Eli Yishai Weighs Suspending Daylight Saving for Yom Kippur - Then Backs Down

Interior Minister Eli Yishai said on Sunday he would consider suspending daylight saving time for Yom Kippur, then going back to it until other countries move their clocks an hour back a few weeks later.

However, his office said no such proposal would be adopted this year.

"There are all kinds of ideas that on Yom Kippur it will be [standard] time, a week later it will go back to the way it was before, everything is up for consideration," Yishai told reporters as he entered the Knesset for the weekly cabinet meeting.

Amos Biderman

The plan to suspend daylight saving time was proposed by MK Ronit Tirosh (Kadima).

The statement was surprising in part because Yishai's ultra-Orthodox Shas party has long insisted that Israel change its clock before Yom Kippur, saying that makes it easier for people to fast because the holiday ends an hour earlier than it would under daylight saving time - although it also begins an hour earlier, lasting 25 hours either way.

Israel currently switches to standard time the Saturday night before Yom Kippur, which falls on September 17-18 this year, though some object to the relatively early time change.

This year more than 110,000 people signed a petition calling on their fellow Israelis to ignore the time change until the European Union moves to standard time on the last Sunday in October.

"Standard time cuts short the quality time that parents have with their children, adds to the risk of traffic accidents because of the additional travel in the dark, puts the local time at variance with the time in Europe and the rest of the world, and costs the Israeli economy hundreds of millions of shekels," said high-tech executive Shimon Eckhouse, who launched the petition.

Yishai rejected charges that the early switch to standard time (known in Israel as winter time) causes the country economic losses, and said the annual controversy over the time change did not reflect a rift between religious Israelis and secular ones.

"They checked it out thoroughly, that at the end of the day it's not an economic issue," said Yishai. Referring to daylight saving time, he said: "I love summer time as much as anybody, and all the religious people love it - check it out and you'll see."

He said moving the clock for Yom Kippur showed sensitivity toward Israelis who don't consider themselves religious but fast on the holiday and would like it to be over as early as possible, as well as for people who might have trouble fasting, such as pregnant women and the elderly.

"It's not a religious matter or a secular matter," said Yishai. "It's a very important matter for the entire population."

Indeed, most Israeli Jews fast on Yom Kippur, and the proportion of Israelis who do so has been rising over the last several years.

But Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, who heads the religious Zionist party Habayit Hayehudi, said changing the clock for Yom Kippur has nothing to with Judiasm and doesn't help anyone who observes the holiday, whether or not they identify as religious.

"I see no reason not to leave summer time as is and save the economy some money," said Hershkowitz, an ordained rabbi and the former dean of the Technion math department. "It's not clear why summer time has taken on the character of a religious-secular struggle. It could be that politicians on both sides have painted themselves into a corner and don't know how to get out, but I don't see any Jewish element in this matter. The vast majority of the nation, for whom the Yom Kippur fast is important, will fast in any event, and the length of the fast remains unchanged."

Despite the arguments, the length of the holiday remains the same no matter when it ends. Opponents also point out that another 25-hour fast day - the 9th of Av, which commemorates the destruction of the Temple - always falls smack in the middle of daylight saving time, when the days are hot and long.

A history of change

Israel passed a law in 2005 stating that daylight saving time would begin on the Friday before April 2 and end on the Sunday before Yom Kippur. The use of the lunar calendar in Jewish religious life means that the length of daylight saving time in Israel changes from year to year.

The religious parties in Israel have generally opposed daylight saving time, which the country has instituted on and off since 1948. In 1976 the National Religious Party's Yosef Burg said "summer time" could cause people to violate Shabbat because movie theaters and buses might start operating before the Sabbath ended.

Over the years, religious parties have also said daylight saving time makes it difficult to say the selihot penitential prayers recited before the High Holy Days, usually early in the morning. The argument is that people will be late for work because when daylight saving time is in effect, they are forced to begin morning prayers later.

The DST issue heated up in the 1980s, when the question was still whether to institute daylight saving time at all (and the answer depended on the year ). Since the beginning of the 1990s, though, the argument has centered on how long daylight saving time should last.

Former interior minister Aryeh Deri, Yishai's predecessor as Shas chairman, came up with the rule that daylight saving time should begin in the spring (using the Gregorian calendar) and end shortly before Yom Kippur.