How To Measure Rosh Hashanah Services

My wife and I were speculating on how long last Friday’s Rosh Hashanah service would last. We both figured on two hours, but my wife said, “Services always last longer than you expect.”

My first reaction was to agree, but then I realized that couldn’t be so; it would imply that I didn’t have rational expectations. Having attended services for so many years, my overestimates and underestimates of their duration should balance out: on average, I should correctly estimate their duration.

It’s possible that I might make mistakes if the world changed; and perhaps our new rabbi goes longer than his predecessor. But even with that change, after a few years I should estimate correctly on average. In fact, taking Friday and Saturday together, I was correct: Friday night lasted only one and a half hours, but Saturday’s service lasted half an hour longer than I expected.

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  1. Paul Clapham says:

    Cripes — I see this in my blog reader and by the time I look at it, two people have already mentioned Hofstadter’s Law.

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  2. Cheryl says:

    And what about Sunday?

    For most people I know it lasts as long as they want it to. Most people show up late and leave early.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    First of all I’m ignorant to the jewish religion and I might misinterpret the service. I want to ask you if you enjoy these services? If not, in an economical mentality one will ask you what are you doing wasting our time? This way you opportunity cost is enormous since you are loosing your time, the most immense intangible cost. If you enjoy the services, I wonder why you wonder how much time it would last. Since you enjoy it your marginal benefits exceed your marginal cost. Therefore you are rational, since you are thinking at the margin. Also you can’t calculate a specific time since the service might vary every year, like a different rabbi, more interruptions, the speed it takes to preform the service, etc. I hope you enjoy these services no matter how much time you’ve wasted.

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  4. Svavar says:

    While your wife invoked Hofstadter’s Law, you may have suffered from Optimism bias, which is the “tendency for people to be over-optimistic about the outcome of planned actions” (, as well as Hindsight bias (

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  5. golda says:

    this is an interesting question- for me- I recall so many years of raising this question as a kid. Then I grew up and began reading the book (trying to figure out the message) and listening to the Rabbi’s speeches. And I must admit, for the last several years, I have found them real insightful when it comes to the question of the relationship between religion and science. This year was different though. I heard conservative fear creep into the speech. My kid got upset about the hate mongering (so did I) and we left early. I would have yelled out the L word– as in what is this really about?- but been there and heard that before and it is just plain disrepectful. I heard a while ago from a conservative republican high school friend that this is to be expected ever since Obama became president. I just did not expect it from a Rabbi. Have we forgotten about the separation of church and state and the rationale behind it. The problem is that this Rabbi was acting as a preacher, not a teacher. The other odd thing is, his first speech was about respecting our differences– So I thought he knew better. He must be struggling with mixed messages from within and without..

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  6. Jake says:

    Odd. . . all other things being equal, the Saturday Rosh HaShana services should have been shorter than usual, because the shofar service was omitted (the shofar isn’t blown on Shabbat). That generally saves about 15 minutes.

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  7. jonathan says:

    My explanation is fact based. Most people who do go to services regularly go on Friday night for Qabbalat Shabbat. This service is radically different from the regular Saturday service, which is based around the weekly Torah reading. I go to services often enough to have well-memorized the Friday service but I only go to a few Saturday services a year.* That can breed estimating error.

    *In part because many Saturdays are bar/bat mitzvah services and I don’t particularly enjoy hearing kids I don’t know reading Torah and then their interpretations.

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  8. MariferCMS says:

    Even though I don’t know much about the Jewish religion, I do have a friend that is a part of it. And, every year on Rosh Hashanah, her parents make her skip school and go to the service. You’d guess that for a teenager, the marginal benefits of skipping school would exceed the marginal costs of going to the service. But, in this case, that conclusion would be wrong. The truth is, that she finds this service to be very boring, and therefore, she finds the opportunity cost of sitting through a long service much higher than sitting through a whole day of school. I don’t know if you share her thoughts on it, all I want you to know is that you’re not the only person out there trying to guess how long or how short Rosh Hashanah services will be. Maybe one day all religions will have quotas on how many hours of service they can give per year; making it much easier for the people attending them to know how much of their day they’ll have to give up. This will result in a more balanced measurement of opportunity costs, and help people make more rational decisions.

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