In many communities, people "take Shabbat early" during the summer months when nightfall is relatively late and they would prefer to eat their Friday night meal at a more civilized hour, and to have a bit more after-supper time to learn Torah, go over the sedra, read, go for a walk, play with the children, etc. There are some halachic points to clarify about the topic of "taking Shabbat early".
BACKGROUND The first mishna in chapter 4 of Brachot contains a dispute between the Tana Kama and R’ Yehuda as to when the deadline for Mincha is. The T”K says that one may daven Mincha until sunset. R’ Yehuda says that one may daven Mincha only until Plag Mincha. [i.e. 1¼ "halachic" hours before sunset. A halachic houris a twelfth part of the day, calculated from sunrise to sunset. (There is another way of reckoning the day - namely, dawn to stars out; we will stick to the sunrise-to-sunset day.)] By extension, the Talmud teaches that the deadline for Mincha for each opinion is also the earliest time for Maariv, and some other nighttime mitzvot. The Gemara presents us with an atypical resolution of this dispute - D'AVAD K'MAR AVAD, U'D'AVAD K'MAR AVAD - he who acts according to the one opinion, acts correctly, and he who acts according to the other opinion, acts correctly. It’s ALMOST (but not quite) take-your-pick.
Halachically, none of the nighttime mitzvot may be performed before Plag Mincha. Consequently, one may not "take Shababat" before PLAG MINCHA. One may not light Shabbat candles (or Chanuka candles) before PLAG, nor say Kabbalat Shabbat & Maariv, nor make Kiddush. But one MAY light candles, take Shabbat, daven Maariv, make Kiddush and begin the first Shabbat Seuda after PLAG - even though the sun is still in the sky.
SHMA Davening Maariv and reciting the “nighttime Sh’ma” have been conveniently and meaningfully combined by our Sages, but each of those two mitzvot has its own rules of timing. Although one may daven Maariv from PLAG (according to R’ Yehuda), most authorities say that one does not fulfill his obligation to say the nighttime Sh'ma if it is said before sunset. (Stars-out is the proper beginning-time for Shma.) Therefore, those who daven early (after Plag but before sunset) will say the Sh’ma and its brachot as part of Maariv, but they must repeat the Sh'ma (all three parshiyot) after stars-out. In other words, when one davens Maariv before dark (after Plag, of course), he says the full Sh'ma twice; once, with its brachot, as part of the davening, and a second time to fulfill the mitzva of reciting Sh’ma at night.
On the other hand - not that this is a reason for davening early - when Sh'ma is repeated for the sake of the mitzva (and not just something said as part of the davening), one has the opportunity to focus on it "for the sake of the mitzva" more than we tend to do when it is part of davening. Again, this is not to suggest that this is a preferred procedure; what is preferred is that when saying the Sh'ma in Maariv, after dark, one still be able to focus on the mitzva, even though it is also "just part of the davening".
This Guide and announcements at the end of "early minyan" are your reminders to say the Shma (and count the Omer) at the proper time. Try to remind each other in your family and at your Shabbat table, so that no one will forget these important mitzvot. Taking Shabbat early can be a positive experience, but not if it results in neglect of a Torah mitzva or two.
Another Problem Since davening Mincha after Plag is fine according to T”K but NOT according to R’ Yehuda, and davening Maariv before sunset is okay according to R’ Yehuda but not according to T”K, it is not proper to daven both Mincha & Maariv between Plag and sunset - neither opinion is followed in that case.
Therefore, it is best to schedule an early minyan to begin Mincha about 15 minutes before PLAG. This way, Mincha can be said before PLAG followed by Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv, after PLAG. This would be consistent with R’ Yehuda's opinion. To begin an “early Friday” mincha after Plag is problematic, to say the least, and makes “taking Shabbat early” less than ideal.
CANDLES Women must be reminded to light after PLAG, never before. Women should daven Mincha on their own (this is preferable year-round), light after PLAG, then go to shul (if they do) for Kabbalat Shabbat. This can be a problematic situation for some families.
KIDDUSH Shuls that schedule their early minyan's Mincha after PLAG, not only enter into the contradictory situation mentioned above ("satisfying" neither the T”K nor R’ Yehuda), but also can run into another problem (depending upon timing). Once it gets "close" to dark, one should not begin a meal (nor say Kiddush) before saying Shma. In other words, if one has not made Kiddush by sunset (maybe even 5-10 minutes before that), then he must (should?) wait until dark, say the Sh'ma, and THEN make Kiddush (thereby really defeating the purpose of "taking Shabbat early"). The idea is to say Kiddush well enough before sunset so that one does not even enter the time-range of Sh'ma. If people are "sloppy" about this issue, they make taking Shabbat early less ideal. This is another point of objection by those who speak unfavorably about the whole idea of early Shabbat.
A minyan that starts Mincha a half hour before Jerusalem candle lighting time will get people home for a "problem-free" Kiddush, if the people don't linger too much after shul. (They still have the Mincha-Maariv after Plag problem.)
Technically, if one begins his meal "with halachic permission", he need not stop for Sh'ma or the Omer (they can be be said/counted after the meal). However, it is STRONGLY RECOMMENDED that when the proper time arrives, families should interrupt their meals for Sh'ma and the Omer. This helps prevent forgetting later on, and also has a positive educational value for family and guests, teaching a high level of care and concern for Sh’ma and S’firat HaOmer.
Another point to keep in mind... When people say Kiddush and begin their first Shabbat meal before dark, it is important that the meal - and the eating of some challah - should continue after nightfall.
More Problems Some object to splitting a community by having two minyanim on Friday night. Others point out potential problems if a whole community takes Shabbat early and some individual members don't, specifically, lighting candles and doing other "melachot" after the community accepted Shabbat. Ask your Rav.
Early Shabbat should be an enhancement of Shabbat and a fulfillment of Tosefet Shabbat - but without being careless about Shma, davening, and/or the counting of the Omer.
This handy pull-out will hopefully make things easier for you. Bring it to your Shabbat table and use it for Kiddush, the Sh'ma and then for counting the Omer (during Omer season, that is). Sit for Sh'ma; stand for counting the Omer.
POINT in FAVOR The Aruch HaShulchan (R’ Yechiel Michel HaLevi Epstein z"l) introduces another factor into the equation which adds another positive spin to taking Shabbat early. He points out that we daven Maariv corresponding to the HEKTEIR CHALAVIM V'EIVARIM, the slow burning of fats and certain parts of the day's korbanot on the Mizbei'ach all night. That's why we may daven Maariv all night long. But on Friday, the burning had to be done before Shabbat, i.e. earlier than the rest of the week. By davening Maariv earlier on Friday evening, we nicely match the corresponding service of the Beit HaMikdash. (It's not a perfect match because we're beginning Shabbat at that point, and the Hekteir Chalavim v'Eivarim was specifically before Shabbat. Also, to be consistent, we'd have to daven Maariv early on Friday throughout the year, which we don't. But it's a nice point anyway.)
Taking Shabbat early can enhance one’s Oneg Shabbat, as mentioned earlier, by allowing for dinner to be at a more “civilized” hour, and being able to have young children join the rest of the family at the table. It can be an enhancement of Shalom Bayit for various reasons. But it should not involve compromising the standards of davening and other halachic matters.
It is recommended that people go over this Guide to Early Shabbat at the Friday night table on the first "early Shabbat" of the season (or maybe a couple of times), so that everyone hears what's involved and can discuss some of the issues.
Israel Summer Time (a.k.a. Daylight Savings Time) went into effect this year a couple of weeks before Pesach. Since it is not common for shuls to begin "Early Shabbat" before Pesach, nor to continue after Rosh HaShana, this chart will reflect that range.
FRIDAY TIMES for Jerusalem
Kriat Shma: When the proper time arrives (see chart on previous page), say the Sh'ma (next page) with KAVANA to fulfill the mitzva of KRI'AT SHMA BIZMANA (Sh’ma at its proper time). Also, have KAVANA to restate your belief in G-d and His Unity, to accept upon yourself the “Yoke of Heaven” and the “Yoke of Mitzvot” (second passage).For the last pasuk (of the third passage), have KAVANA to remember Y’tzi’at Mitzrayim (the Exodus) “all the days of your life”.
The saying of SHMA is a mitzva from the Torah and we should seize the first opportunity after dark to say it, even if we are in the middle of our Shabbat meal. Since it is not now being said in the davening,  there is no need to say,nt at the end, since in the context of davening, EMET is the first word of the bracha that follows the SH'MA, which we attach to the end of Sh'ma; and  we can (should?) say L'SHEM MITZVAT KRIAT SHMA BIZMANAk (for the sake of saying Sh’ma on time) before we begin, to focus our KAVANA.
Re KEIL MELECH NE'EMAN before the Sh'ma. several sources indicate that this three-word intro to Sh'ma is to "round out" the number of words in the full Sh'ma to 248. (This includes BARUCH SHEIM... but not EMET). 248 is the traditional number of parts in the body. "He who says the 248 words of the Sh'ma the way they are supposed to be said, HaShem will preserve his 248 parts, as it says in Mishlei (4:4), ...SH'MOR MITZVOTAI VECHYEI, keep My mitzvot and live. G-d says: you keep My 248, and I'll keep your 248.
(When davening with a minyan, the chazan's repeating aloud HASHEM ELOKEICHEM EMET brings the word-total to 248 and therefore we do not add KEIL MELECH NE'EMAN to the beginning of the Sh'ma.)
Women are technically exempt from the requirement of reciting Sh'ma, but they may (and should?) voluntarily say this important three-parsha recitation.
The Sh’ma is presented in Torah font and with TROP for those who prefer reading it that way. Even if you don’t read the Sh’ma with TROP, the TROP helps by indicating which syllable of each word gets accented.
And between Pesach and Shavuot,don’t forget to count the Omer.
KIDDUSH: The final page of this pull-out does not relate only to Early Shabbat. We have printed a nice Friday night Kiddush for you, to make this 8-pager (as we call it) even more useful at the Friday night table. (full text of Shma, sefirat haomer for Friday nights and kiddush in Hard copy)