Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews

Orthodox and original Judaism and the clock

I come from a culture (the Netherlands) where, if you ask someone if he’s hungry, s/he’ll look at his/her watch. Dutch Jews developed a unique and very beautiful word for non-observant: free of the clock (klokvrij). It is obvious that at a certain moment, it definitely must be Shabbat already and certain things became forbidden — which helps us to feel its holiness. And therefore, Jews with a fear of Heaven know how to end forbidden activities hours beforehand or to run. (In Winter, Shabbats start early, so we hurry. In Summer, they begin late, and we hurry too.) Shabbat as the holiest of times. It doesn’t just need to pass by or be used well or be killed (Heaven forbid) — it can be sanctified. This is so important that it found its place in the universal Ten Commandments. A non-Jewish colleague of mine in Amsterdam once asked me: “Why do Jews already run? Don’t you also have 24 hours in a day like everyone else?” Sharp observation! I think it’s because we know the value of time, not just life.

Yet, a teacher of mine when he was doing army service here in Israel, once looked at his clock and then said: “O no, Minchah” — he still had to say the Afternoon Prayers and sundown was fast approaching. To which a fellow soldier said mockingly: “You’re more afraid of the Shekia’ [dusk] than of the Shechinah [the Divine Presence].” Reb Shlomo Carlebach was once asked how he could still conduct the Afternoon Prayers many hours after sundown. He replied: “Chassidim [pious Jews] are not afraid of the dark.”

It is clear that the Torah is very precise and strict with honesty. So, when we made an appointment with someone, we shouldn’t be late because that’s a form of stealing. A foreign Jewish teacher at a Jewish school in Amsterdam once got his salary reduced (is such a thing possible at all?) for systematically coming late to class. Not only did he steal from his employer — he taught the kids bad morals about time. But did the Jewish tradition otherwise really set out for Jews to be so precise with the clock?

Certain Festivals you can only start at nightfall. Which is a problem for when one is in countries where the sun sets late outside of wintertime. Kiddush for Pentecost in the Low Countries is after 11 PM. It can’t be earlier because the Torah says to first count seven full weeks. Even 99% of a day is not a full day. The Torah tells us that we should hold the Passover Seider at night. That’s not easy for the very young and very old. (Yet, then you’ve more time in the afternoon to nap to be fit for the whole night.)

Our Rabbis have decided to keep half an hour between when we could still say Morning Prayers and when we may say the Afternoon prayer already. This, since the human eye cannot discern more precisely when the sun is at its highest point indicating midday. But now, we treat midday to the second as a cutting-off point. Just as the couple of which one spouse came from a Jewish community where one is notoriously late and the other from one where one is obsessively on time. Before the wedding, they decided that from now on, they’d always come everywhere strictly two hours late.

Jokes aside, how strict are we to be with time when we don’t keep others waiting? There is a concept of zerizut, which is often regarded to mean speedily. However, it’s not really hastily. It more means immediately. Trying to execute a Commandment as soon as its time has arrived or as soon as it became in force. Strike while the iron is hot, or: seize the day.

But do we need to stand with the stopwatch in hand to see to it that we say the center of Morning Prayers at exactly the time of sunrise? Do we show our love of G-d when we drag it out or rush it to arrive at that point in prayer on the dot? Religious Jews that I know do so. But talking to my Ethiopian elderly bus driver yesterday, that seemed a cultural and not a Jewish thing. He said he didn’t take part in the races or competitions. He set out when he needed to and he’ll see when he’ll arrive. All the stress is not worth it. We talked about farming in Ethiopia. Lives run by the sun, not the clock. No hurry but long days — they work hard, from sunrise to sunset.

I once met an impressive guy who committed to speaking super-slowly always. He was special in many ways, a Jew, Gay, from a wealthy US upbringing, and brilliant. You wanted to hear what he had to say or he liked to say anything? Only word; by; word. Patience can be learned too.

So, could we maybe tone it down a bit, the rush to be in time for G-d? Once I coined this idea: “Every yawn adds a day to your life.” I don’t know if it’s true at all. But just thinking about this (or: doing it) gives me a glimpse of the possibility to live more in the present — talking about time.

Tu biShvat sameiach! (See the timely video clip on top.)

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to two Dutch survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork, and holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam). He taught Re-evaluation Co-counseling, became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are: his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach and lehavdiel bein chayim lechayim: Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff and Rav Meir Lubin. * Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years he wrote hasbara for the Dutch public. His fields of attention now are varied: Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (statistics), Politics (Israel, the US and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight Truth), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, GLBTQAI, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), Ecology and Veganism. Sometimes he's misunderstood because he has such a wide vision that never fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what many love about him. Many of his posts relate to affairs from the news or the Torah Portion of the Week or are new insights that suddenly befell him. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, reassure the doubters but make the self-assured doubt more. He strives to bring a fresh perspective rather than bore you with the obvious. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds must be disputed. In short, his main political positions are: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, democracy, anti the fake peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, Science, Free Will, anti blaming-the-victim and for down-to-earth optimism. Read his blog how he attempts to bridge any discrepancies. He admits sometimes exaggerating to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quit a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. November 13, 2018, he published his 500st blog post with the ToI. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having a peek outside of your cultural bubble. * NEW: To see other blog posts by him, his overspill blog you can reach by clicking on the Website icon next to his picture at the head of every post. There you may find precursors to later TOI blog posts, addition or corrections of published TOI blog posts, blog posts the TOI will not carry and some thoughts that are too short to be a TOI blog post. Also, the TOI only allows for one blog post per blogger per 24 hours. Sometimes, he has more to say than that. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me.
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