Why do Jewish events often begin late?

June 20, 2022 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Ask the rabbi.

Rabbi Raymond Apple


Q. Why do Jewish events often begin late?

A. We have a word for it – “Jewish time”. When I mentioned this to a Roman Catholic friend, he said, “What are you talking about? It’s called ‘Catholic time’!”

I didn’t bother to ask people from other religious faiths because they’d probably tell me there is also “Methodist time” and “Anglican time”.

The truth seems to be that some people have a habit of being unpunctual and they blame it on their religion, their political party, etc.

Amongst Jews there is even something called “Sephardi time”. Apparently the Iranian Jewish community used to have a habit of advertising an event for a certain time but starting an hour later, ostensibly to confuse the Adversary – otherwise known as Satan – and to prevent him from affecting the event and the audience with the evil eye.

I don’t know how true it is that the Iranians are at fault, but I do know that weddings in Israel almost always start an hour late (strangely, funerals seem to start on time).

As a general rule, Judaism insists on promptness and punctuality. Is there is a mitzvah to be done? “Do not let it become stale”, say the sages. “Those who are eager fulfil mitzvot early”, they add. When it is time for prayer, we are told not to keep God waiting while we attend to mundane concerns. When we should say an Amen, it should not be left to become an “orphan Amen”. If support is needed by a person or cause, now is the hour.

Someone needs to start teaching the virtues of correct timekeeping. Years ago when people told me that their wedding would start late because that was “Jewish time”, I used to say, “There’s no such thing. I abolished it!”


Q. Where should I pray?

A. The Midrash Shocher Tov (paralleled in other sources) says on Psalm 1, “Pray in the synagogue in your city; if this is impossible, pray in the field. If that is impossible, pray in your house; if necessary, pray in your bed. Should this be impossible, pray in your heart wherever you may be.”

One might add that there are two ways to pray – in your words, and in your deeds. Living a righteous life is also a form of worship.

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem where he answers interesting questions.

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