Quiet time? Forget about it.

Though enshrined in law and lore, quiet time – between two and four in the afternoon – is an idea whose time has passed.

November 7, 2016 21:37
3 minute read.
Jerusalem at night

Jerusalem at night. (photo credit: NOAM SHUGANOVSKY)

Ah, “quiet time” – when the whole country shuts down in the middle of the afternoon for a national rest period. Stores shuttered, cafes closed, noisy activity brought to a temporary halt as we all retire to our homes for a nap.

As if.

Though enshrined in law and lore, quiet time – between two and four in the afternoon – is an idea whose time has passed. Few businesses (private ones, anyway) can afford to close for two hours, and aside from babies and retirees in their golden years, who among us actually has the luxury of stopping what we’re doing for a mid-afternoon siesta?

Trucks keep rumbling, cars keep honking, ear-splitting construction work continues from morning to night. The police don’t seem to devote any resources to enforcing the rule, and frankly, with many more pressing problems to deal with, that’s as it should be. But it doesn’t stop some old-fashioned, hyper-sensitive folks from acting as citizen enforcers.

I’m not the first unknowing olah to be verbally accosted by an irate neighbor wagging her finger at her because her children were playing outside during quiet time. It was Shabbat afternoon, the kids were actually getting along nicely, and we were all enjoying the lovely weather, until the self-appointed noise monitor came along. (I’ll be the first to admit that my children can be exceedingly loud sometimes, but this was not one of those times.) The woman threatened to call the police. I doubt that they would have responded, but it was distressing to have this archaic yet still viable law be used as an intimidation tool. Rather than prolong the conflict, we grudgingly left the playground.

Let’s face it: Jerusalem is not a quiet city. Construction projects assault your eardrums everywhere you turn, while the plenitude of cats and dogs contribute lustily to the urban cacophony. And that’s just during the day. My husband and I are frequently kept up at night by blaring music from a nearby nightclub, and occasionally from neighbors hosting raucous parties. If that level of noise at such late hours goes on without consequence, then it’s ridiculous to maintain a ban on much less obtrusive sounds in the middle of the afternoon.

To expect restfulness to prevail from two to four is simply unrealistic, even in residential neighborhoods. Those are prime playtime hours for school-age kids. We are fortunate to have many beautiful parks and playgrounds – public spaces that serve an important function in children’s development.

And what about schools and kindergartens, which have yards or playgrounds on their property? If you happen to live near one of them, the sounds of kids at play simply come with the territory.

I am not advocating a screaming and yelling free-for-all.

We should aim to respect our neighbors and do our best to avoid disturbing each other.

Parents like me try to keep our kids’ behavior (including their noise level) under control, but they are not robots or silent film actors. It’s an ongoing challenge, made more stressful by the quiet time law and the expectation it creates.

Those looking for quiet conditions might have better luck in the suburbs or the countryside.

And even there, in this small, crowded, youthful country, it’s bound to get noisy. Let’s do away with the two-to-four rule once and for all so quiet-time vigilantes no longer have license to harass their fellow citizens for disturbing a peace that is, for better or worse, an impossible dream.

The author moved to Jerusalem from New York with her family in 2015. She is a busy mom, a freelance writer and editor, and previously worked as a court attorney and magazine editor.

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