How can the Jewish Sabbath start Thursday night? Visit Samoa, where it jump-started the International Date Line. On second thought, rabbis advise not to travel there in order to avoid the complications of its recent move that makes it an island with a 49-hour Sabbath.
The International Dateline always has raised questions for Sabbath observers concerning when the Day of Rest should be observed.
“If it is 1:00 p.m. Monday on the eastern side of the Dateline, it is 1:00 p.m. Tuesday on the western side,” explains Star-K Kashrus Administrator Rabbi David Heber.
“Therefore, if one travels from the United States to China a day is ‘lost,” he continues. Some rabbinic opinions determine, “When the Japanese and New Zealand residents say it is Saturday, halacha [Jewish law] says it is Friday. When they say it is Sunday, it is halachically Shabbos.”
The Pacific island nation of Samoa has made the issue more complicated by unilaterally skipping over last week’s Friday, the last one in the calendar year 2011, and declaring it is Saturday in order to maintain the same trading days as Australia and New Zealand.
A Jew in Samoa – and there is at least one– would have to observe the Sabbath from Thursday night until Sunday night, according to Rabbi Heber.
That is why Star K, whose kosher supervisors often fly to the Far East to inspect food factories, advises tourists, businessmen flying to Thailand, Fiji, Vietnam and other countries in the Pacific Rim to avoid traveling on those days that would raise a question when to observe the Sabbath or having to observe it for 49 hours.
"In Samoa it is 'safek Shabbos' (uncertain when the Sabbath begins) every week," he stated. "Shabbos would begin every Thursday night at sunset and end when it gets dark on Saturday night -- or 49 hours of Shabbos.”
One of Samoa’s only Jewish residents, if not the only one is Max Lapushin, who quipped, "No wonder nobody comes here.”