Israelis angry over early clock change to suit worshippers

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The Independent Online

Peace talks may be back on track for now, but there is only one issue that has really got Israelis talking, and that is the untimely end of summer this weekend. Several weeks ahead of everybody else, Israel will put the clocks back by an hour to coincide with the start of Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement, Judaism's most solemn festival.

Secular Israelis are now fighting back against what they say is a nonsensical edict forced on them by a religious minority trying to make it easier for those who observe the fast on Yom Kippur.

Thousands of Israelis have already signed a petition calling on them to ignore the changing of the clocks early tomorrow, the Sunday before Yom Kippur, which starts on 17 September. Petitioners argue that the abrupt end to summer will cause more road accidents, give parents less playtime with their children, and lead to depression.

And, as Ha'aretz newspaper points out, the fasters gain little by moving the clocks back, because they are obliged to fast for 25 hours in any case. The conventional explanation is that observant Jews can sleep an hour longer in the morning, and so will experience one hour less of hunger pangs. "But that is contemptible gimmickry," the newspaper says. "The whole point of the fast is to mortify the soul."

The synchronisation of the change with Yom Kippur was introduced in 2005 at the behest of religious politicians. But the move means that Israel is weeks out of line with other countries, which keep daylight saving time until late October or early November. Politicians are also lending their weight to those in favour of changing the law.

Nitzan Horowitz, a member of the left-wing Meretz party, plans to introduce a Bill after the Jewish holidays proposing to extend daylight saving hours to the last weekend before 1 November.

"It is unfortunate that this year, too, because of religious coercion – and it is impossible to understand the connection between religion and this issue – daylight saving time will end before autumn begins," Mr Horowitz said in The Jerusalem Post.

But at least one Israeli columnist has had enough. "Of all the unresolved issues of Jewish identity bedevilling Israel, this is probably the least important," wrote Anshel Pfeffer in Ha'aretz. "If Israelis who fast on Yom Kippur feel that it makes it psychologically easier to do so if clocks are set back in advance, then indulging them is worth the very minor nuisance of going back to winter time while still sweltering from a hamsin [a dry wind]."