Seward's folly, the infamous sale of Alaska to the United States back in 1867, did a lot more than make Alaska the wealthiest state of the Union a century later. Seward's folly has had a serious impact on the world of halacha as well, as it was the subject of a dispute among poskim in an effort to define the whereabouts of a date line. Take a close look at a map, The Bering Straits that separate Alaska and Russia. Note that the International Date Line cuts right through it. To the Eskimos living just west of this line it is Monday, while to their cousins only a few hundred yards away to the east, it is Sunday. But it has not always been that way. Before the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, Alaska shared the same day of the week as did Russia. When the purchase took place, Alaska moved to the United States' side of the date line. For Alaska to reconcile its day with that of its new owner, a day change had to take place. In essence, Sunday became Saturday. How would halacha react to this strange event? Would halacha have required the residents of Alaska in 1867 to observe Shabbos on a day that heretofore was considered Sunday? The Date Line is a complex issue. Not only is its location the topic of much discussion in halachic literature, but the ramifications of crossing the data line, or living in places where the day of the week is uncertain, are enormous. Rabbi Yisroel Taplin, a member of the Kollel of Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood for the past 35 years, has just published an 800 page encyclopedia work on this subject, Sefer Taarich Yisroel. In it, Rabbi Taplin addresses the many areas of halacha affected by the date line from every perspective; its location, its effects on mitzvos such as Sefiras Haomer, Krias Shma, Tefila, and much more. In this adaptation of Rabbi Taplin's work, "Kitzur Taarich Yisroel: The Date Line in Halacha", Zolly Tropper has gleaned the highlights of Rabbi Taplin's work, and has presented them in an easy to read format for the English speaking public. The issues involved are carefully explained, and conclusions with applications to practical halacha are clearly presented. "Kitzur Taarich Yisroel" is not only indispensable for anyone considering travel to the Far East or Australia, but is a fascinating study of a subject that sheds light on so many areas of halacha to which we are daily exposed.
Translated by Zalman Tropper
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