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Race against the Clock

Will Congress call time on changing the clock? Early risers and night owls battle over daylight savings time 

Our semi-annual clock-changing ritual, springing forward an hour in March and falling back in November, could possibly soon come to end.

The debate over Daylight Saving — and it’s not “savings,” there’s no “s” at the end — is between the early birds and the night owls. The rest is noise in the forest.

Here’s the story: The Senate, after years of dawdling, voted unanimously this month not to fall back an hour in November 2023 and to stay on Daylight Saving Time permanently. No more changing the clock. For the Senate to vote in unison on anything is as rare as a Russian soldier in Kyiv — which leads many people to think it has already become law. If I were to count every person who told me so as an informal poll, it would be a landslide. A living-daylight landslide.

But the Senate does not set laws on its own. There’s still the House and President Biden, neither of whom were consulted prior to the vote. In the meantime, Congress has, er, stopped the clock on the sun-loving bill, which was spearheaded by Senator Marco Rubio of the Sunshine State.

The Arguments

The opinions for and against the time-keeping shakeup are as many as the rays of the sun. Environmentalists love it, since it would supposedly reduce fuel usage, while schools hate it, since it would send children to the bus stop in the dark on winter mornings. Golfers love it, since it would give them another hour on the greens, while Muslims hate it, since it would add a daily hour of famishment to their monthlong Ramadan fast. The tourism industry loves it, since visitors spend money every hour they’re out about town, while global companies hate it, since it puts their clocks out of sync with Europe. Shops dependent on afternoon customers love it, while coffee shops reliant on morning-commuting employees hate it.

Put simply, this Robin Hood legislation steals daylight from the morning and gives it to the evening.

Early risers hate it, late-nighters love it. Those who daven vasikin hate it, those who scramble into shul late for Kabbalas Shabbos love it. Those who work in Manhattan hate it, those still attached to their home offices from Covid love it. Fathers on carpool duty hate it, mothers with playground dates love it.

Media articles on the topic tend to mention the hardship this will cause to observant Jews attending prayer services as one of the top two or three reasons for opposing it. Indeed, Agudath Israel announced it will advocate against the bill’s passage in Congress.

The History

Ancient man had his own version of Daylight Saving thousands of years before it became a formal institution and a capitalized term. Parts of the Arab world still adhere to the “retire at dusk and rise at dawn” adage.

This, apparently, was the norm across Europe until the industrial revolution made dark nights passé. The Magen Avraham in Hilchos Rosh Hashanah writes that in the winter, when darkness set in earlier, people went to sleep at nightfall and davened Shacharis during the first hour of the day. During summer, though, the late-hour sunlight delayed bedtimes, and Shacharis started an hour or two later. Sound familiar?

The first government to legislate Daylight Saving came in 1914, after decades of advocacy by New Zealand entomologist George Hudson. He wrote several scientific papers about the advantages of an extra daylight hour. His real motivation, though, was his bug collection. He worked the entire day, and wanted that extra hour of sunlight to notice the insects scurrying in the ground. The law helped, apparently. His bug collection became the largest in New Zealand, and it is now housed in the country’s national museum.

The arrival of World War I led most of the combatant countries to institute Daylight Saving to save fuel and power, but they returned to regular timing after the conflict ended. It returned briefly during the Arab oil boycott following United States support for Israel in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, and remains to this day for the summer months.

The Attitudes

The polling for Daylight Saving is rather unusual. Most respondents have consistently told pollsters that they do not like the clock changes. Many of these indeed tend to be agnostic about the solution — “just keep the clock the same year-round and let me have my sleep” — and would be as happy to make Daylight Saving permanent as they would to end it.

What most people actually want isn’t as clear. The last extensive poll on the subject was taken by the Associated Press in 2019, and other polls since have confirmed its findings. While 40 percent of respondents want to have one set time, they can’t agree on what to do about it — some say add an hour, while others argue vehemently and support falling back an hour.

Asked point-blank whether to go for permanent Daylight Saving or bust, 71 percent said bust.

The Experiment

America has experimented in the past with permanent daylight savings, and their disdain for it was clear as daylight.

In the wake of the Arab oil boycott, which cut America off from a third of its fuel, gas prices quadrupled and long lines formed at gas stations. Amid the turmoil, politicians reached for the clock. The day began an hour later permanently in January 1974, and it proved to be wildly popular. As many as 74 percent of Americans expressed support for it.

It’s funny how fickle public opinion can be. The sky-high approval lasted as long as it takes to guzzle a gallon of unleaded. Within weeks, support dropped to 30 percent.

It turned out that instead of the optimistic forecasts of 100,000 fewer barrels of oil burned a day, the fuel consumption remained approximately the same, while parents were sending their children to school in the crisp night air of 8 a.m.



Congress now faces the dilemma — should they reach into their constituents’ alarm clocks, or just let sleeping dogs lie?


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 905)

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