SEFIRAT HA-OMER AND THE INTERNATIONAL DATE LINE
From a shiur by Rav Yissachar Frand
Shavuot is unique among all the holidays on the Jewish calendar. It is the one festival that is not given a date by the Torah, but rather when it falls out depends on the date of Pesach. Once that date is know, Shavuot is the fiftieth day after the first day of Pesach. However, this still does not give us an exact date. During the times of the Temple,, when the new month did not begin until the Sanhedrin proclaimed it, it was possible for Shavuot to be on the fifth, sixth, or seventh of Sivan (depending on whether Nissan and Iyar had 29 or 30 days in that particular year).Our main focus will be Sefirat Ha-Omer, the counting of days from Pesach until Shavuot. What happens if someone crosses the International Date Line traveling west (e.g. United States to Australia) during this time period? When does he celebrate Shavuot - on the same day as everyone in the place where he now is or perhaps on the fiftieth day according to his own personal count, even though the people around him are a day ahead?
Before we begin to answer this question, we must understand a bit about the background of the International Date Line in halacha. There are three main approaches to the date line in halachic literature. The first opinion recognizes the date line as it appears on maps today, i.e. somewhere between Asia and the Americas. The second opinion, that of the Chazon Ish, also recognizes the existence of such a line, however his line lies ninety degrees east of Jerusalem, roughly a point between China and Japan. Finally, there is a third opinion that does not recognize the date line as such, but rather sees a more general geographical distinction in the globe, with the Americas and Europe on one side and Asia and Australia on the other.
Returning to our original question, the Shut Bnei Tzion claims that if a person goes from America to Australia during the period of the Omer, he does not count the day that he "lost," and he celebrates Shavuot with everyone else around him. He also points out the opposing view, namely that the counting of the Omer is a personal counting, and thus a person must count fifty days for himself, regardless of what the people around him are doing. This is based on the verse "and you shall count for yourselves..." Rav Menachem Kasher explains why this second opinion is faulty. He postulates that this verse is not stating that the counting is of a personal nature, rather it is contrasting the counting of the Omer to the counting of the fifty years leading up to Yovel (Jubilee). By Yovel, the verse states that the Sanhedrin should count, and thus this verse comes to tell us that each individual is commanded to count, but not that the fifty days depend on the individual. As support to his view, Rav Kasher notes an argument cited by theBeit Yoseif. He discusses the issue as to whether or not the one leading the services can count the Omer on behalf of the congregants. One opinion says that he cannot do so at all, one opinion says that he may do so only for the blessing, and the third view is of the opinion that he may do so for everything. However, none of this opinions use this verse to support their position, and thus Rav Kasher rejects the notion of a "personal counting."
Rav Kasher also offers two other rationales in support of the view of the Bnei Tzion. He states that there is one view that a person has to count days of the week leading up to Shabbat during the course of the entire year. However, we know that one's observance of Shabbat is based on whether or not it is Shabbat in the place where he is, not on one's own counting. By comparing this law to that of counting the Omer, Rav Kasher claims that Shavuot also follows one's location and not one's own counting. Second, Rav Kasher cites the Meshech Chochmah, who notes that there are three times in Vayikra 23 (where the Torah discusses the holidays) where the words "l'doroteichem b'chol moshvoteichem" - for your generations in all your settlements - are used. However, by Omer the order is switched, with "all your settlements" coming first. Why is this shift made? The Meshech Chochmah points out that only Omer and thus Shavuot can be universal holidays, kept by everyone everywhere on the same day. Most holidays depend on one's knowledge that the new month has been proclaimed, and thus people who lived far away from Jerusalem would often be in doubt as to the exact day. However, Shavuot depended not on the beginning of the month of Sivan, but rather on the beginning of Nissan - over sixty days earlier! By that time, people undoubtedly knew when Nissan had actually begun and thus everyone knew exactly when Shavuot was. Once again, we see the notion of Shavuot as a holiday that is universal and not personal.
What about continuing to count once one has traveled across the date line to the west? In general, if a person forgets to count at night he may still do so during the day, but without a blessing. If he forgot to count for one entire night and day, he may continue to count, but may no longer make a blessing on his counting, as his forty-nine day counting in incomplete (the issue as to whether counting the Omer is one commandment or forty-nine separate ones is a topic beyond the scope of this Chabura). The Bnei Tzion claims that a person in this situation has lost the day and thus would continue to count without a blessing. Once again, his position is that Omer is not a personal counting, and thus once the rest of the world (or at least those where a person currently is) has moved on to the next day, so must our traveler continue with that day, even if he missed a day in the process. There is an opinion that claims that one should count, for example, day three while in America, day four on the plane, and day five when landing in Australia. However, this opinion is rejected as it results in a person counting two days in one twenty-four hour period. A third opinion states that once having landed in Australia, a person should count twice every night - once for the count that he was on when he left and once for the count that those around him are doing (this opinion is unclear with regard to what one would do for Shavuot).
Finally, what about the reverse case, i.e. a person traveling from Down Under to the United States? In this case, a person lands on the same day of the Omer that he left behind (and presumable already counted). One opinion says that such a person should merely wait for the next day to begin and then continue counting. The alternative view holds that one should count again, although there is a debate as to whether or not one says a blessing. To be safe, one should try to hear the blessing from someone else, say Amen to that blessing, and then count on his own.
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