When Does Shabbat Begin if Sundown is 3 AM?

Certain geographical regions pose a challenge to religious Jews. The Estonian orthodox Jewish community is faced with an interesting challenge about when days start and end. On June 23rd the longest day of the year in Estonia nighttime begins at ten to four in the morning and lasts for ten minutes till sunrise at four! On the other hand in the dead of winter there is almost no sunlight.

In the Davar Rishon website, they wrote of an official Israeli visit to Estonia with dignitaries including Chief Rabbi David Lau. The visit was in honor of an Estonian synagogue celebrating its tenth anniversary. A Friday night Shabbat speech was given, only it was hours before Shabbat would actually begin which is at sundown.

The Community rabbi, Rabbi Samuel Kote explained to the guests that the authorities of Jewish Law discussed the question about when Shabbat starts on such a Friday at length. But there is no clear cut conclusion accepted on all in this topic. That is why he brings in the Shabbat 8:00 pm with Friday night services on a summer Friday night but does not require the townsfolk to actually start their Shabbat observance at that ‘really early hour’.

Perhaps questions like these are what kept Jews from coming to live in such regions. The Jewish population in Estonia was always sparse. Today there are about 2,500 Jews and in between both world wars there were 4,500 Jews altogether.

The Nazis destroyed all the synagogues when they occupied Estonia and made it Judenrein (Clear of Jews) by the end of 1941. Of the 4,500 Jews over 3,000 escaped to Soviet Russia with over 1,000 getting killed by the Nazis. An additional 10,000 Jews were deported to Estonian concentration camps and labor camps from Eastern Europe and were killed there.

The only synagogue in Estonia built since WWII is the Community Synagogue that just celebrated its 10th anniversary.


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