Jewish Time

From The Exodus Series paintings
Maria Lago

Jewish Time 

Lately, I’ve had a growing sense of living my life on something I call “Jewish Time.”  Have I anything concrete in view?

In my childhood, when my parents were awaiting Israeli dinner guests, they expected them to be about an hour late.  They might have said their guests were due at six, “Israeli Time,” meaning seven.    If they did, that was then.  Israeli customs, like being unpunctual, probably changed when the culture got more cosmopolitan and worldly.

Aside from these random reflections, to tell you the truth, I don’t think I’ve ever heard the expression, “Jewish Time.”  To my knowledge, it originates with me.  What does it comport then, for me?

I would have thought I lost it, when I left New York City to live here in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  Or perhaps earlier, when my parents died.  Lost it without knowing I ever had it.  What did I feel I had lost whenever, subliminally, I felt that?  What is it I now believe has returned?

Let me try to picture Jewish Time.

There’s a kind of desert vista, a homelike plane of existence and experience.  It’s an unspoiled landscape, completely open and uncrowded under the overarching skies.  It’s the place from which the meaningful timeline starts.  It underlies all the palpable things in their visible spaces.  The furniture of empirical life rests on it.

It’s the place and time where we first signed up for our covenant with the Other Signer.  That odd contract – the same one for which we are hated and perhaps loved at the same time — even by the very people who hate us.  But all those reactive, second-order feelings (felt by those who think of themselves as neutral onlookers) are absent from the original scene.  That scene held only those who voluntarily signed on the indicated line, standing at the place where Jewish Time begins.

Is it a geographical place?  Am I thinking, for instance, of the Holy Land?  The question reminds me of an incident that happened years ago.  I was teaching an Intro class in Philosophy, which included a week or two set aside for Philosophy of Religion.  As we turned to religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, I muttered under my breath what a relief it was to deal with spiritual systems free of implicit references to the geography and the boundary disputes of the real world.

As I muttered this, a rainfall we could see outside the tall windows of the classroom suddenly became a downpour.  The skies darkened.  A dramatic clap of thunder was heard.

Though I am a philosophe, my head whipped around automatically and I drew a sharp breath before pulling myself together and resuming the lecture.

Meanwhile, the skies grew darker yet and a second thunderclap was heard.  I looked round at the window once more, before collecting myself and again picking up the thread of what I’d been saying.

The third thunderclap was louder than my voice.  I put down my notes, faced the window and said –

I’m sorry!  I take it back!

I swear to you, I am not making this up.  The storm settled back into the pitter patter of an ordinary rainy afternoon.  Not threatening.  I resumed my introductory account of the religions of the East.

When the class hour ended, a Modern Orthodox girl, seated demurely in the front row, came up to my desk and said reassuringly,

I think you fixed it.

What would we, who live on earth, expect of a place we could call Home?  We would expect it to have real boundary stones and to exist in real time.

When I try to act as if I’m exempt from human history and have my essential being sub specie aeternitatis

 the wind and the weather,

the storms at sea

and the words I can utter sincerely …

all give the lie to any pretense of being above all that.  I exist, take my bearings and set my course in life,

on Jewish Time.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” ( where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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