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Thought for the Day: Davening Mincha Followed By Ma'ariv

In fifth grade or so, the teacher told us one day that she expected our handwriting on spelling tests to be legible (what?!).  She was particularly annoyed with those of use (who?  me?) that wrote our cursive a's and o's intentionally ambiguous (that is, a circle with the trailing connector about midway -- not at bottom to be a definitive a, not at top to be a definitive o).  I was pretty annoyed myself, as I thought I was being pretty clever.  Not the last time I discovered that my innovative approach was a well worn subterfuge.

In a TftD some time ago, I mentioned the תרתי דסתרי of davening ma'ariv immediately after mincha.  I left things intentionally vague there because I as I wrote the TftD, I realized that I was not at all clear on all the details.  Luckily, it was not being graded by Miss Schneider; and, anyway, it was clear enough for the point I wanted to make anyway.  I have since done my homework and checked the answer key (ie, called R' Fuerst, shlita), and I am ready to report.

The basic issue is easy to state:  The time of the afternoon service is set according to the daily continual offering; aka קרבן תמיד.  That offering was the last of the day, so it could be made a different times depending on how many sin and thanksgiving offerings were on that slate (slab...) that day.  Generally speaking, though, it was not made before 3:30PM; that time is known as מנחה קטנה (small mincha, as opposed to the  מנחה גדולה/big mincha which is at 12:30PM; the terms big and small refer to the relative amount of time you have left to daven mincha).  For ease, I am using a 12 hour day that begins as 6:00AM and ends at 6:00PM; appropriate adjustments are needed throughout the year.

Now:  R' Yehuda permits davening mincha until פלג המנחה (affectionately also know as simply, פלג) and ma'ariv any time after that.  The Sages permit davening mincha until nightfall and ma'ariv any time after that.  So far so good.  There is a small issue: there is a discussion about whether day starts as dawn or sunrise; we're going to ignore that for now.  The much bigger issue is when to put nightfall.  There is a raging machlokes among the poskim about whether nightfall is at שקיעה/sunset or צית הכוכבים/the coming out of the stars (affectionately also know as simply, צית).  (There is another machlokes about what שקיעה means that I am also going to conveniently ignore for now.)

So the only way to make everyone happy is to daven mincha before פלג and ma'ariv after צית.  Most of us fat, rich Americans, however, are too busy to do thing the best way when it comes to spirituality, so we daven mincha and then immediately follow with ma'ariv and thereby get it all out of the way with one trip to shul.  (Yes, I mean to stress that this is not optimal; yes, I also do it, as do a good many rabonim.)  Next best is to be good according to at least some people; so either before and after פלג or before and after שקיעה.  Actually, before and after שקיעה is a bit better because at least some people consider nightfall to begin at שקיעה, whereas no one considers nightfall to begin at פלג.  After that, you are pretty much equally good (or bad, depending on if your glass is half full or half empty) whenever you daven, as long as mincha is definitely before שקיעה and ma'ariv is definitely after פלג.  There is some wiggle room with mincha and שקיעה (about 30 minutes or so... very, very only good after the fact and in a stressful situation), but there is no wiggle room at all with ma'ariv before פלג.

Then there are all the issues about tachanun after שקיעה and when to do a "heicha k'dusha".  Also important to stress: all this wiggle room is for a minyan, not an individual.  See?  You can't cover all this in three paragraphs.

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