The Shekel Drops / Winter Is Coming

Only here can a minority community of observant Jews bend the will of the majority and turn the height of summer into winter, at least officially.

Never mind that you think it's still hot. In two weeks, winter will arrive. In that, Israel is unique. Only here can a minority community of observant Jews bend the will of the majority and turn the height of summer into winter, at least officially. The sun refuses to obey.

Heavy rains flooding Kiryat Motzkin in November 2009
Tomer Nueberg

In Europe, daylight saving time ends on the last Sunday in October, which this year falls on October 31. Most countries elsewhere do the same, from Lebanon to Tunisia to Cuba. There they understand that the paramount consideration is to economize on electricity. We don't. They understand the need to be coordinated with Europe. Not here.

Until 2006, the United States would also end daylight saving time on the last Sunday in October. But in 2007, because of the energy crisis and spiking oil prices, the president at the time, George W. Bush, extended summer; daylight time now ends on the first Sunday in November. Impoverished America can't afford what Israel evidently can.

This year, Israel will end daylight time almost two months before the United States. We will be moving our watch dials on September 12, while theirs will only move on November 7.

The Palestinian Authority also behaves more sensibly than Israel: Their daylight saving ends on October 15, a month after ours.

The importance of the summer clock isn't only to economize on energy by making optimal use of sunlight. Empirical studies show that productivity is higher when people work in daylight. Switching over from daylight time will cost us tens of millions of shekels, not only in terms of paying for electricity, but in lost productivity.

In two weeks' time, dear reader, you will awake in broad daylight and go home in the dark.

There are also fewer traffic accidents during the day. Daylight improves family life; when parents come home from work when it's still sunny, they can do more things outside with the kids.

For years the Israeli majority has striven to achieve a normal daylight-saving regime here, too. But the political clout of the religious and Haredi parties has tipped the scale. No ruling party, not Likud, Labor or Kadima, has dared stand up to the religious parties and say, Are you out of your minds?

It all began in a Knesset battle back in 2005, when the ultra-Orthodox and religious MKs demanded that summer time officially end the day before Yom Kippur. They won the day. David Azoulay of Shas and Zevulun Orlev of the National Religious Party also wanted to rule that summer would begin only after the Passover seder, because by the time the kids have to search for the afikoman, they're asleep. Happily, that bit of lunacy did not pass.

Why did the religious want summer to end before Yom Kippur? To make their fast easier. But that is also ludicrous - the fast lasts 25 hours in any case, so what's the gain?

That is a riddle. The usual explanation is that starting standard time earlier in the year lets the faster sleep an extra hour in the morning and go to synagogue an hour later, so theoretically, he feels the pangs of hunger an hour less. But that is contemptible gimmickry - the whole point of the fast is to mortify the soul.

Why haven't the religious Jews of Brooklyn and London cried out that their fast is too hard because they're on summer time? They haven't done that because their heads aren't spinning with power. They know that the minority can't force its will on the majority. Only in Israel do the religious party hacks comfortably ride the secular donkey and do with it as they will.

With power comes the desire for more. Their latest demand is a global precedent: that the Jerusalem light rail have "mehadrin" cars segregated by gender. The Jews of London and Brooklyn wouldn't dream of raising such a demand.

The cases of the clock and the train just go to show who really cracks the whip around here.