Candle Lighting Times
I say that Shabbat begins 18 minutes before sundown. My son says it begins after lighting the Shabbat candles. Who is right?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
You're both right! (How's that for a diplomatic answer?)
Shabbat starts with candle-lighting, which is traditionally 18 minutes before sunset.
The reason why we light candles a few minutes early is in order to avoid any possibility of starting Shabbat late. Think of it as a train leaving the station. If you're one minute late, you've missed it.
It is, however, permitted to "start Shabbat early." This is simply done by lighting the candles, or through a verbal acceptance of Shabbat.
The earliest time to start Shabbat is an hour-and-a-quarter before sunset. Many communities do this during the summer months, when sunset can be very late -- even 11:00 p.m. in parts of Europe. (And don't even ask me about Alaska!)
Keep in mind that this is not exactly an "hour-and-a-quarter" on your clock. That's because the Jewish day -- from sunrise to sunset -- is divided into 12 equal parts. So no matter how long or short the day is, each twelfth is considered "one hour." It's a bit complicated, so you may want to have a rabbi help you with the math.
By the way, though most communities light Shabbat candles 18 minutes before sunset, local custom may vary. For instance in Jerusalem, the custom is to light 40 minutes before sunset. (see Minchas Yitzhak 9:20; Sefer Eretz Yisrael p. 26; Badei HaShulchan 73:14)
And one more point: While women usually begin Shabbat upon lighting the candles, men usually begin Shabbat as part of the Kabbalat Shabbat synagogue service.
Aish.com has a fantastic online chart that tells you the exact candle-lighting time for your local city. Go to: www.aish.com/sh/c/