Opinion: Punctuality in the Frum World


berel-weinBy Rabbi Berel Wein

All of us have experienced the discomfort of arriving at a wedding/chuppa called for 6:30 p.m. and not having the actual ceremony begin till after 8 p.m. or sometimes even later. I have never been able to fathom what it is within us that allows us to so abuse the time and patience of others. The fact that “everyone does it” and that this is a common social malady in our circles in no way serves to justify this behavior.

My father-in-law, Rav Leizer Levin zt”l,  was a product of the mussar movement of pre war Lithuanian Jewry. He was punctilious to arrive at any rabbinic function to which he was invited before the time called for. He told me: “I never want anyone to become impatient having to wait for my arrival.” I have always tried to follow his example with varying degrees of success in my own rabbinic career.

Early in my stay here in Israel I was invited to officiate at a wedding here in Yerushalayim. The wedding was called for 6:30, so I arrived at 6:10 to complete the necessary documents and prepare for the chupah. Imagine my consternation when I arrived at the hall and discovered that I was there before the chosson and kallah and their respective families, the photographer, the band and the catering staff! The chupah took place at 8:30 and I was vastly disturbed that no one thought that this was somehow not really acceptable behavior. Since then, I try to avoid being the first person to arrive at the wedding hall, though no matter how hard I try, I always seem to come too early.

I find it interesting that people who are exacting and punctilious regarding times of davening, reciting Shema and other halacha obligations are yet so callous regarding other people’s time and patience. Rav Yisroel Salanter said that the other person’s earthly comforts that I can provide are the basis of my merits in Olam Habah.

The Israeli medical system creates an appointment schedule that any sensible person knows that it cannot be kept to. Thus a great deal of time is spent in impatient waiting for appointments that are always running considerably late. This helps to create the climate in society that the other person’s time is of little value. But we are all aware of the precious nature of time. It is irreplaceable in life. All standards of efficiency and productivity are based upon effective use of time.

People of genius may be allowed tolerance for being unaware of time, but we ordinary mortals are usually not granted such leeway. Almost all major sports contests are governed by the measurement of the exact passage of time. In a world that produces and sells millions of timepieces annually, destroying other people’s time needlessly seems to be most paradoxical. There are people who purposely come late in order to make an impression. I always feel that the impression, no matter how great the person may be, is a negative one.

In the Jewish world, there were and are different societies and those societies differ in their attitude towards punctuality. German Jews and certain sections of Lithuanian Jewry were famous – even notorious – for their punctuality in matters of time. Other parts of world Jewry were just as famous and notorious for their tardiness in appointed times that were scheduled. It seems that the surrounding non-Jewish culture was of great influence in creating these wide differences within the Jewish world as far as punctuality was concerned.

In an age where there were no watches or accurate timepieces present, there is an opinion in the Gemara that there is a one hour leeway in judging the correct time. But that tolerance no longer applies to our age when Erev Shabbos  candle lighting is exact to the minute as is many other measurements of time relating to the strict observance of halacha. We do not want to keep God waiting, so to speak.

Well, we should not fall into the bad habit of keeping our fellow human beings waiting as well. People expect a certain leeway in scheduled times and events but that is usually only of a few minutes. Exceeding that tolerance is certainly an abuse of others and of their time. And any unnecessary abuse of others in any fashion is against Torah standards and values. Seeing life through Torah values in all of its aspects – and not only in terms of strict law and ritual is the necessary moral compass that every Jew should strive to possess.

{Rabbi Berel Wein-Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. Of course this is true; however, every chasunah has it’s sitra achrah and at the last minute so much comes up that create delays even when the partys are well intentioned. Moreover, there is so much that goes on behind the scenes of a chasunah, and very often, even conscientious people can’t work through all of the details without delays.

  2. Rabbi Wein is right and in Baltimore, every affair begins very close to the announced time, always. If a lecture is called for 8:30, the speaker is announced at 8:30. If a wedding ceremony is to start at 7, the caterers wife is pushing the people into line for the procession. The Syrians never start anywhere close to the time on their wedding invitation. I think it is to confuse the Satan. They also don’t have place cards as people don’t send back returns. It’s a cultural matter.Now, if a German Yekki married a Syrian Sephardi, the Germans would show up at 6:30 to be 1/2 hour early and leave after an hour. The Syrians would show up at 8 and find the other side gone.

  3. Frum people should place more emphasis on menshlikhkeit as opposed to superficial and robotic ritualism.

    Derekh Eretz kodmah la-Torah.

  4. #7 “Frum people should place more emphasis on menshlikhkeit as opposed to superficial and robotic ritualism.”

    Why must one be on the expense of the other?
    and why are you assuming and refering to ritualism as robotic? Do you have problems with ritual in general or perhaps Judaism?

  5. In Chicago, as well, chasunahs and other simchos start at their posted time. It’s the accepted and expected way of life. It may take a “nachshon ben aminadav” in Brooklyn to get things rolling like that there!

  6. most of you mist the point
    IF YOU WANT TO START 8:30 no problem
    Write 8 30 not 6:30
    just rite and inform the real time you intend to start
    so simple
    no reason to huck
    we must stop with all this shtik

  7. Chuppahs are now all on-time in Crown Heights. There are often several chassunahs on the same night. If you are running late, you are forced to the back of the line. The other Chassunah does not get pushed off because of your tardiness.

  8. I heard Rabbi Wein speak at Cong. Shomrei Emunah years ago (probably, before 9/11) He said as a joke that he makes it a point to show up for flights, late and they usually wait for him. This way, he occasionally gets upgraded to 1st class. Of course, meanwhile, holding up the flight and the other passengers.

  9. A few gentiles work acquaintances were invited to our bar mitzvah. They loved much of it and their overall appreciation for Judaism was heightend. But one dear co-worker, whose sincerity I trust said she was trying to be understanding but almost anywhere in the non-Jewish world (America) such lateness would be considered very disrespectul. She said she could see that we were very respectful but could not understand the lateness. I wonder how often these lateness habits spread into our contacts with non-Jews and are interpreted as disrepectful by the derech eretz. Moreover, if some of us have a tin ear about this, how many needless problems are we creating

  10. Many rosh yeshivos have also said that people who double park are ganavim for stealing other drivers time. When people come late to a shiur or davening or an appointment because some selfish person was double parked they are stealing time.

  11. Re #8 Annoyed

    “Do you have problems with ritual or Judaism?”

    Answer: Robotic ritual is problematic and superficial.

    It is especially problematic when
    ostensibly religious people show a lack of consideration for others.

  12. In Eretz Yisrael, the real time for a chuppa is usually an hour to an hour-and-a-half later. What I usually do is ask the baal simcha when the ACTUAL time of the chuppa will take place. That way I’m given the “heads up.”

  13. Arriving late for functions is NOT a Jewish trait. I work amongst African Americans and they refer to their social habits as “black time” Get Real

  14. Sorry, I just read this posting….
    In London, Rabbi Yosef Dunner Z’TL arrived for the chupa that he was supposed to be mesadin keddushin. The Kallah and her family had not yet arrived, and after a half hour the Rav turned to me and said, “You are an aid (witness) that I and my Rebbetzin arrived on time, and waited for half an hour! Let the mechutan find a new Rav to do the Chupa, the family have to know that it is bittul zeman to keep others waiting!”
    On a personal note, our son was marrying on yud alef Menachem Av at 4:00 p.m.. There were 7 Chupas schedualed to take place within 1 1/2 hours in 3 different locations and neighborhoods. I called the Adass Yisrael (who were organizing the Chupa) office a few weeks before and told them that, “we do not keep people waiting and are Yekkes to time, and if the Chupa is not erected for the specified time we would use a Tallit for the Chuppa”. Trust me the Chuppa was on time! People have an obligation to start on time even if there are fewer guests, that is how people learn to be on time for the next time!

  15. Thank you Rabbi for posting this.
    I am also from a professional background (former opera singer in Vienna) and was shocked to find only myself showing up for a rehearsal at the agreed upon time.
    I also agree that a commitment binds a person to an agreed upon expectation.
    In all fairness, when one comes “on time” to a function, one sits and waits….
    It is a behavior that is not “becoming,” it is not however a reason as stated above by a contributor, to transgress and do that which is wrong.
    Let’s change the behavior and save the baby from being thrown out with the bath water.
    Shana Tova ve Metucha!

    A Jew