.

Because of these and other considerations, most poskim rule that a person reaching the extreme north and south should count off every 24 hours as a new day and the same logic extends to outer space. Every 24 hours, the global clock ticking off the days below will sweep the astronaut into a new day.


In his Sefer HaPardes, Rav Aryeh Leib Epstein who lived in the time of the Gr”a writes that Hashem took all these problems into consideration when He created the Arctic’s extreme weather conditions:

“Therefore the Holy One made those place extremely cold or extremely hot so that no one can live there, in order to prevent Jews from moving there and being unable to unite Hashem’s name with Kerias Shema, the main basis of our faith.

In addition, Rav Epstein is quoted as “thanking Hashem that Jews are not permitted to live in Russia’s new capital of St. Petersburg, because in the long summer days there is no difference between day and night as the night shines like day, and therefore it is impossible to work out the exact times of Arvis and Shacharis and the times Shabbos beginsand ends.”

No doubt, Rav Epstein would also not look favorably on Jews orbiting earth or heading out to settle space stations and moon colonies. There are enough down to earth shaylos.

(Main source: Hazemanim Behalacha by R. Chaim P. Beinish, published by “Keser Torah” Radomsk, shnas Hame’oros Hagedolim)


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