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What is Plag Haminchah?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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In the summer months, many synagogues elect to pray the Maariv prayer before nightfall. Similarly, these communities usher in the Shabbat on Friday afternoon well before the stars appear in the heaven. By praying the Minchah (afternoon) prayer before the “Plag Haminchah,” which is 1 1/4 halachic hours before sunset, it is permitted to pray Maariv and accept the Shabbat any time after the Plag Haminchah. This is especially convenient in places where nightfall in the summer months is quite late; and without the convenience of Plag Haminchah, the Shabbat meal wouldn’t start before 9-10 pm.

The dispute on the exact times, when the Minchah and Maariv services are to be prayed is a subject of disagreement between the Mishnaic sages. Rabbi Judah maintained that Minchah can be prayed (from one half hour after midday) until 1 1/4 hours before sunset. His rabbinic counterparts argued that one may say the Minchah prayers until the end of the day. According to the rabbis, the Minchah prayer was instituted in correspondence with the afternoon communal sacrifice, which technically may be offered as long as it was day. Rabbi Judah contended that Minchah corresponds to the offering of the incense, which was offered at least 11/4 hours before sunset. The Maariv prayer directly follows Minchah. So according to the rabbis, Maariv must wait until nightfall, while Rabbi Judah holds that Maariv may be prayed anytime after the Plag Haminchah.

The “Politically Correct” verdict, in an unusual quirk of Jewish law, has never been resolved. Instead, one may select whichever opinion is more convenient! You can recite the Maariv after nightfall, or you may pray the Maariv before nightfall, after the Plag Haminchah, provided that you recited Minchah before the Plag Haminchah. However, one should not be constantly vacillating between the two opinions; one day like this and the next like that—choose the more convenient option and stick with it. Shabbat is the exception to this rule: because we are eager to be graced by the holiness of the day, even one who during the week always prays Maariv after nightfall may pray the Shabbat evening prayers on Friday afternoon after the Plag Haminchah.

Although one can pray the Maariv before nightfall, the Shema must be repeated after the stars appear. Also, when praying before sunset, the counting of the Omer is omitted, and must be said after dark.

To find out the Plag Haminchah for any date and location, go to http://chabad.org/calendar/zmanim.asp. See also What is the Kabbalistic significance of the "Plag Haminchah"?


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RELATED CATEGORIES

Daily Life
Daily Life » Prayer
Mitzvot » Prayer » Laws and Customs

Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Omer
Starting from the second day of Passover, we count forty-nine days. The fiftieth day is the holiday of Shavuot. This is called the “Counting of the Omer” because on the second day of Passover the barley “Omer” offering was offered in the Holy Temple, and we count forty-nine days from this offering. [Literally, "Omer" is a certain weight measure; the required amount of barley for this sacrifice.]
Maariv
Evening prayer service. One of the three prayers a Jew is obligated to pray every day.
Judah
1. The fourth son of Jacob and Leah. He was blessed by Jacob to be the leader of the tribes. Consequently, the Davidic royal dynasty is from the tribe of Judah. 2. The southern part of Israel which was occupied by the Tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and always remained under the reign of the kings from the tribe of Judah.
Minchah
Afternoon prayer service. One of the three prayers a Jew is obligated to pray every day.
Shema
The most fundamental Jewish prayer, recited twice daily. This prayer, of Biblical origin, professes the belief in G-d's absolute unity.