Dvar Torah Kedoshim II: Jewish Time

A particular distinction of Judaism is the towering role that time plays — for instance, everyone knows that the schmorg is removed precisely one hour after it is put out, and that keeps most people more or less on time.

Perhaps Judaism is not unique in giving time a special status, but it certainly outdoes any other faith.  Weekday activities are permitted until 7:33PM in New York City tonight, but snap your fingers, and then it’s prohibited — if one thinks about this for a moment, it’s truly fascinating that we have this incorporated into our tradition.  The gentile can easily understand shellfish and pork, despite the irrationality — they’re just no good.  No good today, no good tomorrow and no good the next day either.  But bread…we can eat bread at 10:40 but not 10:41?  That’s downright odd, as though time is inherently holy.  Ah…but that’s just it.  It is!

This wondrous concept is introduced in Tzav (Leviticus 7:18) and continued here, in Kedoshim (19:7) as the prohibition of piggul.  Although the Talmudical hermeneutics used to construct the prohibitions are quite complex, what’s taught in the Talmud is clear (Zvachim 28a): consumption of sacrificial offerings which were slaughtered while the priest had in mind to eat of the offering outside the permitted physical boundaries (of, say, Jerusalem) incurs lashes, but for outside the permitted time frame incurs kareis (spiritual excision).  Why the disparity?

So one may offer the following insight: in Judaism, time is important — very important.  Time is holy and must be measured and safeguarded more so than many other things.  For those who were raised keeping Shabbos and the Yomim Tovim (Jewish festivals), this might be taken for granted and often is — but for those who were not and begin later in life, this concept of kedushas hazman (the sanctity of a time period) can be perceived as inordinately paramount!  It permeates nearly everything we do: from the recitation of the shema to candlelighting time to sefirah to whether we engage in marital intimacy or not.  And when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, it mattered even more, for the role of time in the laws of purity and sacrifices was so intrinsically central that we likely cannot even begin to understand how, exactly, people at the time were able to manage all the specifications.

So why are Jews always late?  Maybe it’s because we have to be on time the rest of the time.