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Extending daylight savings does not conflict with halacha

To the editor:

The Forward reports that some Orthodox rabbis oppose extending daylight saving time throughout the year because “a 9 a.m. sunrise” would require them to attend to their morning prayers late and delay their arrival at work. Let’s first take a look at Jewish law.

The 20 volume Babylonian Talmud begins with a discussion of the times for prayer. The rabbis discuss, and disagree, over when one should recite the morning sh’ma but the general conclusion is “when one can discern between the white and blue threads of a prayer shawl” or when one can recognize the face of a friend. And the halacha permits a four hour grace period for this. The great Orthodox legal authority, Moshe Feinstein, ruled that one may begin the daily prayers earlier than sunrise when starting out on a journey and he extended this leniency to anyone commenting to work — even when the commute is part of one’s daily routine.

The rabbis who created the Talmud lived in the Middle East where winter and summer sunrises were not so dramatically different. But what about a Jew living in Oslo, where the sun doesn’t rise until 9:18 a.m. on Dec.21? And pity the poor Jews from Tromsø, Norway where the sun doesn’t rise at all in December.

The Hebrew word halacha is a dynamic word. When the Sages asked “what is the halacha?” they were asking “what is the application of the law to this new situation?” Traditional Judaism understands the halacha to help Jews to live in the present, not to chain us to the past.

—Rabbi Jonathan Gerard

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