The Jewish Attitude to Time

by: Nachum Amsel

Abstract: All things on earth, be they animate or inanimate, are affected by time. However, only man
is keenly aware of time. While animals may react instinctively to a time or seasonal change, only
human beings are conscious of time’s passage and actually measure time. People constantly mark the
passage of time with celebrations, whether it be a New Year’s eve party, an anniversary or a
birthday. Calendars measuring days and years or clocks calibrated to be accurate to the millisecond
help guide man’s daily and non-daily activities. The hourly chimes on watches, the date needed on
every check or the pressure to be on time for an appointment all attest to man’s acute awareness of
the concept of time. In addition, man is the only creature in which time can be a subjective concept.
While time can seem to pass by very quickly during an interesting or intense activity, the same
interval can seem painfully slow if the activity is boring.
Yet, as much as man is uniquely aware of time in comparison to other creatures, the concept
of time for the Jew takes on added significance. The Jew’s sensitivity to time is much greater than
that of all other people. Time in Judaism serves a specific and unique religious function.

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