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Shabbat Parashat Vayeira 5775

Ask the Rabbi: Undoing Mistaken Early Acceptance of Shabbat

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: After davening at an early Shabbat minyan, I realized that I forgot to deliver a gift to my host (we have no eiruv). Can I undo my acceptance of Shabbat and daven Maariv again after delivering the gift? 


Answer: The gemara (Berachot 27b) discusses the concept of an acceptance of Shabbat on false pretenses (b’ta’ut), specifically when people davened Maariv of Shabbat before the normal time due to darkness caused by heavy clouds. An amora allowed doing melacha when they discovered the mistake because acceptance of Shabbat b’ta’ut is invalid. Regarding a shul that similarly davened Maariv of Motzaei Shabbat early, it says that while we would have expected the tefilla to be invalid, there is a special leniency for a community to not have to repeat Maariv under these circumstances. Most Rishonim rule that melacha is permitted after an acceptance b’ta’ut (see Beit Yosef ad loc.). The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 263:14) cites this opinion, followed by (his understanding of) the Mordechai’s opinion that ta’ut does not erase acceptance done by the action of lighting Shabbat candles, which is stronger. Therefore, we might think that that if you did not light candles (and the acceptance of early Shabbat was not community-wide – see Shulchan Aruch, OC 263:12), you could have done melacha after realizing your mistake.

However, this premise is flawed. First, several Acharonim rule that after one has accepted Shabbat with tefilla, one can no longer do melacha even if it was accepted b’ta’ut (Magen Avraham 263:26; Mishna Berura 263:56). Furthermore, your case is very different from the gemara’s case of ta’ut. In the latter, the entire basis for going through the motions of accepting Shabbat was misguided. You, though, did want to accept Shabbat early, just that an unknown factor was a counterbalance to that decision. In the former case, the acceptance was null even if people desired to leave things as is (e.g., an individual who davened Maariv early under those circumstances must repeat it). That is appropriate only in cases where the mistake is objective and clear cut.

The Taz (600:2) seems to counter our argument. Concerning a community that accepted Shabbat early on Friday that was the second day of Rosh Hashana, after which a shofar became available, he rules that they should blow shofar even though this is usually inappropriate on Shabbat. He compares their acceptance of Shabbat to a ta’ut, even though it was fundamentally done for a real reason, just that it was counteracted by a desire to blow shofar. However, study of the Taz shows that other factors are involved in his ruling, and, more fundamentally, the lack of fulfillment of shofar is an objective factor that applies to all communities in that situation. (The Taz goes as far as to argue that even if people want to accept Shabbat fully, they have no power to undo their mitzva obligation.) Your case, though, is qualitatively incomparable to the sources on ta’ut. 

What can be considered is being shoel (a process of releasing oneself, done before three people) on the acceptance. Some, including the Levush (OC 263:17), compare early acceptance of Shabbat to a neder (acceptance of extra halachic obligations) and say that one can be sho’el. However, the majority opinion is that one cannot be shoel on acceptance of Shabbat (see Mishna Berura 263:65 and presentation in B’tzel Hachochma IV:96). The strongest explanation is that while a neder is a halachic reality that is totally created by a person, the Torah mandates accepting Shabbat early, with each person just deciding when that is for him. In your case, undoing Shabbat causes an extra problem in that it would invalidate your Ma’ariv.

In short, nullifying acceptance of Shabbat due to a need that arises should be contemplated only if the need is unusually pressing or objective, such as an unfulfilled mitzva, which seems to be missing in your case. (We will not get into other solutions, which ostensibly exist, to have dealt with your situation.)

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