Isn’t it ridiculous to waste the golden sunlight of early summer mornings! This is the rationale behind Daylight Saving Time (DST) — the concept of gaining extra sunlight by moving clocks an hour forward in spring.
How it Started
In ancient times, the idea of DST could not and did not exist. People ran their lives by natural phenomena, rising at sunset, going home to sleep at nightfall, and dividing the in-between period into twelve hours that were long in summer and short in winter. The Romans even invented a geared water clock that took these varying hours into consideration. These are our sha’os ze-maniyos (varying length hours) that govern the times of Kri’as Shema and davening.
Summer savings time only became feasible with the modern clock whose static hours ignore the natural rhythms of day and night.
Benjamin Franklin, coiner of the proverb, “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” was the First person to consider the idea of forcing people to keep more in sync with the sun. In 1784, he wrote a letter, parodying those who went to bed in the wee hours of the morning and slept until noon.
In his letter, Franklin (who was the American delegate in France at the time) estimated that a hundred thousand Parisian families, each consuming half a pound of candles an hour for seven hours daily between March and December, would burn over 64 million pounds of candles a year. Jokingly, he suggested taxing window shutters, allowing families no more than a pound of candles a week, and stopping all coaches passing the streets after sunset except those of physicians and surgeons.
“Every morning, as soon as the sun rises,” he wrote, “let all the bells… be set ringing; and if that is not sufficient, let can-non be fired in every street, to wake the sluggards… All the difficulty will be in the first two or three days; after which the reformation will be as natural and easy as the present irregularity… Oblige a man to rise at four in the morning, and it is more than probable he will go willingly to bed at eight in the evening; and, having had eight hours sleep, he will rise more willingly at four in the morning following” (Letter to the Editor of “The Journal of Paris,” 1874).
Over a hundred years after Franklin wrote his letter, in 1907, the English builder and outdoorsman, William Willet, thought it would be easy to achieve Franklin’s ideal of getting people up earlier by simply changing the clock.
“Everyone appreciates the long light evenings,” he wrote in his landmark pamphlet, “The Waste of Daylight.” “Everyone laments their shrinkage as the days grow shorter, and nearly everyone has given utterance to regret that the clear bright light of early mornings, during Spring and Summer months, is so seldom seen or used. Nevertheless, standard time remains so fixed, that for nearly half the year the sun shines upon the land for several hours each day while we are asleep, and is rapidly nearing the horizon, having already passed its western limit, when we reach home after the work of the day is over…
“Now, if some of the hours of wasted sunlight could be withdrawn from the beginning and added to the end of the day, how many advantages would be gained by all, and in particular by those who spend in the open air, when light permits them to do so, whatever time they have at their command after the duties of the day have been discharged.”
Willet suggested reducing the length of four consecutive Sundays by 20 minutes, a loss of which practically no one would be conscious conscious. This would provide eighty minutes more daylight every day during May, June, July and August, and an average of forty-five minutes more sunlight every day during April and September. He calculated that this would save millions of pounds.
“Assuming the cost of artificial light, for each unit of the population, averages only, one-tenth of a penny per head, per hour,” he wrote, “the figures with which I conclude this paper show that 210 additional available hours of daylight can be gained and at least £2,500,000 a year can be saved to the people of Great Britain and Irelaind (sic).”
Willet’s idea came very close to being accepted there and then. A British member of parliament, Robert Pearce, liked Willet’s idea so much that he promptly introduced a Daylight Saving Bill to the House of Commons in 1908. This was narrowly defeated in 1909 and bills from 1911 to 1914 suffered the same fate.
In the end, war, the mother of invention, pushed DST into the realm of reality. By 1916,Germany and her allies were desperately short of coal and seized on DST as a means of saving thousands of tons of fuel. Britain and most of her allies followed suit and the United States adopted the measure in 1918. Although many countries fully or partially abandoned DST after the war, it gained new momentum during World War II and today it affects the lives of a billion people on our planet.
DST and Torah values do not always go hand in hand. While the long afternoons of DST can make it easier for Jews to get home in time for Shabbos, its late sunrises sometimes threaten davening times. In 2005, for example, a proposed congressional bill to extend daylight-saving time by nearly two months threatened to make it nearly impossible for many Jews to daven Shacharis before work. Abba Cohen, head of the Washington office of Agudath Israel of America, pointed out that if such a proposal was approved, sunrise would begin at 8:30 a.m. in Cleveland and Detroit, and at about 8:00 a.m. in New York, too late for people to reach work in time. The Orthodox Union (OU) joined a coalition opposing the measure that included the Bush Administration and the airline industry. It also provided the following sample letter for Jews to send to their senators:
“Dear Senator. I am writing to urge you to oppose a measure extending Daylight Saving Time by two months, currently in a House-Senate Conference (HR 6, passed the House on April 21). We all wish to see a United States free from dependence on foreign oil and with a clean, healthy environment for our children and grandchildren, but this proposal is the wrong solution.
“Those same children will be forced to wait outside for school buses in the dark, making them susceptible to accidents and criminals. In addition, our Airline industry will lose millions of dollars due to the time conflict with Europe. And for those of us who are Orthodox Jews, who say our morning prayers at sunrise each day, it may force a direct conflict between our faith and our livelihood.”
It is worth noting that DST is not always as beneficial as one might think. For example, a 2008 study in Indiana discovered that although people used less lighting after the adoption of DST, they also used more heating when getting up early in the morning and coming home in the afternoon. This led to an overall increase in electric consumption of one to four percent. Claims that DST reduces depression and crime are also inconclusive.
DST in Israel
Israel inherited daylight saving from the British Mandate, but halted it in 1958 after religious Jews complained that it was leading to chillul Shabbos (due to late Motzoei Shabbos times), created problems with saying Selichos before work, and added an extra hour of daytime fasting to Yom Kippur. This makes the fast more difficult even if its length remains unchanged. The government temporarily reinstated DST in 1974/5 during the world energy crisis (at that time the US Congress extended Daylight Saving Time to eight months instead of six and saved the equivalent in energy of 300,000 barrels a year), and permanently instated DST during the 80s.
In 1999, the combination of DST and Torah Jews’ obduracy became the catalyst of a miracle. This happened on the 5th of November, when two car bombs exploded in Chaifa and Teveriah inflicting no casual-ties other than the terrorist occupants of the two vehicles. With no survivors to explain exactly what happened, Israeli security of-FIcials construed that the terrorists preparing the bombs failed to note thatIsrael had already switched from DST to standard
time because of the upcoming Yom Kippur. The Palestinian authority was still running an hour behind on DST. Because of this discrepancy, the terrorists driving the cars (operating according to Israeli time) began the operation an hour later than the plan called for and blew up en route.
In Israel, too, DST was not always synchronized with religious needs — its record duration of 191 days in 2002 began during Pesach and extended until a few days after Sukkos. This dire situation ended in 2005 with a new law that DST must always end before Yom Kippur in order to ease the fast. Last year, however, this meant ending DST almost two months ahead of the US and Europe. Under increasing secular pressure, Minister of the Interior, Eli Yishai (Shas), set up a committee to look into the question and this June announced an extension of daylight saving in accordance with his committee’s recommendation.
“The committee’s recommendation was unanimous, and it invested a great deal of time in studying the matter,” he announced. “The committee recommended that daylight saving time should last 193 days instead of 180 days. It will end on October 1 every year, and resume at the end of March. According to a survey by the Dachaf Institute, 46% of Israelis do not want to extend daylight saving time. They want to leave things as they are, or even to shorten daylight saving time. That is surprising. I myself like daylight saving time.”
Yishai’s proposal now awaits approval of the Knesset. If it completes the legislative process in time, Israeli Jews will be ending the Yom Kippur fast an hour later this year and for some, this will be reason enough to kvetch. Why was Franklin so eager to push people into bed earlier and get them up earlier, to make them healthy, wealthy, and wise in spite of themselves?