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A Strange Savings Bank
The summer time wars -- religious and not so

This year, for the first time, Pesach seder was in "winter time". I'm certain everyone, and not just the religious, appreciated starting a good hour earlier than in previous years, allowing the [grand]children to still be wide awake and interested in participating.

Why can't we do this every year? Because the wise persons who decide our lifestyles, determined that our change to summer time must be tied to a secular date, incidentally one which is two weeks after North America's changeover and ten days before Europe's. These wise ones often mouth alignment to Europe and/or the U.S.

The difference this year was the result of a quirk in the Jewish calendar, something the summer time proponents did not anticipate when they fixed the secular changeover date some years ago.

This is where their lie is revealed. As "our" start date is earlier than Europe's, it is obvious they chose the date, the last Friday in March, to ensure Pesach would always be in summer. Had they chosen the European date ten days later, Pesach would often occur before the clock change. They obviously do not understand the intricate workings of our traditional calendar, which is irrelevant to them.

The daylight saving "problem" continues to come up. No solution short of all year summer will satisfy these secularists. The Knesset has relegislated the summer time law multiple times (as it did again last year). Many investigative committees have been set up over the years. This year, 2013, we will change our clocks "back" well after Yom Kippur and Sukkot; next year, assuming no new legislation in the year, we will revert to winter time the night immediately after Yom Kippur, on 5th October, 2014!

Daylight saving was first introduced in 1916 in Germany and Austria, and soon afterwards in England, in response to World War I fuel shortages. In those days the energy saved by moving waking hours towards the evening was significant as most electricity went on domestic and public lighting. In those days, no-one dreamt of using artificial lighting while there was still daylight outside.

Since then the world has changed. Today we use more electricity during the day than the night. Shops and offices leave their lights on all day everyday. New buildings are rarely designed to take advantage of natural ambient light. Many "modern" offices and shops are windowless. Even windowed shops on the high street design their displays windows in such a way that little light penetrates inwards. In most shopping malls, even shops on external walls lack an aperture to the outside.

Not only does natural light not enter these premises, the lack of openings necessitates artificial ventilation: heating and cooling, air-conditioning and climate control. Malls are generally open from early morning until at least ten or eleven at night. The hour at which the sun comes up and goes down is irrelevant in such a setting. The designers of modern shopping complexes aim to create an artificial environment, a unique experience, where you will want to spend more time, and thus more money, in their establishments, irrespective of the energy expended in doing so.

In case some of my readers do not know me nor my ideological stance, I am a religious Jew living in the Yerushalayim area. This colours my worldview, of which I am proud. I spend much time outdoors; I swim, bicycle ride and go to the gym daily. I love hiking around my country.

I hasten to add that what I am expressing in this essay is far from my unique point of view. It is shared by hundreds and hundreds of thousands of my fellows and neighbours. We religious Jews have become too complacent, simply worn down by the secular rhetoric. I further contend that the majority in Israel really do not want daylight saving time but are dazzled by these pseudo statistics and internet generated petitions, the latest supposedly signed by 400,000, and the persistent ad nauseam arguments on the subject.

Why is this clock-change forced upon us and on a majority of temperate region countries? I do not believe there is a true objective reason. We often hear, "but I like the longer days". Economists used to tell us that we were saving massive amounts of energy and thus money, but even they have largely dropped this claim. As I have indicated above, our world functions differently to how it did in the not so distant past. Our more affluent western societies generally think less about energy consumption, other than paying lip-service "to the artificial gods they have made".

If it is no longer energy, our daylight saving proponents need a new excuse. They allege the clock change reduces traffic accidents and makes people happier. Very touchy-feely, but difficult to measure quantitatively. They present statistics supporting their premise. The statistics rarely stand up to serious scrutiny. (I can't help myself here -- but there are "Lies, damned lies, and statistics".)

After years of daylight saving, we have forgotten that a clock change is unnecessary to lengthen summer's daylight hours. This is a natural phenomenon, occurring over the course of each and every year. It seems ludicrous to have to state this explicitly: there are far more daylight hours in the summer than in the winter. To be precise, in Israel, at thirty-three degrees north of the equator, there are two hours and twelve minutes more afternoon than in the winter (and the same additional each morning). In midsummer, without the time adjustment, it would still be light outside at 7 p.m.

Israeli summer evenings, especially at higher elevations and along the long coastline, are generally pleasant, on most days a cooling westerly wafts from the Mediterranean, providing relief from long hot Israeli summer days. Why is having the sun shine on these evenings preferable to the pleasant twilight? A variety of ambiances makes life more interesting and congenial. Sitting down outdoors in an evening breeze, with friends and family, for a meal, a beer or a glass of wine, is a very pleasing experience that now must wait until after nine o'clock.

The initial excuse to terminate summer time in early September was "blamed" on the necessity of S'faradi Jews, who start saying s'lichot, penitential prayers, three weeks before their Ashkenazi brothers, to pray in morning light. I never understood this line of argument. The opposite in fact is true, because s'lichot are supposed to be recited prior to sunrise.

The real problem relates to regular daily prayers, which should not be said, on any day of the year, prior to sunrise (other than in extenuating circumstances). Sadly in our modern society, governed by clocks and not astronomical or biological phenomena, many ignore this and pray daily at the same clock time, whether or not the sun has risen. But the halakha is clear; morning prayers should be recited after sunrise. It is amply problematic for many in midwinter where some must start their work day clock-time early. Artificially moving the clock forward by an hour around the times of the equinox, unnecessarily returns midwinter's difficulties to the start and end of summer. Further extending summer time would exacerbate this problem further; sunrise would be clock-time later in October than in December! This surely must be unacceptable.

I emphatically tell the summer time economists that Israel is a proud, independent nation. We have our own unique agenda, climate and custom. We have no need to emulate the Europeans nor anyone else. History has taught us that following European customs is fraught with danger.

But I do agree to follow to a logical end these false prophets' desire to align with Europe. By not introducing daylight saving time, we are putting ourselves right in line with Europe! Without an Israeli clock change, central Europe in the summer would have "adjusted" to our standard time. The time here and in most of Europe would be identical for seven months of the year! Easier for everyone, businessmen and travellers alike, here and in Europe. Twelve midday in Paris, Berlin or Warsaw would be at twelve midday in Tel Aviv!

An added freebie: for nearly eight months of the year, we would be just six hours ahead of the Americas' eastern states. Our business days would overlap by two hours, a great plus for users of office hour services on both sides of the Atlantic.

Economists love to play with numbers and overall economic costs. Here are two macroeconomic factors they should, but do not, take into account. Humans are governed by a circadian, or biological, clock. This internal clock causes people to wake up at the same time every day, usually before their alarm sounds. A sudden change of even one hour throws off this internal timer. If you normally wake at 5:30 a.m., it will take time to adjust to now waking at 4:30.

At summer's end you tell your body it's OK to sleep for another hour. But you wake up as usual, irrespective of when you went to bed. The time it takes for these changes to become regularised is subjective, governed largely by genetic make-up; it varies in each person and mammal. I have found as I age, my system takes longer to acclimatise, similar to when I fly across time zones. People may be at work, but their efficiency is reduced. No-one calculates the loss to the economy of working but dazed zombies. I doubt it is even measurable, but it is none-the-less real.

Twice a year when clocks must be changed, I, and another two to three million people walk around their house, office, car, twirling watch and clock hands. At least today, computer and mobile phone companies have removed the necessity to reset their devices.

This "time" is a real economic cost. Though it comes to millions of shekels, it is conveniently ignored.

Another unmeasurable: I doubt there is a parent, religious or totally secular, who does not have an easier time putting their children to bed when it is dark outside. This is certainly my experience and that of many to whom I have spoken.

To the traditional Jew, summer evenings present problems. The earliest possible midsummer evening prayers finish at around 8:30 p.m. Late to come home for dinner. Given their rising time, this leaves many little evening time for extracurricular and social activities. Communal activities cannot start until after this time. Recent celebrations of Independence Day and Jerusalem Day were thus delayed. As a natural consequence, many people left these wonderful programs early. This is repeated countless times each summer. People who do not pray regularly simply don't realise that we are governed by communal prayer times.

Some laugh when I make the following point, but I see a serious issue. It is related to ladies' visits to the mikve*. The earliest possibly time is twenty minutes after sunset, which in midsummer is 8:15 p.m. A visit ranges from thirty to sixty minutes. Of course one does not have to arrive at opening time. I have found however that many mikve attendants like to close the doors around tenish whether they have been open for two hours or four -- not that they throw clients out. But in essence, hours of service are effectively reduced. Again here, the extra hour is significant to many people. We are governed by astronomy and not secular Israelis' desire to enjoy a little more sunshine.

In midsummer, shabat ends after 8:30 p.m. An observant Jew returns home close to 9:00 p.m. This doesn't leave much time for going out, or even doing much in the house. Remember, I and myriads of my counterparts, will still awaken on Sunday morning at 5:30 or 6 a.m. Many start shabat early of a Friday, but the majority do not. Prayers often become unnecessarily rushed. Arriving home at 9:00 p.m. for kidush and dinner has become the norm. Not very conducive to the heavy shabat meal most seem to consume, irrespective of the clock time, and for time with the family.

And in most synagogues, the services commence the following morning at the same they do midwinter! Which translates to an hour less sleep.

Some houses of worship adjust their sabbath prayer times in the summer. I find this ludicrous -- adjusting for the adjustment. I would humbly suggest that we just make a single adjustment. Don't change the clocks at the equinox, but instead, where desired or necessary, change the times of our summertime activities. In other words, those to whom it is important to start earlier, will change their schedules. This is what we used to do before the clock changes, both here and abroad. Everyone will know that, for example, that between shavu'ot and rosh hodesh Elul, opening hours are half an hour, one hour, two hours, twenty-seven minutes earlier than during the remainder of year.

One of the reasons the daylight saving proponents present relates to traffic congestion and accidents. I would humbly present a reconsideration of work hours in Israel by encouraging more flexitime. This works well in other parts of the world. While it cannot pertain to every job in our economy, with a little imagination and good will, it can apply to many. Spreading the workday over more elapsed hours spreads peak traffic. Less people on the roads means less driver frustration, road rage, and fewer accidents. Retail trading is already largely based on two shifts, matching people's buying habits to their working hours.

Flexitime means that some workers may choose a quieter start or end to their workday, essentially setting their own clocks. A virtual office approach, allowing to people to work from home or other distributed locations at least some of the time, further puts clock control into the hands of the users, providing flexibility in work and leisure hours, and in time spent travelling.

It will enhance our relationship with our children. Father can start work later, allowing him to spend quality morning time with the kids, taking them school. At the other end of the day, mother could pick them up, enjoying quality afternoon time.

That daylight saving reduces motor vehicle accidents is difficult to prove. Is there true comparative data? Is our baseline the winter, when roads are wet and it almost dark at 4:30 p.m.? or the time before we introduced summer time? -- traffic accidents in general have come down and we probably have far far more cars on the roads; we have better roads inclusing many overpasses and tunnels . . . . Or do we compare to northern Europe where it is dark at 3 p.m. in the winter?

Perhaps today there is a way to test the assertion. The people of Western Australia recently decided to dispense with summer time. This state could provide a test location.

On Lag baOmer, people all over the country, especially youngsters, spend the night until the early hours of the morning, around bonfires. As a result, Lag baOmer has always been an official school holiday, even though it really has little, if any, religious or national significance.

This year Lag baOmer fell on Saturday night. Because of summer time, the Chief Rabbinate, for the first time, decided there may be desecration of shabat which ended a few minutes before 8:00 p.m. Some, they feared, may light their fires earlier, or put finishing touches to their pyres, before the stars are out. So the rabbis "decreed" that the bonfires should be lit on Sunday night, the night after the traditional, not legislated, date. Of course this edict, as should have been expected, was largely ignored. But there was an unnecessary, additional day off school.

Similarly Yom ha'Atsma'ut, Israel Independence Day, and the previous day, Soldiers Memorial Day, were postponed this year by a day, again because of daylight saving. The Memorial Day siren, traditionally sounded at 8 p.m., would have been sounded just a few minutes after the sabbath.

Not all countries in the temperate regions change their clocks seasonally, though most do. Recently some countries have realised the fallacy in the move and have elected to terminate the habit. I hope that like many things which we humans take upon ourselves, we will all return to the sanity of standard time.

We in Israel co-exist in a Jewish, though multi-faceted, society. I think I have outlined the disadvantages to both religious and to secular Israelis, or rather to all Israeli society, of the unnecessity of continuing daylight saving time. It serves but the narrow interests of a small part our community and it accentuates the religious-secular divide.

This a shortened version of my original piece on Summer Time.

19th May, 2013    

* Mikve Married women of childbearing age visit the mikve at some frequency, ranging from monthly to annually. I won't go into detail here concerning the spread.

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