Daylight savings time starts Friday morning
Daylight savings time starts Friday morning Israel News Photo

Daylight saving time begins early Friday morning in the State of Israel – but unlike in the United States, its raison d'etre is not based solely on economic and leisure issues. In the Jewish State, daylight saving is based on religious as well as economic considerations.


Analysts estimate that summer time will save between 70 and 115 million shekels ($17-29 million) in 2009, but some say if it were to end later, Israel would save more.


Conflict Between the Religious and Secular

The issue of daylight saving time has traditionally been a point of contention between the religious and secular populations in Israel. Many studies have shown that changing the clocks saves a tremendous amount of energy each year, and the longer that daylight saving time lasts, the more financial savings. In the U.S., the clocks change to summer time for 238 days each year.


On the other hand, in Israel, religious considerations have often led to shorter periods of summer time. In the spring, observant Jews have wanted the clock to change only after Passover, so that the traditional Seder, which starts only after nightfall, would begin and end earlier. In the autumn, they preferred that the clock change back before Yom Kippur, when Jews fast for 25 hours from slightly before sunset one day to about an hour after sunset on the next. Most people find fasting at night easier, and would prefer to wake up the next day with fewer hours left to fast.


Between 1948 and 2005, daylight saving time was subject to the Interior Minister’s discretion. During years in which there was a secular Interior Minister, summer time would last longer. When the Interior Minister was an observant Jew, it would be shorter. In some years, there was no daylight savings time at all. The situation was so arbitrary that Microsoft gave up on incorporating daylight saving time to the Jerusalem time zone in its Windows operating system.


The Two Sides Reach a Compromise 

In 2005, the Knesset decided to formalize Israeli daylight saving time once and for all. Shas MK David Azulai and Likud MK Eli Aflalo proposed a law by which daylight saving time would begin the day after the Passover Seder and end the day before the Yom Kippur fast. Unsurprisingly, secular Knesset members were vehemently opposed to the solely religious initiative.


MK Avraham Poraz of the now-defunct secular Shinui party could not understand why summer time should present a problem for Yom Kippur. “I have studied the issue. Yom Kippur starts at nightfall and ends at nightfall no matter what. Judaism is 3,000 years old – the clock was invented only 200 years ago – what does it matter what the clock says? I think the mistake is of the synagogue Gabaim (attendants) who begin prayers too early. Let them make the prayer times later according to daylight saving time.”


MK Chaim Oron of the generally secular Meretz party suggested a compromise. “I think I will leave the issue of Gabaim for a different lifetime. Several religious MKs have told me that the issue of Yom Kippur is very important to them. Let’s compromise. Daylight saving time will start according to the secular calendar but end according to the religious calendar. Believe me, the One who sits on high will accept this. Let’s let the Redeemer come to Zion and find other things to argue about.”


The Knesset agreed to accept Oron’s compromise. According to the new law, daylight saving time begins on the last Friday before April 1, when the clock moves forward from 2:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. and ends on the Sunday before Yom Kippur, when the clock moves backward from 2:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.


Analysts Say Summer Time Saves Energy, but Not All Agree 

Navah Selah, the head of the Energy Commission in the Israel Manufacturers Association, has said that daylight saving time will save the Israeli economy 115 million shekels ($28 million). She added that 26 million shekels ($6.5 million) of those savings will go directly to homeowners who can turn on lights later at night.


Yisraele Meni of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce made a more modest estimate and said that summer time would save the economy 70 million shekels ($17 million) this year. She added that most people appreciate the change for giving them more daylight, while businesses claim that many customers make use of the extra daytime to make purchases.


Although a few experts, such as Professor Ariel Cohen of the HebrewUniversity, claim that Israel could save more energy by lengthening daylight saving time, not all agree. Former Interior Minister Ofer Pines has claimed that according to the Infrastructure Ministry, summer time has no effect on energy usage. “Israel is not Europe; it is the Middle East. We have a longer summer,” he explained.


While the experts may disagree, daylight saving time this year begins in Israel on Friday, March 27th at 2:00 a.m. In Europe, daylight saving time will begin on March 29th, while in the U.S. it began already on March 8th. This year, daylight saving time ends in Israel on September 27th, in Europe on October 25th and in the U.S. on November 1st.


Although Israel may not have as much summer time as its Western counterparts, many Israelis are happy for a “shorter” Yom Kippur fast while quite a few more would still like to have an earlier Passover Seder.