Some daylight on Western-style weekends in Israel
increasing frequency, the public discourse in Israel has been focusing on
moving the country to a Western-style Saturday-Sunday weekend. As a result of Shabbat constraints and
Israel’s subsequent unique Friday work habits, which are taken as given, the
discussion tends to revolve around moving to a 4.5-day – or possibly even a
four day – work week in order to bridge over the constraints. One possibility along these lines involves
lengthening the remaining work days (Monday-Thursday) in order to make up the
hours that are lost when merging the Western weekend with Israeli religious
constraints on Fridays.
this latter possibility does not take into account is that Israelis already
work more hours each week than the citizens of most developed countries, while
the country’s labor productivity is consistently among the lowest in the West. A key assumption in economic theory,
declining marginal productivity, suggests that lengthening the number of work
hours in a day may reduce Israel’s already low productivity even further.
possibility bandied about is to simply reduce the total number of weekly work
hours, which then begs the question of who will pay for this – workers with
lower wages or employers who receive less output but will be required to
continue paying the same wages? There is
a conjecture that a leisure culture will develop that will increase revenues
and soften the economic blow – at least for firms in the leisure business. But how much could leisure spending possibly
rise in a country in which the income of 50% of its citizens is so low that
they do not pay any income tax at all?
much for the conventional approaches.
Some outside-the-box thinking could yield a relatively simple solution
to this issue – requiring a transformation in attitude that is primarily
cultural rather than religious. In fact,
Israel’s opening position is even better than that of cities such as New York,
London and Paris, which have large working religious Jewish populations.
December 21, the shortest day of the year, there are eight hours of daylight in
London and Paris, nine hours in New York – and 10 daylight hours in
Israel. The sun rises at 8:41 in Paris,
8:03 in London, 7:16 in New York and at 6:35 in Jerusalem. Leaving Israel on daylight saving time for
the entire year would resolve the weekend issue immediately. Sunrise would be at 7:35, similar to other
cities, but sunset would be much later in Israel.
the Israeli sun will set at 5:39 P.M. on the shortest day of the year – and
later on every other day – there will be no reason why Friday could not become
a regular work day, like in every other developed country. Religious people are able to successfully
contend with this in the rest of the world, and it would be even easier for
them to do so in Israel – and they would gain Sunday off without the attendant
religious limitations that accompany our current weekend days of
leaves only the cultural question: Are we ready to give up on one of the iconic
trademarks of the Jewish state – the unique atmosphere preceding and
accompanying the beginning of Shabbat on Friday afternoon? As a completely non-religious person, I am
not sure that I would adopt my own suggestion above. But at least the choice would become much
simpler and it would remove the primary economic arguments that have so weighed
on the discussion until now.