Dear Rabbi Simon,
I was surprised to read in the KC recently that you recommend waiting until 45 minutes before sunrise for Tallit & Tefillin, not just because this is much later (ie stricter) than other published times for the NW London communities, but also because you yourself use the more commonly accepted 72 minute limit when you begin fasts at Kesher.
I hope that you don’t mind me pointing this out. Actually I thought that it could have been a mistake?
Thank you for your follow-up question in response to the Ask the Rabbi entry.
I do not regard myself as one who instinctively inclines toward halakhic stringencies (but I suppose most rabbis, however devout, would say the same thing). Nevertheless, in this case I cannot endorse the widespread practice (in London and elsewhere) of imagining that the threshold of sufficient light to “recognise an acquaintance at a distance of 4 amot” is reached at 72 minutes before sunrise, particularly in the winter. 72 minutes represents halakhic “dawn”, ie the interval before sunrise when the darkness of night first begins to dissipate. This is indeed the earliest acceptable time for Shema and Tefillah (Amidah) in a situation of need, such as getting to work, departing on a trip, etc. This is why I generally allow eating in the morning of a fast day until this point. Technically “dawn” is the dividing line between night and day. Nevertheless, it is logical—and observation confirms—that the amount of illumination of “recognising an acquaintance” (known in halakhic shorthand as “mi-she-yakir”) only arrives some time later. That is, between dawn and sunrise the light gradually increases. This is surely not instantaneous. My preference is to follow the view of Rav Moshe Feinstein (IM OH 4:6) who says this is about 35-40 minutes before sunrise (in New York). As London is further north, I have pushed this to 45 minutes. This is the time at which one may recite the berakhah. To don tallit and tefillin before this time is permissible, but the mitzvah is fulfilled only once the light (outdoors, obviously, excluding artificial light; also excluding cloud cover) reaches the threshold of mi-she-yakir. Hence my prescription in last week’s Q&A.
Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to clarify this halakhic matter as I see it. Of course there are views “upon whom to rely” for one who chooses to do so.
The good news is that the sun will very soon (January 4 to be exact) start rising earlier day by day. “Here comes the Sun.”
Rabbi Rashi Simon