The tech community often hears that the Daylight Savings Time (DST) issue is political in Israel and is solved by parliament debate.

In fact, this parliament debate includes extreme calls to cancel DST altogether, on one hand, and spread it to the entire year (thus effectively moving Israel to a different time zone, GMT+3, from the current GMT+2), on the other.

As this is definitely puzzling to non-locals, I bring the background here, explaining the interests that clash.

As with any political issue, different groups of population are interested in it being resolved in their way and oppose each other.

In classifying these groups, we need to understand two different axes: religious vs. secular and Eastern vs. Western.

When I speak about religious, I always mean here Jewish religion; other religions did not contribute to this dialogue in Israel as their influence is much less and they are not concerned with the Daylight Savings Time issue.

The interests and reasons on the religious – secular axis

The secular want the DST to be longer since it

  • Saves lives by allowing more people to drive home during daylight after work, and it
  • Saves electric bills by allowing people turn their lights on later in the evening while in the morning they get up after dawn anyway.
  • In addition, they view the attempts of the religious to shorten the DST as a case of religious coercion.

The religious advance the following reasons to shorten the DST:

  • The most popular argument is to finish the DST earlier is to finish it before the fast of Yom Kippur which falls in September – October.
    • Yom Kippur is a day of complete fast (no eating or drinking allowed) that Jewish tradition mandates on all males above the age of 13 and females above the age of 12. Sick people may receive rabbinical relief which may be partial (drinking only small quantities in specified intervals of time) if the decease is serious but not fully life-threatening.

      Many say that this is the most important day in the Jewish calendar.

      Since the Jewish calendar is combined lunar – solar (months being defined by the moon and additional thirteenth month being added to leap years to synchronize the year with the sun on the average), the exact Gregorian date changes from year to year within September-October range.

      The fast starts shortly before sunset and ends the following day after dark; this makes approximately 25 hours of dry fast.

      When Yom Kippur falls during DST, this means that it starts later and finishes later.

      The religious parties that argue against DST, want the fast to start earlier and end earlier. In this way, the evening part is longer and the day part is shorter, while the total time is the same.

      By this argument, the evening part is not difficult anyway since people have just finished eating and drinking, and the day part is shorter and consequently easier.

      Personally, I can confirm this argument from my personal experience but I view it as rather populistic; people can survive the “longer” Yom Kippur and the difference is not significant.

  • By a similar token, the religious want to start DST after the first day of Passover.
    • Passover is probably the next most important holiday in the Jewish tradition. It falls in March-April.

      It starts with the ceremony of Passover Seder in the evening of the first day. It is performed at home with one’s family and it can be started only after dark.

      The main commandment of the Passover Seder is incumbent upon each father, to tell his children – including small children – about the Exodus of Jews from the ancient Egypt as much as possible.

      There is a prescribed text – Haggadah – and additional explanations from the father and other participants are encouraged.

      If DST is started before the Seder, the Seder starts later and small children often fall asleep before being able to listen about Exodus, or are able to listen very little.

      Rabbis generally recommend giving small children a nap during the day before the Seder but I have not been able to do it with mine.

      In my personal view, it is a serious problem; I definitely prefer DST to start after the Seder. However, it is definitely survivable, as shows the example of Jews who live in places where the clock is set in such way that the sunset is late (e.g., Moscow, Russia).

  • During DST, Jewish Sabbath ends late and Saturday nights which are the recreation and fun time for the youth, are short.
    • Jewish tradition prohibits any commercial activities during Jewish Sabbath. Sabbath ends at dark on Saturday night.

      Restaurants, movie theaters and other fun centers that cater to religiously observant and traditional public, open shortly after dark.

      Traditional here refers to people who adhere to Jewish tradition but not with the full seriousness usually given to a religious commandment.

      When it gets dark late on Saturday night, places of entertainment open late, and this leaves less time for fun.

      IMHO, this argument is half populistic, and another half is an attempt to keep the traditional youth that is not necessarily very serious about their religious observance, “in the fold”. Those who advance this argument, are concerned that if Sabbath ends late, the youth may start patronizing activities that are open during Sabbath, thus desecrating it. Personally, I am skeptical about these attempts at keeping youth in the fold.

      Note also that this argument is against DST at all rather than against it starting early in the Spring and ending late in the Fall.

  • The last argument is most serious in my eyes: the morning synagogue service on weekdays needs to start after dawn, and there is not enough time for it before the work starts in most enterprises if DST ends too late in the Fall.
    • Jewish tradition prescribes three communal prayer services during weekdays, the morning one, the afternoon one and the evening one. The morning service is rather long (at least 40 minutes long, and could be a over an hour on certain special days) while the other two are shorter.

      Most of the morning service should take place after dawn, with only some beginning parts may be done before dawn.

      The religious life in Israel is organized in such way that people usually live in closely-knit communities organized around synagogues, so that each family lives within walking distance of their synagogue. People attend the morning services in their communal synagogues while the afternoon and sometimes evening services they attend near their workplaces.

      Different communities have sometimes different customs in their prayer services, and in this way people attend longer morning services with synagogues of their custom while shorter services they may attend elsewhere.

      If DST is extended late into the Fall or spread for the entire year, some synagogues would be forced to make their morning services later. The result would be that some people would be unable to attend morning services near their home and and arrive at their work on time. They would have to look for synagogues near their workplaces.

      If DST is extended well into November (not to say about spreading it to the entire year), this would disrupt the religious life as many people would not be able to attend morning services in their communal synagogues. In addition, there would be shortage of synagogue space for morning services in industrial zones and other places of work.

The interests and reasons on the Eastern – Western axis

The Jews in Israel are still divided into two large groups by their origin:

  • Ashkenazi Jews trace their ancestry into Poland and Germany. These include most Jews from Western countries and most of the former Soviet Union. (Literally, Ashkenaz is the Hebrew name for Germany where the ancestors of these Jews lived around 1000 to 1500 AD; later many of them migrated from Germany to Poland and then to other countries.)
  • Sefardi Jews trace their ancestry to Spain from which they were expelled by 1492 and went to Turkey and Northern Africa. (Sfarad is the Hebrew name for Spain.) Jews that belonged to other communities in Arab and Eastern countries are also sometimes incorrectly called Sefardi even though none of their ancestors lived in Spain. Sefardi and other Jews from countries of Arab and Eastern cultures are generally grouped together as Eastern Jews, as opposed to the Western Ashkenazis, although some of the Jews that came to Israel from Western countries, are Sefardi.

Western Jews come from the cultures that have been exposed to electric light longer; they go to bed later and get up later. Normally, in the morning they would just send their kids to kindergartens and schools and go to work themselves, not doing anything else, except possibly morning prayers – those who do this.

Eastern Jews come from cultures in which people get up early, have siesta – an afternoon nap – and tend to go to bed early although the latter is not always the case as they get their sleep during the siesta.

Siesta was the traditional Mediterranean way to survive summer afternoon heat, and it used to be a custom in Israel for the entire year until it gradually disappeared with the advance of airconditioning.

However, Eastern Jews still get up early in the morning, go to their small neighborhood shop to get fresh food, make phone calls to each other and even make visits, and otherwise consider this to be their time to do things, not just prepare for work and school.

This division is no longer clear-cut: as Eastern Jews make a majority in Israel, many Western Jews have changed their custom to the prevailing one to some extent.

How this transforms into actual politics

According to the above analysis, secular Ashkenazi parties are for extending DST as much as possible while Sefardi religious parties are in favor of cutting it as much as possible.

There are no strictly Ashkenazi secular parties but there are ideologically secular parties that come and go and represent mostly Ashkenazi population, and they indeed support DST. When they join the governing coalition, they write DST into the coalition agreements and get their hand. The last time this happened in the Fall of 2013 when the coalition included a new secular party, Yesh Atid. See below links to a few articles about this change.

The party that represents the religious Sephardim, is called Shas and it has been a part of Israeli politics for already 30 years. They indeed have always been fighting against DST. In the Fall of 2013 they were sitting in the opposition and this allowed Yesh Atid to gain the extension of DST.

Here is more to read, although much of what I wrote above, is not available in these references:

©Baruch Youssin 2014

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