The Sabbath that disappeared and the one that moved


My wife Dina and I took an extended 78-day cruise from February 2, 2015 until April 21, 2015 on Queen Victoria beginning and returning to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. During the cruise we went through the Panama Canal and visited over two dozen places such as Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, and Samoa. We had many interesting experiences one of which was the Sabbath that disappeared and the back-to-back Sabbath.

What happed in the first instance is that on February 28 the ship was traveling west and crossed the International Date Line. Passengers went to sleep on Friday night 27 February and awoke on Sunday morning 1 March; Saturday 28 February, the Shabbat, was omitted. This, of course, created a problem for the Jewish passengers who wanted to observe the Sabbath on Saturday. On Friday night, as usual, we and they welcomed the Sabbath with prayers and ceremony, but awaked in the morning on Sunday. What could we do? Obviously each Jewish passenger resolved the problem in their own way. One way was to treat Sunday as both Sunday, since this was what everyone called it, but at the same time observe it as the Sabbath. Then, six days later, which everyone accepted as Saturday, they would do so as well. This is what we did.

The second incident of the back-to-back Sabbath occurred when we were heading back east on March 20, which was also by happenstance a Friday, and crossed the International Date Line again. This time, instead of losing a day, we gained a day. Friday March 20 was followed by Friday March 20, two Fridays. Ignoring this fact, the second Friday was the seventh day after the prior Sabbath and should have been the Shabbat. But it wasn’t. It was Friday. What could we do? Again, each passenger handled the matter in his and her own way. One possibility was to go along with the ruling of the International Date Line and consider the second Friday as just that and the day following, which was Saturday, as Shabbat. This was consistent with celebrating as Shabbat seven days later on Saturday, but it was eight days after the prior Shabbat. Another possibility was to be consistent with the past rather than the future. Since we had considered seven days after the last Sabbath as Shabbat, we would do so now and celebrate the second Friday as Shabbat. On Sunday we would revert to the common calendar and have Shabbat on the next Saturday even though it was not seven days away, but only six. This what we did.

Quite a few rabbis in the past century have addressed the problem. It is, of course, not something that the Torah addresses. It is also not in the Talmud since the issue did not exist in the first millennia. However, a similar problem was addressed in the Talmud. Suppose a person gets lost in the desert and because of his situation forgets which day it was. When should he observe the Shabbat? Various answers were suggested.