Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Jerusalem Post Editorial: Sunday’s beauty

Mon, 16 May 2016, 01:11 PM

Every few years an MK or a minister, perhaps inspired by a trip abroad, proposes bringing to the Holy Land the pleasure of Sunday.

Photo by: INGIMAGE

Pleasant memories of leisurely Sundays have something to do with this paper’s principled position in favor of a five-day workweek. The editorial board, made up as it is of Anglo immigrants, shares the idiosyncrasies of the “old country” complete with regard for the amenities of a two-day weekend that includes a Sunday.

And if you are reading this editorial, chances are you are harboring similar fond memories of a day devoted entirely to – well, just hanging out.

Every few years an MK or a minister, perhaps inspired by a trip abroad, proposes bringing to the Holy Land the pleasure of Sunday.

Five years ago two Likud MKs – Zeev Elkin and Yariv Levin – submitted “Sunday” bills. A decade before them our fellow Diaspora Jew Natan Sharansky put his weight behind the move to a five-day week with Sunday as a day off.

This time around it is Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon who is supporting legislation drafted by Eli Cohen, an MK from his Kulanu Party, and MK David Amsalem (Likud).

A watered-down version of a Sunday culture is being proposed.

Just once a month we would enjoy a bona fide Sunday, if their legislation passes. The missing day of work would be made up either that same week – when Friday would be a workday – or over the month, which means Friday would remain a quasi day off in addition to Saturday.

There are, admittedly, quite a few potential economic ramifications to importing Sundays to Israel. Labor costs will rise as thousands of employers will be forced to pay time-and-a-half to those who end up working on Sunday.

Small businesses are liable to be hit the hardest.

Also, most Israelis already have a two-day weekend: Friday and Saturday. Adding Sunday as well would shorten the workweek to just four days.

Manufacturers Association president Shraga Brosh argued that adding just one Sunday a month off would cost the economy NIS 1.5 billion a year in lost output.

Still, it is not as though Israelis do not already work long hours. Israelis actually work many more hours on average than the OECD average. In 2014, Israelis worked 1,853 hours a year. Only in a few OECD countries such as Greece, South Korea, Mexico, Estonia, Poland, Russia and Costa Rica did workers work longer hours.

Productivity, not long working hours, is what guarantees economic strength and a higher standard of living.

Greece is perfect example of a state whose citizens work long hours – or at least punch into work early and punch out late – but are not particularly productive. In contrast, the length of workweeks has shortened significantly in the US and even more so in Europe since the mid-twentieth century, primarily due to increasing levels of productivity.

By raising GDP per capita, Israel could easily accommodate a shorter workweek without suffering a drop in total output.

That would mean implementing more efficient production methods, improving transportation infrastructure and using more effective management methods.

A Sunday devoted to leisure would also be a boon for recreation industries such as sports, music and domestic tourism.

The timing of the new initiative coincides with the impact of changing demographics – increasing numbers of religiously observant Israelis thanks to relatively higher birth rates – providing a fresh economic incentive for a Sunday that would encourage this sector to spend money on cultural activities, sporting events and at the malls.

Transforming Sunday into a day off would also alleviate religious tensions. Presently, Shabbat is the only full day Israelis do not work. For the traditional-minded who adhere to the strictures of Jewish law, there is no day that can be set aside for traveling, shopping, or recreation.

Secular Israelis, understandably, concentrate all of their consumer activities on the one day they have off, creating in the process a 24/7 consumer culture diametrically opposed to the religious and social ideal of a true day of rest for both rich and poor. Turning Sunday into a day off would make it easier to invest the Shabbat with the meaning envisioned by the Torah, the prophets and Jewish tradition, so befitting a Jewish state.

It is time to take steps toward a five-day work week, not just because a bunch of immigrants and numerous Israelis who have lived abroad for any length of time have brought to Israel blissful memories of leisurely Sundays spent with friends and family. Transforming Sunday into a second day of rest is also eminently feasible from an economic standpoint and conducive to alleviating religious tensions. We deserve to enjoy the beauty of Sunday.


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