While debate has raged for decades about the wisdom of the twice-yearly clock changes that have become part of our lives, the conversation has now taken on a different tenor since the U.S. Senate passed a bill that would make Daylight Saving Time (DST) a year-round phenomenon – and eliminate the semi-annual “spring forward, fall back” switch between DST and Standard Time.
And in the Orthodox Jewish community, later sunrise and sunset times could pose daunting challenges.
“We were all blindsided,” Rabbi Abba Cohen, vice president for federal affairs and Washington Director and Counsel for Agudath Israel of America, told The Jewish Press. “Senators, members of the House, and advocates like myself found out that it had passed when we read about it in the news.”
While the Sunshine Protection Act still needs to be approved by the House of Representatives before making its way to President Joe Biden’s desk, those who oppose its passage have been working overtime to bring its flaws to light. Under the bill, 17 major cities would see the sun rising after 8 a.m. on over 100 winter mornings, with another 15 staying dark until that same time for as many as 86 days each year. One such city, South Bend, Indiana, would be hit particularly hard, seeing 148 days of post-8 a.m. sunrises, including 55 days with the sun rising after 9 a.m.
Since the earliest time one may daven Shemoneh Esrei is at sunrise – although it can be said 36 to 40 minutes earlier or even 72 minutes earlier, at dawn, under extreme circumstances – the impact of full-time DST sunrises on davening times would be devastating in certain cities, explained Rabbi Dovid Heber, director of the STAR-K’s computer department and a renowned expert on zemanim.
(While the earliest time that one is allowed to wear tallis and tefillin is often not too late in the morning – and therefore most men in most cities during most of the year can at least begin Shacharis at a reasonable time – the standard earliest time to daven Shemoneh Esrei is about 50 to 55 minutes later. For example, on Jan. 3 in New York City, one was able put on his tallis and tefillin at about 6:26 a.m., but was not allowed to start davening Shemoneh Esrei until 7:20 a.m. Had permanent DST been in place, both times would have been an hour later.)
“The biggest problem would be people who go to work and can’t daven at work,” explained Rabbi Heber. “If you are a doctor, once you start working you can’t just pull away from your rounds to go daven, even if you do it on your own without a minyan.”
While a halachic ruling issued by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in 1974 during the oil embargo – when permanent DST was instituted nationwide but repealed soon after – allowed for Shacharis to start several minutes later than usual, it would be of little help in multiple cities that boast significant Orthodox Jewish communities. Detroit, for example, would see sunrise after 8 a.m. for 131 days during the winter if the Sunshine Protection Act is enacted, with the sun coming up after 9 a.m. on 23 of those days. “You could still daven Maariv in some places under this plan at 6:30 in the morning, even 6:45.” remarked Rabbi Heber.
A resident of Baltimore, Rabbi Heber said that he has seen the difficulties in his hometown when the 6:20 minyan is pushed off by as little as five minutes so that Shemoneh Esrei can be said at the proper time during November and December when sunrise is at its latest.
“People are trying to make their trains to get to work and you see them holding their breath during those few weeks,” said Rabbi Heber. “If this becomes law, you are talking about that problem going on for two or three or four months in Detroit.”
The 6:30 Shacharis minyanim that are the lifeblood of many working men would become ancient history in several dozen cities for weeks, and even months at a time in some places, under the proposed new law. Rabbi Heber has already spoken with several individuals who would face significant challenges under permanent DST, among them a radiologist who normally davens at 6:30 a.m. when he gets to work so that he can clock in at 7 a.m.
“Under the new rules, he won’t be able to start davening on some days until 7:15 a.m., but if he starts work at 7 a.m., when is he davening?” asked Rabbi Heber.
Rabbi Heber noted that a move to full-time DST would yield a few advantages, among them later candle-lighting times in the winter, which would be a benefit to those who have difficulty leaving early on Fridays. Mincha minyanim could be more accessible since they could be held, by and large, after work, a tremendous relief for those who need to say Kaddish. And later zemanim for Kriyas Shema and Shemoneh Esrei would make it easier for people to say those critical tefillos at the right time. But Rabbi Heber has no doubt in his mind that the negatives of year-round DST far outweigh the positives: Motzei Shabbos father-son learning programs, yeshiva starting times, vasikin minyanim and even the ability for out-of-towners to catch Motzei Shabbos flights to major cities to make connecting flights to Israel may all fall victim to a permanent clock change to DST.
Shaul Epstein is also hoping that the House of Representatives rejects the Sunshine Protection Act. A resident of Columbus, Ohio, which is on the western side of the Eastern time zone, Epstein already contends with later sunrise and sunset times than those who live in New York or New Jersey, even though their clocks say the same time. A proposed shift to DST would have the earliest Shabbos starting in Columbus shortly before 6 p.m., which would have the Friday night Shabbos seudah starting too late for his 7-year-old son all year long.
“He needs his sleep and I sometimes feel really bad that he is missing out on Simchas Torah night, the megillah on Purim, and the Pesach seder,” observed Epstein’s wife, Sara Libby. “A change like this would be really rough on young families.”
The concept of maximizing daylight hours was proposed as far back as 1784 by Benjamin Franklin, who penned a satirical essay suggesting rising at dawn to take advantage of the early morning light. A century later, a New Zealand entomologist who wanted extra bug-hunting time in the summer advocated for a two-hour seasonal clock change in 1895, reported National Geographic.
Daylight Saving Time was implemented during both world wars in an effort to save fuel. But with some places in the United States sticking to DST after World War II while others chose to revert back to the regular clock, the ensuing confusion prompted Congress to pass the Uniform Time Act of 1966, creating a national standard of seasonal clock changes that has remained in place, for the most part, until today.
In a reversal, permanent DST was instituted during the 1974 oil embargo to conserve energy, but was repealed less than a year later after eight children died in pre-dawn accidents and only minimal savings were realized. According to the 2022 Farmers’ Almanac, 28 states have been pushing legislation to make DST permanent, and when Florida Senator Marco Rubio proposed the Sunshine Protection Act on March 15, it slid through the Senate under a unanimous consent request, a process that allows an unopposed bill to pass without a vote or any debate. According to The Week magazine, several senators who were against permanent DST voiced no concerns about the bill because they had never been notified of its existence by their staffers.
The realities of davening Shacharis during the winter months under DST aren’t a new phenomenon, with the Orthodox Jewish community having experienced similar issues during the 1974 oil embargo, noted Epstein.
“It’s not a simple thing,” said Epstein. “Right now, I am working remotely, but there are plenty of people who need to commute and this is going to make things a lot more challenging for them. Business owners will be able to adjust to a new reality, but for people who work on the clock this is going to be tough.”
A memo sent by Rabbi Cohen, of Agudah, to the leaders of the House of Representatives outlines many of the Orthodox Jewish community’s concerns, explaining how the Sunshine Protection Act could impact Jewish professional life because of the realities of davening, tallis and tefillin. In addition to detailing later sunrise times in major U.S. cities, with 55 days of post-8 a.m. sunrises in New York City, 67 in Chicago and Lakewood, 61 in Miami, and 84 in Baltimore, the memo includes a chart showing 35 cities that would be most affected by a full-time move to DST. South Bend, Indianapolis, Louisville, Cincinnati, Detroit, Atlanta, and Cleveland top the list.
“The Senate passed this bill without looking at any of the numbers, let alone the numbers in their own states,” noted Rabbi Cohen. “I am the first person to tell you that I would love another hour of sunshine, but nobody looked at it from the perspective of how it would impact mornings.”
The Agudah has been working with partner organizations to gather information about what a full-time switch to DST would entail, with a goal of passing that data to members of the House of Representatives so that they have the facts in hand as they consider the Sunshine Protection Act. While the Orthodox Jewish community faces certain unique challenges under the proposed bill should it become law, there are also certain universal issues, noted one concerned resident of Monsey, N.Y., Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz.
“How about people with school-age children who will have even more times waiting for the bus in the pre-dawn darkness and the dangers inherent in that?” asked Rabbi Gewirtz. “At least coming home in the dark there is a set time that they leave school, but here there is so much more danger. And what about people who take mass transit? Women waiting, feeling unsafe because it’s dark? This is not just a Jewish issue.”
Doctors have also expressed concerns about potential health risks that would result if later nights became a permanent reality. According to sleep medicine specialist Dr. David Rosen, the consensus among his peers is that year-round DST deviates too much from the body’s normal internal clock, which is regulated mostly by the sun.
“As much as you would like to will yourself to have more sunlight later in the night, it doesn’t fit with our physiology and there is medical evidence to support that,” said Dr. Rosen. “Evidence suggests that people will be less healthy if they are always in a Daylight Saving Time situation.”
A study that appeared in the Journal of Health Economics compared the health of those who lived on the western edge of a time zone with their neighbors who lived one time zone over, where the sun rose and set an hour later. The western time-zoners fared far worse, with greater incidence of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and breast cancer.
In addition to the Agudah and the Orthodox Union, there are multiple others who oppose a potential permanent shift to DST, including farmers and the transportation sector. And while there is merit to the idea of dropping the semi-annual clock adjustments, what is best for the vast majority of the country will likely be the determining factor for the Sunshine Protection Act.
“This bill was being pushed by Florida and other states based on the entertainment and amusement industry who wanted an extra hour of sunshine, with everyone focusing on the afternoon and evening benefits,” said Rabbi Cohen. “People may not like changing the clocks and no one will say it is the greatest idea, but ultimately, [the way we have it now] may just be the best compromise.
“All of anything isn’t good – other than that you don’t have to switch the clock.”