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Zmanim Briefly Defined and Explained

Zmanim Briefly Defined and Explained


Many observances in Jewish law are performed at specific times during the day. The calculation of these halachic times, known as zmanim (Hebrew for “times”), depends on the various astronomical phenomena of the day for the specific locale. Sunrise, sunset, the amount of time between them, and the sun’s angular position before rising are all factors that determine the halachic times and “hours” of the day.

[The hour has special meaning in Jewish law. When we say that a certain mitzvah may be performed three hours into the day, this doesn’t mean at three in the morning, or three clock hours after sunrise. Rather, an hour in halachah means 1/12th of the day. Thus, if the sun rises at 5 AM and sets at 7:30 PM, one shaah zmanit, or proportional hour (pl. shaot zmaniot), will be 72.5 minutes, and all calculations will use that number.]

Below you will find the times, their meanings, and some of their associated mitzvot.

Alot Hashachar:

The time when some of the light of the sun begins to be noticeable on the eastern horizon.

Communal fasts (other than Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av) begin at this time. According to Torah law, dawn marks the beginning of the day, and all mitzvahs associated with daytime hours—such as hearing the shofar, shaking the lulav, the recitation of the Shema, or the daytime hearing of the Megillah—can now be done. For various reasons, however, the Sages instituted that the observance of these mitzvahs should be delayed until hanetz hachamah, or, in some cases, until misheyakir.

Misheyakir - Earliest time for Tallit and Tefillin:

The time when there is enough light so that one can recognize a casual acquaintance from the distance of four cubits.

This is the earliest time to to say Shema, put on tallit or tefillin, and make a blessing on tzitzit.

Hanetz Hachamah - Sunrise:

The moment when the top edge of the sun’s disk comes into view at sea level.

This is ideally the earliest time to say the morning Amidah. When there is a need to pray the Amidah earlier, a rabbinic authority should be consulted. It is also the earliest time for other daytime mitzvahs, such as shofar and lulav.

Latest Shema:

Three shaot zmaniot into the day. Latest time of the day to fulfill the biblical requirement to recite the morning Shema. Bedi’eved (if one missed this time), one should still recite Shema with its blessings until chatzot.

Latest Tefillah:

Four shaot zmaniot into the day—ideally the latest time for Shacharit, the morning prayer. However, if this time was missed, Shacharit may be recited until chatzot. (This is also the last time to eat chametz on Erev Pesach)

Chatzot - Midday:

The halfway point between sunrise and sunset, this is the latest time to say Shacharit. Half-day fasts end at this time.

Minchah Gedolah:

Half an hour after chatzot, this is the earliest time one may recite Minchah, the afternoon prayer.

Minchah Ketanah:

Two and a half proportional hours before the end of the day, this zman has certain ramifications with regard to beginning a meal (especially on Erev Shabbos and Yom Tov). According to some, this begins the ideal time for praying Minchah. In addition, some consider this zman to be relevant to some of the laws of Family Purity. Consult a rabbinic authority for details.

Plag Haminchah:

One and a quarter proportional hours before the end of the day, plag haminchah is the earliest time one may light Shabbat candles (and Chanukah candles on Erev Shabbat of Chanukah). When in need, one may pray Ma’ariv as early as plag haminchah (though the Shema must be repeated after tzeit). In addition, if one wishes to begin Shabbat early, one may begin it as early as plag haminchah. Consult your rabbinic authority for further details.

Candle-Lighting Time:

Candle lighting time for Erev Shabbat and Erev Yom Tov is 18 minutes before shekiah, sunset.

Note: Some communities start Shabbat early in the summer. In such communities, one cannot light candles 18 minutes before sunset. Everyone must follow the custom of the community and light before the community begins Shabbat. In addition, several communities (such as Jerusalem) use a year-round standard which is more than 18 minutes for candle lighting. In such communities, everyone must follow the local custom and light Shabbos candles at the time the rest of the community lights. Please contact your local rabbi for details.

Shekiah - Sunset:

The moment when the top edge of the sun’s disk disappears from view at sea level.

All mitzvahs associated with daytime should be completed by this time. It is also the appropriate time to finish Minchah. If one didn’t pray Minchah before shekiah, one may still do so afterwards.

Note: though the day is generally considered to end at sunset, with regard to scheduling a circumcision for a boy born a few minutes after sundown and with regard to certain details of the Laws of Family Purity, one should consult a rabbinic authority for further guidance.

Bein Hashmashot - Twilight

For some matters the time between sundown and nightfall is considered a safek yom safek laylah, a doubt whether it is still part of the daytime or the coming nighttime. Therefore all daytime mitzvahs must be completed before and nighttime mitzvahs should be fulfilled after it concludes, at tzeit.

If a baby boy is born during bein hashmashot, his circumcision will be on the 9th day (or later, if the 9th day is Shabbat or Yom Tov). For example, if he is born on bein hashmashot of Monday evening, the it will take place on the following Tuesday morning.

Tzeit Hakochavim - Nightfall:

The point when 3 medium stars are observable in the night time sky with the naked eye.

This time is the beginning of night for all mitzvahs, including the Torah obligation of reading the evening Shema, counting the Omer, the end of fast days (except for Yom Kippur) and matters relating to the laws of Family Purity. It the preferred time to begin praying Maariv. A baby boy born after tzeit will have his circumcision exactly 8 days later, even if that day is Shabbat. Consult a rabbinic authority for details. The time to end Shabbat and Yom Tov is addressed below.

Shabbat and Yom Tov Ends

The time when Shabbat and Yom Tov ends is defined as the point at which at least one cluster of three small stars is observable in the night time sky with the naked eye.

No melachah (forbidden labor) should be done before this time. Ma’ariv and Havdalah should begin after this time.

Shaah Zmanit:

Proportional hour—i.e., an hour according to halachah. Total daylight hours divided by 12.

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Anonymous March 21, 2017

time of day what if it is cloudy outside? Reply

Anonymous December 7, 2016

Incredibly helpful! Thanks for posting! Reply

Richard B. July 25, 2014

timeline In studying with Chabad a door opened and I find many rooms. Reply

Jacob July 8, 2014

Chabad truly embodies what being Jewish is all about
Just do all you can to help your fellow Jew and trust god will help complete the rest
And for all my fellow Jews be strong for your self our people and our torah Reply

James Saucier Ovett, Ms January 17, 2014

Really helpful to know the hallachic times of prayer. Reply

Shmuel Klatzkin Dayton January 16, 2014

Sof Zman Kiddush Levana This is a great and useful page. Could you add to it the last time for kiddush levana each month? Reply

Deuel South Africa January 13, 2014

Levi Rapoport Levi, Deuteronomy 17:11 don't give the Levitic kohanim a free hand to make laws, they have to teach within the written law of which they were the keepers (the stone tablets in the ark of the covenant). Written Torah states clearly nothing should be added neither omitted. Rabbi's are not necessary kohanim and they can't make laws they can only teach what was given to Moshe and written up and given to kohanim for safe keeping. Reply

Yisroel Meir Baltimore April 27, 2017
in response to Deuel:

Ten, 613, Mesorah and Rabbinic Laws First, the Written Law includes the Entire Sefer Torah, not just the Ten Pronoucements. ("Commandments " is a mIs-translation of "Dibros," see RShR Hirsch commentary).
The Torah uses the word "mitzvah" over and over again. The Rabbis had a Mesorah (Tradition given orally from Sinai) that said that there were a total of 613. Although there are some slight discrepancies, most Medieval Torah Scholars agreed on the vast majority of the 613 Commandments.
And without the Oral Law, (for instance), how would we know how to schecht, ritually slaughter animals? The Torah states you shall schecht as I commanded you." Clearly, there was an Oral Law.
And then, there are the Rabbinic Rules, made by people steeped in the Knowledge of HaShem, who can see local or general weaknesses and respond to them by guiding us how to do or not to do things so that we do not come near disobeying Biblical Law.
We should preferably know what is Biblical and what is Rabbinic, but the Torah does state that we listen to our leaders.
Be well. Reply

Jordan Jay London August 1, 2017
in response to Yisroel Meir:

He's not disputing the oral law. I'd suggest reading Rambam Hilkhoth Mamre 1-3 to understand the actual seemingly forgotten concept of how law is passed. It's not a free for all that any self-appointed 'gadol' can start making new things on Am Yisrael or even their qehilla.

Let me know when you've read these very important peraqim. Reply

Anonymous Westbury, NY 11590 October 25, 2013

I am very much interested in the articles that I have read and I am looking forward to reading more in the future. Reply

henk July 16, 2013

Not Torah law? rabbinic commandments are also Torah law (Deuteronomy 17:11) Levi Rapoport Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

According to the sentence of the law which they shall teach thee,.... For they were not to make any new law, but to teach the law of God, and so far as their sense and opinion of things agreed with that law they were to be regarded: Reply

Lazer Any town, USA July 15, 2013

On the road Being in an RV and traveling around the US its wonderful that by just entering the ZIP of the location one can know the times for beginning and ending of Shabbatot, holidays, and Fast days. Reply

Levi Rapoport Brooklyn December 23, 2012

Not Torah law? rabbinic commandments are also Torah law (Deuteronomy 17:11) Reply

Sharon November 16, 2012

Love this site. I'm clueless. Good Shabbos all:) Reply

Haim April 4, 2017
in response to Sharon:

@Sharon - I love you so much you are so innocent I wish you to create a Jewish Family based on Jewish law and tradition. Reply

Shalom New York November 14, 2012

amazing. thank you So comprehensive and helpful. Fantastic! Reply

Anonymous Fresno, Ca via July 9, 2012

This is absolutely fantastic! A true measure of time, which is constantly changing, based on astronomy. Wow! Reply

K Khan Lahore, Pakistan July 9, 2012

Thanks. May Hashem Bless all of you for the wonderful work you are doing. Reply

shoshanageula Tbilisi, Gruzia February 24, 2012

modim Thank You :) Reply

Dan Mattfield grand Rapids, mN February 13, 2012

3 stars visible Makes sense if one is on the eastern base of a mile high mountain, the sun could set a couple hours earlier than on a flat terrain, so the 3 stars would be more consistent if not cloudy out. Reply

elishebabridgebuilder ocala, fl/usa September 17, 2011

afternoon prayer when your shadow points east instead of north it is the afternoon Reply

Dovid Scranton, PA July 10, 2011

Chatzoth HaLaylah and Tikkun Chatzoth Hi this is the practice of Breslov. It is the opinion of the Magen Avraham if I remember correctly. 6 hours after Tzeis for everything, even eating the afikomen on Pesach. Reply

A. Morgenstern Ramat Beit Shemesh, Isrrael June 19, 2011

Chatzoth HaLaylah and Tikkun Chatzoth Our family received the mesorah from previous generations that the time to recite Tikkun Chatzoth is not the zmaniot Chazoth HaLaylah but rather at six clock hours after Tzayth HaCochovim. For example, if Shabbath ends at 8:32 pm, then the time to recite Tikkun Chatzot begins at 2:32 a.m. Anyone else familiar with this? Reply