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Why does the Jewish day start at sundown?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht

  

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A. Think about it--what makes more sense: for a new day to begin when the old day ends, or in the middle of the night? That’s basically why the Jewish day begins at sundown--it follows the laws of nature. But a fuller understanding of why the Jewish day starts at sundown requires a quick examination of time.

B. When G-d created the universe, He created time, space and matter simultaneously. At the very beginning of Creation, the clock began ticking at 00:00 at the precise moment space and matter burst into being. Twenty-four hours later, Day One was complete. What does the Torah say? "It was evening and it was morning, one day." That first 24-hour day began with night and ended with day--and it’s been that way ever since.

C. Later, on Day Four, G-d assigned the sun and the moon as day and night markers, setting up the solar system the way it is today, but the Jewish day begins with night, because that's how time began.

TAGS: sundown, sunset

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COMMENTS

Evening and morning

Posted by: Carrol, Jeffersonville, Kentucky on Aug 24, 2005

I like God's way of keeping time.

In Judiaism when does the day begin?

Posted by: Anonymous, New York City, NY on Apr 12, 2006

I don't think you really say why the day starts in the evening. The crux of your answer is that the Torah says, "it was evening and it was morning, one day." But that begs the question why God started the day in the evening.

Editor's Comment

According to mystical teachings, G-d's choice to start the calendar date with night teaches us a very cogent lesson. Life starts with darkness. Only through struggling with darkness can one reach the light. This is true on a personal as well as a global level.

Beginning of Hebrew Day

Posted by: David Howland, Irvine, CA, USA on Mar 04, 2007

Do the words "evening" and "morning" correspond to the light and dark periods of time, or do they perhaps refer to another "physical" attribute of the system of the earth and its light source?

Today, we use the words "afternoon" and "morning" (post meridiem, ante meridiem)to divide the period of time which is a day. This way of looking at things is not focussed on "light" and "dark" but rather on whether a point on the globe is distancing itself from the light source, or coming closer to the light source.

Could the ancients also have "divided" their day in this manner? Could a day have originally started at "high noon" with "evening" referring to the pm half, and "morning" referring to the am half? Can we say for sure that there is an equivalence between "darkness and light" with "evening and morning"?

Genesis says God created the light before he created the rotational cycle which separates the light from darkness. This might imply the day begins with highnoon daylight.

Editor's Comment

1) Genesis states that G-d called the light day and the darkness night. Since the translation of evening is the beginning of night, and morning the beginning of day, it is quite safe to say that it is connected with light and dark. Judaism, which is very meticulous about keeping track of time, has always distinguished measurements of time by such changes as dawn, sunrise, sunset and nightfall. It is clear from all Jewish texts that Evening and Morning are connected to these changes. Until this very day Jewish hours are not a standard 60 minutes, but rather 1/12th of daylight or darkness. 2) Ibin Ezra (Genesis 1:5) states the Hebrew word for evening - Erev - comes from the word Iruv - to mix/confuse, because at that time the distinction between things begin to be mixed/confused. The Hebrew word for Morning - Boker - comes from the word L'vaker - to distinguish/check, because at that time one can begin distinguishing/checking different things.

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