Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Samoan Time Change Poses Sabbath Observance Problems

As has been widely reported, last week the Pacific island nation of Samoa (and its neighboring island, Tokelau) effectively moved to the other side of the International Date Line by aligning their official time with Australia and New Zealand. These countries are Samoa's most important trading partners and emigration destinations.  Samoa and Tokelau carried out the change by moving immediately from Thursday Dec. 29 to Saturday Dec. 31-- skipping Friday.  According to JTA this move has posed a unique problem for Seventh Day Adventists and Jews. When should they celebrate the Sabbath on Samoa?  Most Seventh Day Adventist churches have decided to now adopt Sunday as the day of rest.  Apparently there is only one permanent Jewish resident in Samoa, and two Jewish Peace Corps volunteers.  Nevertheless, a Baltimore rabbi, Dovid Herber, who is an expert on Jewish law and astronomy, has written a two-page halachic (Jewish legal) opinion on the issue. He concludes that it has always been questionable when to observe the Sabbath on Samoa, so Jews should keep the Sabbath for 49 hours to make sure they have the correct day. Before the Date Line change, that meant from sunset Thursday to when it became dark on Saturday. After the change, this should move to begin the 49 hours at sundown on Friday and end Sunday night. Voz Is Neias? has more detailed information on Rabbi Heber's opinion, as well as on conflicting opinions of other rabbis who say the Sabbath should be observed on whatever day the local population calls Saturday. In 1997, Rabbi Heber wrote a longer article on halachic issues posed by the International Date Line.