The Jewish Case Against Blank Day Calendar Reform: Report by League of Nations Preparatory Committee

The opposition to the introduction of days outside the week was particularly marked in the case of two religious confessions, whose representatives were heard by the Preparatory Committee, viz., the Jews and the Seventh Day Adventists and Baptists, the Preparatory Committee of the League of Nations on Calendar Reform which has just concluded its session here states in the course of its report to the Conference on Calendar Reform which will be held here in October.

These communities consider that this reform would result in serious drawbacks from the economic and social points of view. The Jewish religious authorities, for example, although keeping for religious purposes a separate calendar of their own believing that the Sabbath should always be celebrated on the seventh day of each week in an uninterrupted succession, the disturbance made in the regular cycle of weeks by the introduction of one or two days outside the week would have the result that the Sabbath would no longer always coincide with the Saturday of the civil calendar as is the case at present but would have to be celebrated in turn on the different days of the week. It would be the same for the Adventists as regards the consecrated day of rest. The representatives of Jewish circles declare that this situation would render the observance of the Sabbath difficult to reconcile with social requirements such as school attendance for children, and economic necessities such as the exercise of professions, occupations, etc. It was urged on behalf of the Jews that the employer of labour might have to dispense with the service of his Jewish employees on the week-day coinciding with the Jewish Sabbath. The employee would have to sacrifice his wages on that day, and the difficulty of finding employment would be greatly increased for the Jewish applicant. The representatives of the Seventh Day Adventists and Baptists also consider that a reform involving days outside the week would have serious consequences for the religious groups from the point of view of the strict celebration of the seventh day.

The advocates of the institution of a perpetual calendar, on the other hand, urge that the drawbacks from the economic and social points of view which would be suffered by a minority as a result of the reform should not prevail against the advantages which such a reform might have for a large majority. They also pointed out that in their opinion the fears expressed above were perhaps exaggerated, that for example in the case of Jewish circles the obligation of school attendance on Saturdays which at present existed in a certain number of countries has not given rise to any protest on the part of Jewish circles in these countries and that as regards the exercise of professions if the Sabbath did not necessarily coincide with Saturday, the situation would not be materially difficult for Jewish circles than that which existed a few years ago when business activities were pursued on Saturdays in the same way as on other days.

COMMITTEE EXPLAINS ITS MEMBERS DID NOT REPRESENT RESPECTIVE GOVERNMENTS AND DO NOT LOOK ON THEMSELVES AS SPOKESMEN OF WHOLE PUBLIC OPINION OF THEIR COUNTRIES: COULD NOT THEREFORE EXPRESS OPINION ON CONTROVERSIAL PROBLEMS: REMINDS CONFERENCE QUESTIONS OF ESSENTIALLY RELIGIOUS CHARACTER MUST BE LEFT ENTIRELY TO DECISION OF RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES CONCERNED

The National Committees of Belgium, Czecho-Slovakia, France, Germany, Poland, Portugal, Switzerland and the United States the Report says, think the establishment of a perpetual calendar desirable. The Committees of Hungary, Italy and the Netherlands declare themselves opposed to the institution of a perpetual calendar involving the introduction of days outside the week.

The disadvantages of the existing calendar are not disputed in any report, it proceeds, but as regards public opinion in their respective countries it would appear from the reports submitted by the French, British and Italian committees, as well as from verbal information given by the representative of the Argentine National Committee to the Preparatory Committee, that public opinion as a whole does not seem keenly interested in calendar reform. The British Committee finds that public opinion, whether general or particular, is little interested in plans of calendar reform, apart from the stabilisation of Easter. The Italian Committee, while considering that Italy cannot remain outside a movement for the simplification of the calendar if such a movement is of an international character, thinks that the time is not yet favourable for carrying out this reform and that its advantages still appear problematical and its disadvantages serious. On the other hand, according to the German Committee’s report, the necessity for a reform of the existing calendar is recognised in all circles in Germany. The work of the United States Committee gives a similar impression as regards the interest taken in the question of calendar reform by the American public.

The Committee felt that as its members did not represent the Governments of their respective countries and did not look upon themselves as the spokesmen of the whole public opinion of those countries, the Report goes on, it could not possibly express any preference or offer any opinion on such problems as may become controversial in the Conference, the delegates of the latter being alone competent to express with authority the views of the nations which they represent. The Committee held that this report should merely put before the Conference a systematic summary of the questions with which the latter would have to deal and the ideas advanced, more particularly in the reports of national committees on those questions and submit to the Conference any suggestions the Committee might think desirable as to the Conference’s procedure.

The Preparatory Committee would remind the Conference, it continues, that in the view of the Advisory and Technical Committee which requested the Council of the League of Nations to place on the Conference’s agenda the questions of the fixing of movable feasts and the simplification of the Gregorian calendar, questions, of an essentially religious character which may arise out of the discussion of such matters should be left entirely to the decision of the religious authorities concerned. The Conference would be called upon simply to co-ordinate and sanction the views of the various lay circles concerned by placing on record the opinion of Governments from a purely economic and social standpoint. The Committee has adhered to this principle. While its enquiries might cover the possible effects of any particular proposed reform on the economic and social life of certain religious communities, the Committee felt that neither it nor the Conference itself had any authority to consider whether any particular proposed reform was incompatible with any particular religious belief.

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