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How do I count the Omer if I cross the International Dateline?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

Complicated question.

First, let me elaborate on your question: Someone who crosses the International Date Line while traveling eastwards (for example, from Australia to the United States), gains a day, while one who travels westwards will lose a day. 

For example: if you leave Australia on Monday morning you will experience a sunset and sunrise during the flight, but when you land in California it will be Monday morning. If you leave California on Monday night, for example, you will experience just one sunrise during the flight, but when you land in Australia it will be Wednesday morning.                                                                                             

Now, this doesn't affect Shabbat or holidays, for one always follows the local calendar. However, as we will see, it does cause problems with counting the Omer and the holiday of Shavuot.

The counting of the Omer is a personal obligation upon every Jew...and the holiday of Shavuot is ushered in after the 49 days of the Omer have ended
The Torah says:1 "You shall count for yourselves, from the morrow of the rest day [the first day of Passover], from the day you bring the omer as a wave offering seven weeks; they shall be complete. You shall count until the day after the seventh week, [namely,] the fiftieth day, [on which] you shall bring a new meal offering to the Lord ... And you shall designate on this very day a holy occasion it shall be for you; you shall not perform any work of labor".

We see that the holiday of Shavuot is the fiftieth day after the commencement of counting of the Omer. In fact, unlike Shabbat and every other Holiday, Shavuot technically doesn’t have a fixed date—it is the 50th day after the offering of the Omer sacrifice on the 2nd day of Passover.

Today, with our perpetual calendar (see When -- and why -- did the Jews switch to a perpetual calendar?), Shavuot always falls out on the 6th of Sivan.2 However, when the months were determined by witnesses who saw the crescent new-moon, the holiday of Shavuot fluctuated, and could have been on the 5th, 6th, or 7th of Sivan.3

The counting of the Omer is a personal obligation upon every Jew (unlike the counting of the years to determine the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, which was done by the Sanhedrin -- Sifri 136) and the holiday of Shavuot is ushered in after your 49 days of the Omer have ended.

Therefore, one who crosses the International Date Line continues counting the Omer according to his/her own calculation. For one who traveled eastward and gained a day, Shavuot will be one day earlier (the 5th and 6th of Sivan), whereas the one who traveled westward and lost a day, celebrates Shavuot one day later than the local population (the 7th and 8th of Sivan).

It is important to add two notes:

1) On those days when the entire city is celebrating the holiday, it is forbidden for an individual in the above-mentioned circumstances to publicly perform activities which are forbidden on biblical holidays, even though it is not a holiday for him. It is forbidden for an individual to do an activity which will cause people to suspect him/her of violating the precepts of the Torah.

2) Due to all the Halachic complications, It is discouraged to cross the International Date Line during the Omer.

Footnotes

  • 1. Leviticus 23:15-16, 21
  • 2. Because the two new months during the counting are fixed to begin one on the 30th day of the previous month, and one on the 31st.
  • 3. Depending on whether the two "new moons" during the counting were seen on the 30th day or the 31st day of the month.


Related Categories

Holidays » Shavuot » Laws and Customs

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