Editorial: Let it stay light

A groundswell of public opinion is building against our too-short daylight savings.

“Rabbi Tarfon said: The day is short, the task is great, the laborers are lazy, the wage is abundant and the master is urgent.” Ethics of the Fathers (Chapter 2, Mishnah 20)
Unlike the Protestant work ethic, the Jewish religion does not see worldly success as proof of spiritual salvation. There is, nonetheless, a deep appreciation for proper time management and a strong aversion to waste, anchored in Halacha's prohibition against needless destruction (bal tashchit).
Our time in this world is short, warn the rabbis, and we must make the most of our waking hours.
Daylight savings time, therefore, definitely concurs with Jewish ideals, even if Protestant sensibilities are its source. (Benjamin Franklin, a founding father of America, is credited with first conceiving of daylight savings, and the British were the first to implement it.) By synchronizing our waking hours as much as possible with the sun, we preserve energy otherwise wasted to illuminate the dark. We also escape the pitfall Rabbi Chanina warned against: “One who stays awake at night... and turns his heart to idleness, has forfeited his life” (Ethics of the Fathers Chapter 3, Mishnah 4).
Yet, in the Jewish state’s short history, religious Jews have been the principal opponents of daylight savings. The Interior Ministry, traditionally a portfolio held by religious legislators, was originally empowered by law to decide when daylight savings would take place, if at all, each year.
In the wake of the Arab oil embargo of 1973, Israel reinstituted daylight savings after it was canceled in 1958. But in 1976, the National Religious Party’s interior minister Yosef Burg did away with it again.
And in 1986, Shas’s interior minister Yitzhak Peretz delayed implementation until a cabinet decision overruled him.
Nearly every year since there has been sectarian tension over the issue. In 2005, after much parliamentary give and take, a law was put in place backed by Shas MK David Azulai to “spring ahead” on the last Saturday night before April 2 and to “fall back” on the last Saturday night before Yom Kippur.
Due to the idiosyncrasies of the Jewish calendar – which is based on both lunar and solar calculations – this year Israel’s daylight savings period is the shortest in the world, just 170 days compared to 245 in America and 218 days in EU countries.
Israel’s Chamber of Commerce estimates that the economy will lose NIS 10 million as a result of higher electricity demand and a fall in retail sales and productivity as consumers and workers have fewer daylight hours to spend and produce. There is also concern that more night driving will lead to more accidents. Psychologists warn that shorter days increase the chances of depression. The early shift to standard time also complicates coordination with Europe and America on flight times and business dealings.
SO WHY do some in the Orthodox leadership oppose extending daylight through Yom Kippur until the end of October like in the EU, or until the beginning of November like in America? It can’t be because you have to stay awake longer during the fast. After all, isn’t the point of Yom Kippur to be awake and cognizant and able to use this precious time for repentance? Nor can it be because of Shabbat desecration.
What religious value is there in “saving” an irreligious Jew by shortening Shabbat, thus making it less likely that he will desecrate the holy day of rest? Isn’t this gain more than canceled out by the negative impression supposed representatives of Judaism make on their irreligious brothers by coercing them into cutting short the many benefits of daylight savings? A groundswell of public opinion is building against our too-short daylight savings. A grassroots Internet-based petition has already collected over 100,000 signatures. Apparently, they know better than certain religious MKs what Rabbi Tarfon taught nearly two millennia ago: “The day is short and the task is great.”
We can use all the help we can get. Daylight savings is precisely that kind of help.