Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple
Rabbi Dr. Raymond AppleCourtesy

Q. How does the international date line impact on Jewish observance?

A. The problem is that when you cross the date line in one direction you gain a day and if you go the other way you lose a day.

This has an effect on when you observe Shabbat or the festivals, as well as on counting the Omer, saying the Psalm of the day, lighting Chanukah candles, counting the days of mourning, or before going to the mikvah.

The verse, "It is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwellings" (Lev. 23:3) is understood by Sforno as saying that the date of Shabbat is determined "according to your habitations" – i.e. Shabbat depends on where you live. It is earlier in New Zealand, and later in New York.

Rabbi Jacob Emden said in the 18th century that someone who travels from east to west or vice versa should keep Shabbat according to his place of origin and adopt a different Shabbat when he reaches a settled Jewish community.

This rule is endorsed by Rabbi Abraham Eber Hirschowitz, who reports in his Bet Avraham that he faced the problem when he travelled from Sydney to San Francisco a century ago.

Given that the halachic considerations of crossing the date line are complex, air travellers whose flights cross the date line should avoid travelling on a Friday, and should consult a rabbinic authority before travel.


Q. Who are the Karaites?

A. The Karaites were a dissident group that came into being in the 8th century, calling themselves "kara-im" ("Scripturalists") because they rejected the rabbinic Oral Law and had a literalist approach to the Torah.

Paradoxically, they developed an oral tradition of their own because they could not manage with Biblical literalism alone, without explanations, interpretations and applications.

Their founder is said to have been Anan ben David in the 8th century, who was indignant at being passed over for leadership of the people and got up to mischief instead. He was probably not the original proponent of Karaism because in ancient times there were underground anti-rabbanite groups such as the 2nd Temple-era Boethusians and Sadducees. Anti-Karaite scholars included Saadia Ga’on and Abraham ibn Ezra.

Amongst Karaite ideas was the literal reading of the ban (Ex. 35:3) on kindling a fire on Shabbat, which led the Karaites in the pre-World War 2 Crimea to sit in the cold on Shabbat whereas the rabbanites legitimised having benefit from light and heat if turned on prior to Shabbat.

In Britain, Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler used to say that it wasn’t the Karaites who bothered him as much as the Don’t-Care-ites who were indifferent to all versions of religion.

Sometimes one comes across a Karaite family in a Diaspora country; indeed at one stage I consulted the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel for advice as to how to handle a handful of Australian Karaites.

There are currently small numbers of Karaites numbering some 30,000 in modern Israel.

Rabbi Raymond Apple was for many years Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Judaism. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years. He also held many public roles, particularly in the fields of chaplaincy, interfaith dialogue and Freemasonry, and is the recipient of several national and civic honours. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem and blogs at http://www.oztorah.com