Israel goes off daylight saving time on Sunday, like countries in Europe do. The clock will take a small step backward, but Israel will take a giant leap forward.
By order of the Knesset, Israel’s D.S.T. season was extended to 212 days, instead of an average of 182 days according to a law from 2005. Public pressure and political changes finally made it possible for the government to enact what most Israelis wanted long ago.
Even as Israelis are becoming increasingly attached to Jewish tradition and religion, as the Israel Democracy Institute has found, they are becoming less patient with religious dictates from pious politicians and Orthodox rabbis.
Most Israelis — 73 percent of them, according to a poll taken on May 30 — have been wanting to extend D.S.T. so that they can have light during more of their active hours, save on electricity and drive more safely. (Not all these expected benefits have been proved.) But ultra-Orthodox politicians have opposed the idea on the grounds that longer days make religious practices more burdensome.
Morning prayers can only begin with sunrise, but if sunrise comes later because of D.S.T. (this Saturday in Tel Aviv dawn comes at 6:53), some people might have difficulty completing their prayers and getting to work on time.
But few Israelis pray every morning, and so the religious establishment has brandished Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, as its main anti-D.S.T. argument. Surely the some 70 percent of Israelis who say they observe that holy day wouldn’t want to have the fast end later in the evening?
In 1980, Israel had just 42 days of D.S.T. after a court ruled that the country had to change its clocks and a religiously minded interior minister ordered an absurdly short “trial period” of just six weeks. There were also years of no D.S.T. at all. The tussle between the Orthodox and secularists has meant a roller coaster of changes. Israel’s D.S.T. season lasted 170 days in 2007, 191 in 2008, 184 in 2009, 170 in 2010, 185 in 2011 and 177 in 2012.
In 2005, a law was passed ordering D.S.T. to be implemented, beginning with the last Friday before April 2 and extending until the last Sunday before Yom Kippur — in order to make the painful final hours of the 25-hour fast seem a little brighter.
But while Jewish holy days follow the lunar Jewish calendar and fall on different days each year, summers and winters follow the Gregorian calendar — meaning that in some years, ending D.S.T. before Yom Kippur would mean changing the clocks in early September, while in other years, when Yom Kippur falls late on the Gregorian calendar, it would mean changing them in October.
The D.S.T. season in Israel historically has been short when ultra-Orthodox political parties were key actors in the Israeli coalition, or when Orthodox politicians were in charge of the Interior Ministry, which governs the clock.
In 1999, when the ultra-Orthodox Shas party was in charge of the ministry, D.S.T. was just 154 days. A year later, with Shas weakened and a secular minister in office, D.S.T. lasted 175 days.
Last year, amid rising pressure from the public and secular legislators, the Knesset extended the D.S.T. season for 2013, based on the recommendations of a special committee. The ultra-Orthodox parties (and the interior minister) still had the final word, though, and D.S.T was ordered to end before Yom Kippur.
But the 2012 extension was never even enacted. With the ultra-Orthodox parties out of a new coalition, another committee was appointed, this time by the new, secular, minister. It recommended that D.S.T. last from the end of March until the end of October.
And there is some reason to hope that this will be a more lasting change. For one, the current governing coalition doesn’t include an ultra-Orthodox party. So its decision better reflects the majority view and not political shenanigans.
The second difference is more subtle: A new generation of Israelis has proved in recent years that it has lost patience with government favoritism. Israeli politicians are therefore becoming much more careful not to defy the public on matters that might reek of catering to religious interest groups.
Last month at the synagogue, as Yom Kippur was drawing to a close, I was standing next to the man who blows the shofar, an instrument made of animal horn, to mark the end of the holy day. We were chanting the final verses. I was peeking at my watch. It was 7:25 p.m., I was thirsty and hungry, and it seemed late. And it was.
But at least one prayer had been answered. Israelis had proved once and for all that Yom Kippur is no excuse for turning off the lights too early in the fall, and that the country’s majority — which often bickers about ultra-Orthodox power and influence — can win the battles they choose, and, in this case, unchain themselves from the forces of darkness.
Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor for The Jewish Journal and chief nonfiction editor for Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir, a leading Israeli publisher.