The Most Expensive Hour in the World

MK Haim Oron (Meretz) takes us two years back in time and explains that the idea of a secular majority in the Knesset is a myth.

This evening marks the start of Sukkot, a festival offering many events and attractions throughout Israel. Will religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews be able to enjoy all these events? I received the answer to this question from H.I., an ultra-Orthodox Jerusalemite, who phoned me on Yom Kippur eve to voice serious complaints about my article "And then there was winter" (Haaretz, September 18). In it, I accused religious and ultra-Orthodox Knesset members of having forced Israel to switch from daylight savings time (DST) to standard time a month and a half earlier because they wanted to make the Yom Kippur fast "easier" - a bizarre, marginal "easing" of the fast, because its duration (25 hours) remains constant in any case.

"This isn't a struggle between religious and secular Jews," H.I. protested. "There's no dispute over this issue; we're on the same side of the fence. Actually, we want daylight savings time more than you do." "More than we do?" I was incredulous. "Yes, starting standard time early ruins our day. Today is Yom Kippur eve. There's so much to prepare: There's lunch, then the se'uda mafseket [meal before the fast], and I want to perhaps go to the Western Wall. However, I've given up; I can't do all these things with afternoon services starting at 4:30 P.M. And this holds true for Friday evenings, too. You want to eat lunch with the family, you want to rest a little and perhaps go to the mikveh [ritual bath]. However, you can't do all that, because the Sabbath begins so early."

"But I didn't invent this tale," I replied. "There was a long, arduous debate in the Knesset in 2005 - religious and ultra-Orthodox MKs versus the secular ones." H.I.: "This is the lunacy of the religious politicians. Fairy tales by third-class politicians who engage in nonsense. They don't even understand how much damage they're inflicting on their own constituency."

That is also the answer to the question I asked at the beginning of this article. Religious, ultra-Orthodox and even secular Israeli Jews will find it hard to take advantage of the many attractions offered during Sukkot. With the daylight ending so early, their schedules will be crowded if they want to go on excursions during Sukkot's intermediate days (Hol Hamo'ed). How did this mess begin?

MK Haim Oron (Meretz) takes us two years back in time and explains that the idea of a secular majority in the Knesset is a myth: In reality, when the ultra-Orthodox or religious parties are in the coalition, they obtain a majority on any issue they want. In the heated debate over DST, the ultra-Orthodox and religious MKs tried to "rescue" not only Yom Kippur, but also Passover's seder night from DST.

MK David Azoulay (Shas) argued that DST must commence after seder night, and not in early April as in every other Western country. He was supported by MK Zevulun Orlev (National Religious Party), who said: "By the time the afikoman [matzah] must be 'stolen' [a seder tradition], the children will be fast asleep." Thus, he maintained, DST must be postponed until after seder night. These two individuals amply show how low the standards of Knesset debate can go when MKs think they can do whatever they like.

A compromise was finally reached: DST would begin as scheduled, in early April, but would end earlier than planned, namely, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, to "ease" the fast by one hour. This is the most expensive hour in the world. This year, it cost Israel NIS 20 million in electricity and lost production; it also hurts the public's quality of life and increases the number of road accidents.

Both secular and religious Jews suffer from the darkness that suddenly descends upon us at the early hour of 6 P.M. Nevertheless, the religious MKs are proud of their "accomplishment."

Over the next few years, this illogical formula will lead to even greater absurdities, with DST ending on September 11, even September 7 - that is, nearly two months before Europe and the United States.

So, the ball is back in the court of the religious and ultra-Orthodox MKs. Since they are the ones who went overboard on this issue, they should correct the situation. They owe this to the Israeli public as a whole, but above all, to the voters who sent them to the Knesset.