Is being on time a Jewish value?

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    Avi K

    by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

    Punctuality is a Jewish value, and not just for the obvious reason that minutes matter in Jewish law. The difference between Shabbat and chol, between the permitted and the forbidden, between chametz and matzah, or between something qualifying as a mitzvah or not can all be measured in a single minute. Our performance of mitzvot demands an acute sensitivity to time.

    But it is even more than that. Punctuality reveals all our personal attributes and the values we cherish. It is a true indication of a disciplined, orderly life. When our days are arranged methodically, we accomplish much more and are more fulfilled. Furthermore, my Rebbe, Rav Yisrael Chait shlit”a, often said that lateness is a psychological compromise – often unconscious – between not wanting to do something but having to do it. We are caught in that trap – and lateness is the middle ground we adopt. (Think about those Jews who are habitually late to shul.) If we appreciate something or someone then we arrive on time for it or for them.

    That means that elementary kavod habriyot (respect for others) demands that we respect the time of other people also. Being late for a date, a meeting or an event – and forcing others to wait for you – is disrespectful. Time is life, and lateness means the devaluation of the life of another person.

    Rav Yisrael Salanter opined that one of the three things that we can learn from a train is that everything can be lost if we are late just by one minute. Consequently, punctuality is treasured by Jews (not just Jews of German origin) as a sign of respect for G-d, respect for ourselves, and respect for others. And if you are going to be late, notify the other party and apologize sincerely.


    In my 70 some years of experience, punctuality is a Jewish value more honored in the breach than in the observance. I’ve always felt that one is invited to a function or event a particular time, it is just good manners to arrive at the time specified (plus/minus 2 minutes). in general, I have observed that the specified time is treated as a suggestion at best, in addition, many people i’ve seen are not just careless but arrive late b’shita.


    It’s a Yekkishe value.

    Reb Eliezer

    The six seforim of the mishna, zman naket, emphasizes not to waste time but grab on to it.


    You can often better manage to not waste time by starting later than the official schedule.


    Between us and Ha-Shem, and given the broad times that are allowed for most things, it seems Ha-Shem is very laid back about time – several hours to say Shma, you can Mekabbel Shabbos hours early, and don’t have to end Shabbos until well after the the zman.

    Otherwise its a matter of timing. Germans and most Americans tend to be punctual. Many other cultures consider arriving strictly on time to be rude. East European Jews tend not to be fanatic about punctuality, and many other cultures have a similar attitude towards time. As a practical matter, its best to figure out the custom of those you deal with, and not make an issue about (again, other than when it is a matter of halacha).


    A common discussion among bnei yeshiva is the absent minded ilui versus the punctual “shteiging” bochur. Some people get so engrossed in learning that they will not keep sedorim at the right times. Others are extremely focused on the format of what they are supposed to be learning and when they’re supposed to do it. The pitfalls of the former are that one’s Torah can become disorganized and confused, with pieces here and there all scattered about. The dangers of the latter are that the formatting and organizing can sometimes become not the tools to the end but the main thing itself; endlessly preoccupied with organization can take away one’s focus.

    Ultimately, like any issue of specific avodas hashem, introspection and a good moreh derech are key to figuring out how to grow.


    a hard question – as many minhagim may be influenced by cultures we lived in. One example from the Torah would be Hashem insisting on hatzot for yetsiyat Mitzraim – and following up on his threat. So, apparently, He considers important to follow up the time, even when the other side does not insist on it. In other cases, “boker” or “erev” seems to suffice.

    Maybe, the bottom line is that you don’t have to go crazy about timing. Asa Avira is saying, depends on the person. One may need a precise schedule, another can dedicate an afternoon to a topic… but if you did make an appointment or a schedule, then you should follow up.

    Note that computer culture promotes the Yekkesh attitude: taxes are due until 12:00, same goes with online exams and proposals. Is it the same everywhere or just in US? Do online systems in South America allow for late returns?


    It’s also a matter of derech Eretz, isn’t it?

    Reb Eliezer

    The chassidim say that guest is only welcome a particular time but a family member is welcome anytime, so they can daven late.


    To OP

    In Germany, it is.

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