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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:

Halachic dawn. Fasts begin at this time. According to Torah law, dawn marks the beginning of the day, and all mitzvot associated with daytime hours—such as hearing the shofar, taking the Four Species, the recitation of the Shema, or hearing the Megillah—can now be done. For various reasons, however, the sages instituted that the observance of many of these mitzvot should be delayed until hanetz hachamah, others until the moment “when one can recognize a familiar acquaintance.”

Earliest time for Tallit and Tefillin:

The halachic description of this time is “when one can recognize a familiar acquaintance” from a distance of approximately six feet. This is also the earliest time one can say the morning Shema.

Hanetz Hachamah:

Sunrise. Those who wish to pray kevatikin start the recitation of the Amidah at this time.

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.


Midday; the halfway point between sunrise and sunset. Half-day fasts end at this time.

Minchah Gedolah:

Half a shaah zmanit after chatzot. This is the earliest time one may recite Minchah, the afternoon prayer.

Minchah Ketanah:

Nine and a half shaot zmaniot into the day. According to certain halachic authorities, it is preferable to wait until this time before praying Minchah.

Plag Haminchah:

One and a quarter shaot zmaniot before sunset. According to Rabbi Judah, this is when halachic nighttime begins. Therefore, if one chooses to follow his opinion, one recites Minchah before plag haminchah, and then Maariv (the evening prayer) may be recited anytime after plag. This is also the earliest one may bring in the Shabbat on Friday afternoon.

Candle-Lighting Time:

The accepted custom is to light Shabbat and Yom Tov candles 18 minutes before shkiah (sunset). Some communities have adopted earlier times as their unique custom for candle-lighting time.


Sunset. The latest time for Minchah (the afternoon prayer) and all mitzvot associated with the daytime hours. Bedi’eved (if one missed this time), one may still recite Minchah, and do all “daytime mitzvot,” until tzeit hakochavim (although the blessing on the mitzvah would be omitted if done after shkiah).

The Jewish 24-hour day begins at nightfall. However, the technical definition of nightfall is unclear. It can be as early as shkiah or as late as tzeit hakochavim, Therefore, the time following shkiah and before tzeit hakochavim is called bein hashmashot. Many laws relate to this period, and it can be categorized as either the previous or the next day.

Tzeit Hakochavim:

The time when three average stars are visible in the sky and nightfall is complete. Earliest time for Maariv (the evening prayer) according to Rabbi Judah’s rabbinic counterparts. Earliest time for reciting the evening Shema and for counting the Omer. A woman who has completed her cycle of seven pure days goes to the mikvah after this time. This is also the time when fast days, Shabbat, and holidays may be concluded.

Shaah Zmanit:

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

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Discussion (56)
July 25, 2014
In studying with Chabad a door opened and I find many rooms.
Richard B.
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
January 17, 2014
Really helpful to know the hallachic times of prayer.
James Saucier
Ovett, Ms
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?
Shmuel Klatzkin
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.
South Africa
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.
Westbury, NY 11590
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:
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.
Any town, USA
December 23, 2012
Not Torah law?
rabbinic commandments are also Torah law (Deuteronomy 17:11)
Levi Rapoport
November 16, 2012
Love this site. I'm clueless. Good Shabbos all:)
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