By Michele Chabin
Religion News Service
JERUSALEM (RNS) The Israeli government's decision to end daylight saving time more than a month early in order to ease the upcoming Yom Kippur fast has set off an angry debate on religion-state issues.
Changing back to standard time on the Sunday before Yom Kippur has been enshrined in Israeli law for several years, but the earlier-than-normal September start to the High Holy days--when Israelis are still enjoying summer-like weather--highlighted the switch.
The Israeli changed kicked in Sunday (Sept. 12) night; the U.S. won't switch until eight weeks later on Sunday, Nov. 7.
Although Israel always ends daylight savings time earlier than most European countries, this year's gap of nearly seven weeks set off an on-line protest petition that attracted 230,000 signatures.
A member of the left-wing Meretz Party introduced a bill to annually end daylight saving time at the end of October, but acknowledged that it cannot be passed before Yom Kippur, which begins Friday night (Sept. 17) at sundown.
Orthodox parties initiated the pre-Yom Kippur time change several years ago to encourage more Jews to observe the fast. Though the fast lasts 25 hours no matter what time it starts, the fact that sundown comes earlier makes the fast feel less arduous.
Nechemia Strasler, a columnist for Ha'aretz, a newspaper known for its left-wing political and religious views, two weeks ago summed up what many Israelis regards as religious coercion.
"Never mind that you think it's still hot. In two weeks, winter will arrive," Strasler wrote. "In that, Israel is unique. Only here can a minority community of observant Jews bend the will of the majority and turn the height of summer into winter, at least officially. The sun refuses to obey."
Bemoaning the waste of energy necessitated by the switch-over, and the expected increase in traffic accidents due to the darkness, Strasler asked why Jews in the Diaspora can make do with fasting during daylight time and Israelis cannot.
"Only in Israel do the religious party hacks comfortably ride the secular donkey and do with it as they will," Strasler wrote.
Though not thrilled by the early arrival of sunset on warm sunny days, ultra-Orthodox Jews have stood behind their rabbis and elected officials.
"It's not ideal," said a fervently religious woman pushing a double stroller down a busy Jerusalem street, four other children in tow, "but there is more than one way to bring light to the Jewish people."
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