For the first time in history, a Chabad couple has settled in Reykjavik, Iceland. Living so far north, the nights are very short in the summer, and it never really gets dark enough to see the stars at that time of year. Since the Jewish day changes at nightfall (and the night generally begins when the stars come out), this brings to mind a number of halachic challenges for observing mitzvot.

But before addressing the halachic issues, let’s first confirm some facts: The time in Iceland is GMT, the same as in the UK during winter. But, actually, Reykjavik is just over 22 degrees west of Greenwich. This means that in real terms, it is one and a half hours later than Greenwich. So, while the average moment of midnight in London is at 12:00 (or: 00.00) a.m., average midnight in Reykjavik is at 1:30 a.m.

The longest day in the calendar is the 21st of June. On this date, sunset in Reykjavik is at 12:03, and sunrise occurs just after 3 a.m. You may have noticed that that means that the sun disappears 90 minutes before “midnight,” and returns 90 minutes after “midnight.” Our problem, however, is that during this period, the sky never gets dark enough to be able to see stars. The halachic day begins at alot hashachar (dawn), when the blackness of the night begins to lift. In the absence of a state of dark, the new day begins at “midnight,” which in Reykjavik is at 1:30 a.m.

Now let’s look at several mitzvot:

Maariv (Evening Prayers)

The halacha allows us to follow Rabbi Yehudah, who maintains that from plag haminchah onwards is time for Maariv. plag haminchah is the last 1¼ hours of the day. The “hours” in this context are sha’ot zmaniyot, each hour being one 12th of the length of the time from sunup to sundown. Since this day is 21 hours long, one ‘hour’ is 105 minutes, and 1¼ hours total 130 minutes. Working backwards from sunset at 12:03, plag haminchah works out at 9:53 p.m. So that’s the earliest time for Maariv.

Evening Shema

The opinion of Rashi is that the above concession of Rabbi Yehudah applies only to Maariv, i.e. the Amidah, but Shema must be read after nightfall. So, according to Rashi, the prevalent practice of praying Maariv before nightfall relies upon the recital of the Shema again, before retiring to sleep. The Shulchan Aruch seems to have a similar view, but adds that one who prayed Maariv early should repeat the Shema right after nightfall, and not rely on its recital prior to going to bed.

Rabbeinu Tam, however, posits that the concession of Rabbi Yehudah applies to the Shema recital too. Accordingly, he who prayed Maariv after plag hahinchah, has been fulfilled the mitzvah of Shema too! The Taz and the Magen Avraham imply that the Minhag Ashkenaz follows Rabbenu Tam in this matter, and the emphasis to recite the Shema again later in the evening is merely a stringency. Conversely, latter Poskim1 side with the Shulchan Aruch, not to extend the concession of Rabbi Yehudah to Shema.

A different window of opportunity is, however, available: One who was annus (subjected to extenuating circumstances) may fulfill the mitzvah of Shema after dawn, before sunrise.2 The issue at hand should qualify as annus. Accordingly, the evening Shema should be recited between 1:30 and 3 a.m.

Shabbat Candles, Friday Night Kiddush, Shabbat Meal

These may all be fulfilled from plag haminchah onwards. True, one who missed Kiddush in the evening, recites the long brachha (“Mekadesh haShabbat”) at his daytime Kiddush. That is, however, not advisable as an ideal course of action. Therefore, it is preferable that Kiddush is recited on Friday evening, even if it is followed merely by a slice of mezonot (cake etc.).


This will have to wait until after 1:30 a.m, or later on on Sunday etc., and the blessings upon the spices and over the flame are both to be omitted.

Kiddush Levanah

This is recited only at night, when we stand to benefit from the moon’s light. This will not be possible during the summer at the said location.

Sefirat haOmer

Plag haminchah is too early for Sefirat haOmer. Some don’t allow a person to recite the blessing before counting Sefirah even after sunset, before the stars appear. Accordingly, make sure to count Sefirah every morning straight after morning prayers without the blessing.

First night of Shavuot

It is a widespread practice to delay the evening prayers and Kiddush on the first eve of Shavuot until nightfall. This is so as not to impinge upon the period of Sefirat haOmer. This won’t work in our instance, because “nightfall” equals “midnight,” and past that point is Maariv time only bedieved. So, he will have to pray and make Kiddush early like other nights.

But, since anyways the custom is to stay awake for the first night of Shavuot, it is preferable to wait with Maariv and Kiddush until after sunset. Doing so from plag haminchah would for sure be impinging upon the perfection of his Sefira, whereas after sunset it would be only a possible impingement.

Second night of Shavuot

Maariv and Kiddush from plag haminchah onwards. The yom tov candles should be lit before the yom tov meal commences.