On that occasion…Joshua addressed the Lord…: “Stand still, O sun, at Gibeon, O moon, in the Valley of Ayalon!” …Thus the sun halted in midheaven, and did not press on to set, for a whole day; for the Lord fought for Israel.
Once again this year, on the Saturday night before Yom Kippur, we went off of daylight saving time (referred to here as “summer time”), over a month before the rest of the world. Not that many years ago, the timing of the clock change, at both ends, was always a surprise, as each year the Knesset would debate it and announce a date. But after years of this annoying drama, an agreement was reached to regularize the transition: spring forward on the Saturday night before Pesach, and fall back on the Saturday night before Yom Kippur; six months of “winter time” and six months of “summer time.” The fact that the system is more stable than in the past doesn’t mean that it is not a subject of controversy, which erupts onto the op-ed pages during the week before the changeover – and this year, even into the streets, with demonstrations against the government’s policy. Apparently, the great majority of the population would prefer to extend daylight saving time through October. They prefer to have more daylight in the after-school and after-work hours, prefer to have a longer Friday before Shabbat starts, until the days are so short that it becomes preferable to shift the remaining light to the morning commute. Every year studies are published demonstrating the economic cost of the early shift to winter time – in increased consumption of electricity, traffic accidents, etc. And every year, a few Ultra-orthodox members of the Knesset hold the coalition hostage and refuse to allow the passage of recommendations to move the time shift to the end of October. The reasons they give to the media are that somehow it is easier to fast on Yom Kippur if sundown is at 5:30 instead of 6:30 – and that those who arise for early morning selichot prayers find it easier to do so if daylight comes earlier on the clock. I have never met anyone, Orthodox or not, who understands this logic, or who feels it should govern policy. And as the debate gets recycled each year, it becomes increasingly obvious that what is going on is purely a political power game, in which the Ultra-orthodox parties find it in their bargaining interest to impose their will in a matter that is not even remotely halachic, and that only needlessly exacerbates the general public’s anti-orthodox feelings. It is clear that at some point they will either give up or lose. It’s just sad how much wasted money and bad feeling will have to accumulate until that happens.
Another recent calendrical upset: Ever since creation, public schools in Israel opened on September 1, with days off for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and a nine-day vacation for Sukkot. (Interestingly, the universities open according to the Jewish calendar, the week after Sukkot). In the summer of 2011, the Education Ministry announced a reform: School would start a week earlier, and the Sukkot vacation would begin erev Yom Kippur. Needless to say, announcing such a change in July was not a big hit, and the ministry retreated, delaying the implementation of the new calendar to this year. So this year kids went back to school on August 26, for three full weeks, then a fragmented week due to Rosh Hashanah, and then a vacation of two full weeks. There has been a little griping but no public outcry. It is not clear that shortening summer vacation is seen by many people as a disadvantage. The main inconvenience is the burden of child care for working parents between Yom Kippur and Sukkot. And, for elementary schools especially, no school between Yom Kippur and Sukkot means that Sukkot disappears from the curricular calendar and from school life. In any case, since the change seems to stem from rational planning considerations and not from political or religious pressures, most people are willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.
It seems that the struggle for control of the calendar and the clock has been with us since our beginnings, and will be with us forever.