Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Culture Shock: Jewish Standard Time

If there is any "cultural" aspect of the Jewish People that you should know, it's Jewish Standard Time (JST). I swear I hear this phrase at least twice a week, and I live in a very small community. I can only imagine its effects in the larger communities!

In my Jewish encounters, I've found that JST translates to 5-15 minutes late. However, I was listening to a shiur (lecture) about telling the truth and misleading people. The example used throughout the discussion was JST and a Jewish wedding. I'm paraphrasing from memory, but "Don't write 6:30pm on the wedding invitation if you plan to actually be married at 6:30pm, but your community would understand '6:30pm' to mean '8pm' in JST. You need to take JST into account when giving instructions to people."

Being a relatively punctual person (though getting lost frequently might make me a liar here), I cannot fathom that someone would read time as being an hour and a half later. Granted, maybe that's wedding/simcha specific...but still. Really? That's just impressive, and not in the good way.

Have any interesting JST encounters?


  1. i have been part of the religious community for all my life and have NEVER adjusted to JST. Never. I don't understand it and I think it's rude not to show up at the time specified...

  2. I have no idea why this phenomenon exists. I do think it is a bit exaggerated in some people's minds. But the notion is out there, and used by many people as an excuse. What's more, you will find knowledgeable Jews who point it that it actually defies a number of our values: common courtesy/derech eretz; truth-telling vs. lying or at least misleading people; and others. It should be noted, too, that the German Jews ('yekkes') are famous for their punctuality. And in Sefardi communities I never heard the idea 'Jewish time'. It is actually an Eastern European Jewish thing (and some say it is really a chasidish thing). Maybe another example where Eastern European Jewish chauvenism presents the world as if all runs according to its particular cultural perceptions...

  3. In my community, there is no such thing as JST. It is never mentioned.

    When the synagogue says services start at a certain time, they almost always start within 2 to 5 minutes of that time.

    When you start on time, people will learn to show up on time. To keep those who show up on time waiting is rude, and to publish a certain time when you mean a different time feels dishonest to me.

  4. I got the opportunity to play with my brother's iPad last night, and discovered a JST application in the App Store! It allows you to set each individual appointment in your calendar with a time range, depending on that person's JST, or in the alternative, if it's someone who insists on being 10-15 minutes early! The range was 2 hours :)

  5. This JST thing has always bugged me. I must've been a Yekke in my former life, you know? When we got married, we put "prompt" next to the time of our chuppah, and we really made it at the time we said we would. And most people were there.

    However, I have arrived at weddings waaaay before anyone else on account of this phenomenon. Rabbi Feldman, in his new book, Tales out of Jerusalem (great read, btw), talks about JST in Israel. Apparently it's even worse there.

  6. Try Thailand. People show up six hours late if at all.

  7. Wow a lot of disparaging comments against Eastern Europeans (full
    disclosure, that's my roots) and non- punctual cultures in general. If
    yall think not being punctual to the dot is rude or disrespectful
    PLEASE, NEVER TRAVEL TO Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa or many
    other parts of the world with a looser interpretation of time.

    Not everyone comes from a culture that believes all can and should be
    controlled by man to a T. Sometimes roads flood, or buses come late, or
    children act like children, in other words life happens. So give people
    some leeway, that's what JST, BPT, TiMex, La hora
    Ecuatoriana/Peruana/etc., is for. This exists in many cultures. You
    don't here us insulting Germans and Anglos as stuck up tight wads who
    bitch about being 5 whole minutes late to something, so show us the same

    1. I can't say whether chronic lateness is Eastern European....in my experience it is everywhere, and not only in the Jewish community. It is generally a sign of carelessness and entitlement.There is, however, a chronic IRATENESS on the topic which has a specific demographic among born Jews who are often not particularly religious and only come when they must, out of obligation. There are chronically late religious Jews, but in my experience they are less disruptive upon entry...at least at services.

      If I were travelling to those countries, I would be ON HOLIDAY, and so find their lacksidaisical ways quaint and charming. But, despite my own chronic struggles with punctuality, I would never want to live there or do business there, no, and neither would most of the Jews who got Dali's clocks as housewarming gifts.
      Do keep in mind that us "stuck up tight wads" were not always as we are now. England was famous across Europe once, for its tardiness, laziness and rudeness. Given the standards of the times, with accurate clocks just being invented and all, that is saying something. Then they got a clue....and shortly afterward the laziest, backward, tiny isolated nation got itself a whole Empire. Not that I approve of colonialism, but it does show up the difference that 5 minutes we fuss about makes.

      They only people in Britain to retain a chronic lateness were the aristocracy, whose lack of need to work and many servants left them with plenty of free time to wait for each other to show up. "Fashionable Lateness" was an affectation only possible for people with more money than sense and endless leisure. Needless to say, they did NOT extend an ounce of tolerance or sympathy to the servants' lack of punctuality.

      None of the Jews under discussion live their lives in the countries you mention, they live their lives in North America, and outside of shul and Jewish community they not only live their lives by the clock, they expect to and expect others to. When THEY are kept waiting, and inconvenienced by lateness of others in daily life, they do not think twice about pronouncing it rude. They don't hesitate to fire chronically late staff or charge late penalties to clients. They whole-heartedly support closing the theatre doors on late patrons and not refunding their money. Not even when there are bus strikes, and sick children and traffic jams involved.

      But suddenly, magically, come time for a Jewish event, they no longer feel the rules apply.

      They arrive loudly and unapolagetically. They smile, and make the rounds, greeting everyone in ordinary speaking voices or calling across the room....while the Torah is being read, while the haftorah is being chanted, in the middle of the Rabbi's drash, who must strain to shout over them as everyone who cares strains to hear him.

      This is not about accidental lateness, unavoidable lateness, or occasional lateness, or even chronic but apologetic and quiet lateness. Nor is it about an entire culture's legitimate "way of life" and the need for fussy privileged "whites" to respect their ways.

      It's about Jews who want it both ways, when it's convenient to THEM. Jews whose ACTUAL daily culture is North American, and who are not having punctuality "forced" upon them by foreign colonists, but actively embrace the concept, and in positions of power, drive it and enforce it. You are not the poor savages, or the huddling masses,or the righteously entitled victims you are lawyers, doctors and business owners. Appealing for tolerance to the "white guilt" of Anglo-Saxon converts is disingenuous....frankly laughable.

      Whatever this chronic intentional lateness was, once upon a time, in a land far, far away, it is now a silly affectation by often highly privileged people who would never tolerate it in others. To imply that it deserves not just mere tolerance, but some sort of multi-cultural respect, makes chutzpah look like it has a rubber spine!