The Creation of Jewish Time

The Jewish “day” begins at sundown. This is something that takes some getting used to, if you don’t grow up with it:  the day begins when the sun dips below the horizon.  The fact that you’ve been up for hours has nothing to do with anything.

Jewish living is like that, tilted 90 or 270 degrees from Western secular life.  The day begins at sundown.  The year begins in the fall.  (Also in the middle of winter and in the springtime.)  Sunday is yom rishon, the first day of the week (and it begins on Saturday night.)  The whole thing is cockeyed.

Why not accommodate?  Why not assimilate?  Why not go with the flow, for crying out loud?

We stick with it because in Judaism, time is sacred.  The traditional story is that the day begins at sundown because Genesis says so.  But we could as well read it the opposite direction:  we have that story to explain, to remind us, to keep stepping to that Jewish drummer:  it was evening, it was morning, it was the first day.  The creation story doesn’t tell us “how the world was made,” it tells us how to look at the world.  It’s easy to say, the day begins when I get up in the morning — then the world revolves around my state of consciousness. It’s easy to say, the day begins at midnight, because the government and mutual agreement say so.  But Genesis says, “It was evening, it was morning,” to throw us off balance, to say, “Stop!  Look!  Think!  PAY ATTENTION!”

Notice the passage of time.

Notice the cycle of seasons.

Notice when the sun goes down and comes up, and that will require you to take your eyes off the computer screen, off the TV, off your own navel, and out to the horizon.  Live out of step with the ordinary, so that you will step lively.  Pay attention!

Pay attention, because as Chaim Stern z”l wrote for Gates of Prayer:

“Days pass and the years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles.  Lord, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing; let there be moments when Your Presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk.  Help us to see, wherever we gaze, that the bush burns unconsumed.   And we, clay touched by God, will reach out for holiness, and exclaim in wonder:  How filled with awe is this place, and we did not know it!  Blessed is the Eternal One, the holy God!”

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

9 thoughts on “The Creation of Jewish Time”

  1. Something I’ve been pondering a bit, the time…so a very interesting and timely post, Rabbi Ruth. I was thinking about modern time zones….something I always find difficult to get my head around: thinking….ok, so for example, the start of Shabbat here, GMT, is before, in some places, and after in others, but they are all real and true. I remember all the hoohah about the new Millenium, and “brought the new year in” several times, watching tv, from across the world. Kind of blew my mind, a little… 😉 …and time zones still do that to me. So it helps to read about Jewish time. Even if I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that it can be a Shabbat in Israel, but still the afternoon, here….or halfway through, in Australia…..better leave it there as Im now thoroughly discombobulated 🙂

    Alex in Scotland, just before 9am, Sunday morning

  2. And if I may add living in the State of Arizona, when the rest of the USA is observing Daylight Savings Time, we are observing Pacific Time and when Standard Time goes into effect we are observing Mountain Time…believe it or not, sunset does occur at different times then! I feel like I’m in a Dr. Seuss poem, haha!

  3. Have you ever noticed that time is not always linear? The realization of this, not unlike walking sightless among miracles, is often when you are not looking for it. For example, you know you are going to be late for arriving somewhere and when you arrive, you are not. It is not because of less traffic or your watch was wrong…..nay nay….it just is. The prayer that you used at the end of your posting is posssibly my favorite prayer. I love being reminded to open my senses, my heart and my soul to bring clarity, awe, and holiness in. And, quite simply, we do walk sightless among miracles so much of the time. Eyes wide open as the New Year begins! Lshanah tova!

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