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Observant Jews Pray Time Change Won’t Harm Their Morning Worship

It’s 6:45 a.m. and the carpeted study room of the Kemp Mill Synagogue in suburban Washington is already abuzz with the clicking of tefillin and the murmur of worship. Twenty men and women stand as the prayer leader recites the opening blessings of Shacharit, the morning prayer, leading the Silver Spring, Md., congregation in the thrice-daily ritual that is an integral part of the lives of observant Jews.

But some worry that year-round communal prayer may soon become impossible for many Jewish professionals.

By March 2007, the 40-minute commute that many of the Kemp Mill supplicants take to get to their jobs in Washington may present them with a Hobson’s choice: morning services or getting to work on time.

On July 21, Congress approved an amendment to the Energy Policy Act that will extend daylight-savings time by four weeks starting in spring 2007 — three in March and one in November. The amendment, introduced by Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) in April, originally called for a two-month extension, but was scaled back due to heavy opposition.

"The beauty of daylight saving time is that it just makes everyone feel sunnier," Markey said in explaining his support for the measure. "In addition to the benefits of energy saving, less crime, fewer traffic fatalities, more recreation time and increased economic activity, day light saving just brings a smile to everybody’s faces."

Jewish groups aren’t smiling.

On July 19, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism urged members of Congress to oppose the provision.

"The proposed change in daylight-savings time from April through October to March through November would result in a later sunrise that will produce an undue hardship on religious Jews," wrote the USCJ’s public policy director, Mark Waldman. "Our prayers that cannot occur until after sunrise last about 30-40 minutes. The later sunrise will place a hardship on observant Jews that are required to recite their morning prayers and then must commute to the workplace by 9:00 a.m."

Waldman also cited child safety concerns in opposing the measure.

"The extension of daylight-savings time will force children to walk to school in pitch black streets during the time of year when inclement weather is more likely," he wrote. "The last time daylight-savings time was extended, in the early 1970s, there were numerous reports of children being injured in the streets as they walked to school in the dark. It is not unreasonable to think that this will happen again."

The following day, the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs called on its members to oppose the proposal.

"Pushing sunrise back to 8:00 AM or later would make it impossible for those in certain parts of the United States to pray Shacharis (morning prayers) before work," the O.U. said.

The organization urged members to write to their elected officials and emphasize that, although they support measures aimed at freeing the United States from its dependence on foreign oil and creating a cleaner and healthier environment, this was not the way to achieve those goals. "Each of us will support efforts to lessen our dependence on foreign oil, just not this one," it said.

Markey’s chief of staff, David Moulton, told JTA that the concerns voiced by Rabbi Abba Cohen, the director of Agudath Israel of America’s Washington office, played a significant part in the congressman’s decision to slash one month from the amendment.

"Our primary concern had to do with the safety of children," Cohen told JTA. "The other issue, pertaining to prayer times, wasn’t a prayer issue per se, but an employment issue," placing observant Jews in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between their jobs and their religious observances.

Cohen told JTA that the compromise resolution goes a long way toward addressing his organization’s concerns. "March was never the major concern," he said. "The more serious of the two periods was the November time period," he said, which, with the change, will largely remain in standard time.

"I can’t say that it won’t cause problems for some people," Cohen said. "But it goes a long way towards alleviating our concerns and we are gratified by the degree of concern and cooperation shown by Upton and Markey in addressing those concerns."

The United States Conference of Bishops joined parents’ groups opposed to the bill because of the dangers it poses to children. The Air Transport Association said that scheduling disruptions caused by the proposed changes could cost U.S. airlines $147 million annually and wreak havoc on American travelers.

Citing various reasons, private utilities, groups representing such computing giants as Oracle and Yahoo and dairy farmers have all opposed the amendment.

The extension comes to a head with over two millennia of Jewish tradition.

Jewish prayer times correspond to the daily Tamid sacrifices that were offered in the First and Second Temples between 950 BCE and 70 CE.

However, though the morning Tamid was offered at dawn, the Talmud, citing a verse in Psalms, asserts that the morning prayer should only be recited from sunrise and on. Rabbinic tradition maintains that a prayer quorum — or minyan — of 10 individuals is required for some parts of the service, including the prayer leader’s repetition and the Kaddish prayer recited by mourners.

Rabbi Zev Leff of Moshav Matityahu, Israel, explains that, while a sunrise prayer time is indeed ideal, in "times of need," an individual is allowed to recite the principal part of the service as early as dawn, which occurs 72 minutes prior to sunrise.

The issue made its way to the Jewish blogosphere.

On July 20, the Town Crier questioned on his blog the wisdom of tackling this particular issue. "I just don’t see how that can be more important to law makers than the issue at hand, and [it] makes us seem a little grubby," he said.

On her blog, OrthoMom disagreed. "The Airline Industry is opposing it for financial reasons, parents’ groups are opposing it for child safety reasons, there is no reason that a segment of our population cannot oppose it on religious grounds," she said. "A change in status quo that makes it impossible for many to observe some rituals that are required by their religion is a perfectly good reason to oppose it."

In an interview, Jonah Mainzer agreed that the provision would make morning prayers more difficult, but felt that the change would be workable.

The 22-year-old Chicago native, who works for an Alexandria, Va., lobbying firm, cited the same Jewish legal view as Leff, which permits individual prayer 72 minutes prior to sunrise, explaining that he could easily pray on his own and still make it to work on time.

"You can daven (pray) before sunrise, but it would still be very hard," he said.

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