Energy Bill Worries Some Observant Jews

By Steven I. Weiss

Published April 15, 2005, issue of April 15, 2005.

A proposed congressional bill to extend daylight-saving time by months would make it nearly impossible for many religious Jews to hold daily prayer services before work.

The measure, an amendment to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, caught Jewish communal leaders off guard. Under the amendment sponsored by Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Ed Markey and Michigan Republican Fred Upton, daylight-saving time would be in effect for nearly two additional months.

Currently, clocks are moved up an hour on the first Sunday of April and back an hour on the last Sunday of October. Under the proposed measure, the changes would take place on the first Sunday of March and the first Sunday of November.

The goal of the legislation is to reduce energy costs. But many members of the Jewish community who participate in morning prayer services would be affected negatively by the measure.

“According to Halacha, it is held that [morning services] can start no earlier than sunrise,” said Mark Waldman, director of public policy for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. “The later sunrises that would result through the changing of daylight-saving time would cause a problem for Conservative [prayer services] and could affect the ability of attendees to arrive at work on time.”

Abba Cohen, head of the Washington office of the ultra-Orthodox organization Agudath Israel of America, noted that an extension of daylight-saving time in some American cities, such as Cleveland and Detroit, could lead to sunrises in November after 8:30 a.m. In New York City, sunrise would take place at about 8 a.m.

According to 2001 congressional testimony from Linda Lawson of the U.S. Department of Transportation, the nation’s oil use would be reduced by 1% during the extended period.

Tara McGuiness, a spokesperson for Markey, told the Forward, “The amendment has passed, with bipartisan support; it’s the energy bill that has to pass the House and hasn’t done so in three years.”

McGuiness added, “There are probably a number of amendments causing much bigger concerns that are holding the bill up.”

Daylight-saving time has been extended in the past. Responding to the oil crisis, Congress implemented daylight-saving time for 10 months in 1974 and eight months in 1975. In 1986 — due to legislation also sponsored by Markey — it was extended three weeks.

A number of Jewish communal leaders contacted by the Forward could not recall much about prayer services during those periods. Cohen said that Agudah files discussed many Orthodox Jews’ organizing services at their workplaces, instead of at synagogues.

Jewish organizations have yet to plan their lobbying response.

The issue triggered a furious political fight in Israel in the 1970s, which nearly blocked the implementation of daylight-saving time.

In an effort to explain the Jewish community’s current failure to adopt a lobbying strategy in Washington, Cohen said, “It’s not as though there was this bill that was out there for a while, and everyone was aware of it… right now, we’re just trying to get the facts.”

Cohen suggested that flexible scheduling in the private sector would go a long way toward solving the problems that an extended daylight savings time would create for working observant Jews.



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