In a nation filled with olim, discussions around the interest in having Sundays off have swept the Israeli public in recent days.
The prevailing concept of a Sunday-to-Thursday workweek is one that seldom exists outside of Israel and the Middle East. Residents of the country from a variety of backgrounds have expressed to the Magazine just how much their lives would change if the nation were to adopt a new structure – although it’s not always for the best, some say.
For many, it is the only structure they know. Their week starts by rolling out of bed on a Sunday morning and preparing for a hard day’s work, pushing through until the final moments of a Thursday evening when they can clock out and enjoy a free Friday before Shabbat. If they are religiously observant, much of that Friday requires preparation for the Sabbath, using their Saturday for observance. However, for the secular community, that means a free few hours before much of the nation closes up shop and transportation ceases, only to reopen at the start of the week.
A limited weekend begs the question: Would there be a significant difference in Israeli society if Sunday were to become an extra free day for the public? Would it be used for recreation, for errands, for rest?
Can Israel’s workweek even be changed?
When discussing this hypothetical transition from a Sunday-Thursday workweek to a traditional Monday-Friday one, it first needs to be asked if this transition is even possible.
To answer this, it is best to look at a recent example of a country that did just that: The United Arab Emirates.
In the past, the UAE, like Israel, had a workweek that started on Sunday and ended on Thursday. However, starting January 1, 2022, the Gulf state shifted to a new work schedule by adding Sundays to the weekend.
The change did not come without controversy, as having a Monday-Friday workweek makes the UAE a regional outlier, alongside only Turkey and Lebanon. However, at the time, the shift was seen as necessary.
The UAE is an ever-growing international business hub, and its location in the Middle East positions it ideally for business between the vast time zone differences in the Western and Asian markets. But to capitalize on this, the Emirati market needed to work in sync with the rest of the world.
There were some worries and objections to this, especially since the schedule shift would require work on the Islamic holy day, Friday. However, the UAE found a way around this, too. Rather than Friday being a full workday, it’s only a half day, at least for government workers. The traditional Muslim Friday prayer, typically said at noon, was instead scheduled for 1:15 p.m., after the workday is finished.
Despite this de facto shift to a four-and-a-half-day workweek having some hiccups at first, it caught on very quickly. No longer were businesses forced to have this brief period of inactivity when they would finish on Thursday, have international clients and partners message them on Friday, then return to the office on Sunday to see all these messages, only for those same clients and partners all over the world to be off work.
It wasn’t all perfect, to be sure. A big issue the UAE faced was how it could work with its neighbors, all of whom still kept a Sunday-Thursday workweek. But so far, the UAE has been thriving – in fact, there are even reports of the Gulf state considering a switch to an outright four-day workweek.
But the logic for this shift to a Monday-Friday workweek, to better be in line with the rest of the world, is also something that can pay dividends for the Start-Up Nation.
Despite Israel’s efforts to forge better ties with its Arab neighbors, most of the Jewish state’s global trade and business ties are with the West, which follows the Monday-Friday workweek. As with the UAE, shifting Israel’s workweek to be in sync with international markets could better aid in business dealings with clients and partners overseas. Otherwise, with two days out of sync with the rest of the world, what should be a five-day workweek effectively turns into a three-day one.
Do Israelis even want Sundays off?
But that isn’t something that the average Israeli is necessarily thinking. Plenty of Israelis, from new olim to veteran residents to Sabras of all stripes, have a variety of opinions about the contentious Sunday debate.
As noted in a recent column by Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Avi Mayer, “Many immigrants from Western countries long for the weekends they enjoyed in the places they left behind, which stretched from Friday afternoon until Monday morning and occasionally beyond, rather than Thursday evening until Sunday morning here in Israel.”
A major source of longing for Sundays off comes from religious observance. While the idea behind having Friday as a day off may be to make sure observant Jews have the time needed to get ready for Shabbat, the end result is that it’s just one day of unpaid work, since, as most religiously observant Jews will attest, getting ready for Shabbat is a full day of hard work.
“I strongly dislike having to spend the only three hours I have to myself a week (while the kids are at nursery or school) preparing for Shabbat on Friday morning,” commented one such Israeli resident, Pnina Rappeport. “Our lives here are very hectic, especially when we have very long workweeks, so a day off with no strings attached [such as getting ready for Shabbat] so we can breathe, would be a dream.”
“Shabbat is meant to be a day of rest,” noted Rachel Furman Lewkowicz. “But what with preparing for Shabbat and the obligations to go to shul, it’s actually less restful than I would like.”
For others, the desire to incorporate a new workweek stems from another issue: Israelis are chronically overworked.
“Israel has among the longest working weeks in the world,” commented Daniel Rosenhill. “The minimum vacation for salaried employees is paltry and based on the dysfunctional practice of the US. If Israel were to adopt Europe’s standard (minimum 20 days vacation per salaried employee), people would have sufficient time off and the ability to spend it when they want. As it stands, Israel chooses the worst parts of socialism and capitalism and puts them into one dysfunctional system.”
The data backs up this claim. Reports have indicated that Israelis already work many more hours than is customary in OECD countries: about 1,900 annual hours in Israel compared to about 1,540 in Great Britain and 1,380 in Germany.
“Many of us know that our work hours are unnecessarily long; and while there are periods when the extra hours are needed, it’s equally true that there are times when we’ve done our work and really don’t need to be in the office anymore,” said Jerusalem resident Emmanuel Miller.
“Even those of us who work remotely or semi-remotely know that we need to be ready to jump on a call at a moment’s notice, thereby reducing the flexibility theoretically offered by working from home.”
Other Israelis who want Sundays off include parents who want a day to relax and spend time with the family.
“I would absolutely love to have Sundays off,” said Meira Weber. “It’s time to recover from Shabbat (without the prep and scramble of Fridays), which means that Saturday night can be a true night off for both kids and adults, and Sunday can be a stress-free family day without a sunset curfew. Fridays don’t even come close to how amazing it is to have off on Sundays.”
However, many also oppose the switch, and their reasons for doing so also vary.
Some argued that this is Israel – and it’s simply how things are done here.
“We are not in Kansas anymore! We live in Israel, get with the program!” Chana Studley said.
“Why come to Israel and have American expectations?”Tzipporah Rosensweig
Another Jerusalemite, Tzipporah Rosensweig, agreed, commenting: “Why come to Israel and have American expectations?”
Others pointed out practical reasons, such as Fridays off still being necessary. But a major argument presented was the question of just for whom Sundays would be off, and if people could even afford one less day of work, since Fridays would still need to be free for the religiously observant.
“It would be nice for Sundays to be a part of the weekend, but financially it would be pretty hard, especially since the salaries don’t pay as much here,” commented Sasha Factor Siman Tov.
“We work more than other countries, but we still have a talent shortage in many professions that would only get worse if we worked less,” said Rebecca Lehman.
Another Facebook user, Batya Spiegelman Medad, criticized the request for Sundays off as the “dumbest elitist demand.”
“The proletariat will have to work, and the kids will be out of school, so who’s going to watch them, and at what cost?” she argued. “Many people have Friday off, so that would make a four-day workweek for some, while the poor work six or seven days.”
Another commenter opposing the shift to a Monday-Friday workweek was Jerusalemite John Ira.
“What is the trade-off that these olim want for Sundays off?” he asked. “One less day of work (less income)? Work on Fridays, Saturdays, or longer hours on the other four days instead? Do they expect the rest of the country to also have the extra day off, such as [workers in] public transportation, government offices, banks, supermarkets, restaurants?”
He also pointed out that many people in the Tel Aviv area in support of Sundays off essentially just want a longer weekend.
“With their higher salaries, I guess they can afford an extra day off.”
“Most aren’t even religious,” he opined, “so it’s not like Friday doesn’t count as part of the weekend for them.”
Could a four-day workweek be the answer Israel needs?
Several other people throughout the various social media platforms the Magazine interviewed when preparing this article put forth another idea to have a Sunday off and not cause any issues with Israel’s existing system: The four-day workweek.
This is a concept that has been widely discussed across the globe. Although still in the experimental stages, individual companies and countries alike have begun to experiment with how this idea could become a reality. Many argue that productivity can be increased by having the extra day off, allowing for time to focus on mental and physical health, finances, and relationships.
CNBC reported that the global nonprofit 4 Day Week Global joined with the think tank Autonomy to test the method, including a sample size of nearly 3,000 employees at more than 60 companies in the United Kingdom. There, they employed a 100-80-100 model in which workers received 100% of their pay for working only 80% of the time but delivering 100% of the work.
The experiment was deemed a success, with 92% of companies continuing the model permanently. Just five of those companies did not move forward according to the organization, which stated that two of the companies are expecting trials, and three are pressing pause on the operation for the time being.
Of companies sampled, one UK-based environmental consulting agency, Tyler Grange, reported that productivity increased by 22% and job applications by almost 90%, with employee absenteeism at its lowest ever. Plus, with less time spent on commutes, their adverse environmental impact decreased.
CBS Pittsburgh reported this week that Pennsylvania state Representative Roni Green (D) proposed legislation that would require large businesses – 500 or more employees – to cut work hours from 40 to 32 hours while continuing to pay employees the same salaries. This would exclude small and mid-sized companies and is expected to be discussed in the Pennsylvania state legislature.
This proposal in Israel has both supporters and opponents from across the political and economic spectrum, and it is far too soon to see if the Jewish state will ever make this shift.
Perhaps one day Israel will adopt a second day of rest after Saturdays; but with the country currently torn down the middle by major political issues, it seems that the debate about Sundays will have to wait for another week. ■
Would ‘Jerusalem Post’ staff get Sundays off?
“As a leading media outlet with a global audience in the millions and a daily paper that is an important part of the lives of so many English speakers in Israel, we at The Jerusalem Post do not have the luxury of taking many days off,” noted Avi Mayer, editor-in-chief.
“We will continue to publish a paper every weekday and to keep our online audience informed about events in Israel and around the globe throughout the week, including over the weekend. That is our responsibility to our readers.
“It does not mean, however, that this isn’t the right move for Israel,” he clarified. “I think it is, and if we eventually have to adjust our work schedules to accommodate a reality in which Sunday is a day off in the country, we will do so gladly.”
Liat Collins, editor of The Jerusalem Post International Edition, also noted just how much of an impact that extra day off would have on schedules here at the publication.
“Even when there isn’t a print version going out the next day, we are still working. The internet desk never stops,” she stated. “Essential services will always be needed, and there will always be a need for what we do here.”
However, she would want that extra day to relax and even engage in more recreation.
“There are not enough days in the Israeli weekend. Having Saturdays off is divine; having Sundays off would be human.”Liat Collins
“There are not enough days in the Israeli weekend. Having Saturdays off is divine; having Sundays off would be human,” Collins said.
Ori Lewis, senior print edition news editor, also weighed in.
“A shorter work week will have absolutely no significant impact on those of us who toil to put out a daily newspaper, which invariably would have to hit the newsstands and doorsteps on a Monday morning,” Lewis said.
“To paraphrase King Canute, just like the tides of the sea, the news waits for no man. If we are to deliver the latest updates to our readers, who expect us to tell them what’s going on, and if we are to stand alongside other news outlets, we will have to work on Sundays.
“Not to mention, of course, that many journalists work on Saturdays anyway.”
Zachy Hennessy contributed to this report.