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Is part of a day always considered a day?


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Adar II 9, 5774
Did the ancient Jews from the time of Moses to up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 Common Era count part of a day as one day and one night? For example a master keeps his servant in charge of his house. He tells him on a Monday "I am leaving today at 12 noon and will be out for five days and five nights. Take care of the house until then." The master leaves at 12 noon on Monday and returns on the Friday of the same week at 12 noon. So he took a literal four twenty four hour periods, which is equivalent to four days, to return. But he did return on the fifth day. Is it true that he was out for five days and five nights, according to ancient Jewish thought in the era of history I mentioned? Thank You for your time. Yours sincerely, Aaron
Shalom Aaron, The answer to your question on religious issues is yes, Judaism (ancient and modern) does “count part of a day as one day and one night” (in Hebrew: “miktzat hayom kikulo”, literally: part of a day is like its entirety, Tosefta Kilayim 1, 16), although not in the example which you gave. When specifying the term “5 days and 5 nights”, the speaker obviously can’t be referring to 4+ a bit because he specifies “nights” (although it may mean 5 days and a bit of the last night) but in no way can it “fit” into the term 4+ a bit. On religious issues, for example, the circumcision of a boy must be preformed on the 8th day from birth (Lev. 12, 3, unless there are health issues involved), and is usually performed on the morning of the 8th day, even if the child was born in the afternoon, and much less than 8 X 24 hours have elapsed. A father can annul a vow only on the day which he heard it until sunset, even if sometimes that means he only has a few minutes to do so (and we don’t count 24 hours from the minute he hears the vow, Num. 30, 6). Conversely, if the Bible wants to stress the entire time unit, it says “complete” or something like that (e.g. Lev. 23, 15). Or sometimes, when a physical or physiological phenomenon is concerned, we then count the complete 24 hours (e.g. the 7 days of cleanliness and purity must be complete 7 X 24 hrs.; in the laws of kashrut, an absorbed taste is considered good only if it’s no older than 24 hours). Similarly, if it’s clear from the context, e.g. if a person swears not to drink wine for “one” day, he is prohibited for an entire 24 hours, as opposed to if he says “today”, than he can already drink after dark (Mishna, Nedarim 8, 1). On the other hand, in business dealings, the law would follow the common usage of the phrase. So if a camel (or car) rental says "The rental is for 5 days and 5 nights" without more detail, than the judges would have to ascertain the common practice and phrase usage in that particular place for that particular topic. So in your example, that would be the answer to your question. With Love of Israel, Rav Ari Shvat
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