Changing the clock
Changing the clockiStock

A bill to enact permanent Daylight Saving Time has been shelved by Congress in part due to the efforts of Agudath Israel which led the way in ensuring that the measure, disruptive to religious Jewish life, was not passed.

The effort in Congress to permanently extend Daylight Saving Time (DST) “came to a sputtering end,” according to Agudath Israel, after the House of Representatives refused to put forward the measure.

The death of the bill was largely due to the organization’s efforts, it explained, as it worked to ensure that the “unique and disruptive challenges” permanent DST would cause the Orthodox community did not take place.

“It was an intensive few months of working behind-the-scenes on this issue, which is so fraught with problems for the religious, economic and family life of the Orthodox Jewish community,” abbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Government Affairs and Washington Director, said. “After Senate sponsors quietly used a procedural maneuver to pass a bill making DST permanent, there was tremendous pressure to quickly push the bill through the House. We immediately went into action and were successful in helping to shut it down during the critical weeks and months that followed.”

The centerpiece of Agudath Israel’s advocacy was a legislative document widely circulated on Capitol Hill presenting the Orthodox community’s multiple concerns. The memo included a survey of sunrise time in cities across the US under permanent DST, explaining that prayer times are tied to the sun. They also mobilized national and local Orthodox rabbis and organizations to reach out to their members of Congress.

Two primary concerns were brought to the legislators’ attention.

“The first related to an unintended consequence the change in DST would have on a fundamental aspect of Jewish religious life – morning davening,” Agudath explained. “Under halacha, [prayer times] are regulated according to solar positioning in the sky and are to be performed no earlier (or later) than at certain specified times. Shul schedules are set up in line with those times. With a change in DST, and the subsequent later sunrise, the times for [praying]… will be altered – which, in turn, will undermine their proper observance, discourage shul attendance, and result in late arrival for work.”

“We heard from numerous rabbonim around the country about how this change would completely disrupt daily [prayer] schedules,” Rabbi Cohen said. “They were stunned by our research, which indicated that in some cities with Orthodox populations, for varying amounts of time, sunrise could be after 8:00 AM, in other cities after 9:00 AM — times that were incompatible with shul and work schedules.”

Agudath was also concerned about “children walking, carpooling or taking the bus to school in the pre-sunrise darkness and the increased risk of accidents and injuries that could result,” they explained.

The organization’s advocacy ultimately succeeded, with Representative Frank Pallone, Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee announcing that the measure would not proceed without a full investigation of the various consequences. After several months, it was agreed in the House that there was not a consensus to make the change to permanent DST and the measure was shelved.

“We hope the issue has been put to rest,” Rabbi Cohen said. “But we will continue to monitor the legislative docket and, if necessary, let our voice be heard, as there is much at stake here in regard to Orthodox Jewish life.”