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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 19.11:
Why do Hebrew clocks run clockwise, not counter-clockwise?


Some do, but I wouldn't lose sleep over this question. FYI, the clock on the tower of the Prague Jewish Community Center uses Hebrew letters and runs counter-clockwise.

Most clocks use Arabic numerals, another right-to-left language. The real question is why Roman numeral clocks don't go the other way.

Note that the direction of the written language has nothing whatsoever to do with the way clocks run.

The clock is a mechanical timepiece modeled on its predecessor, the sundial. North of the Tropic of Cancer, the sun affects the sundial in the following way:

The shadow moves in a W to N to E rotation, which is what we call "clockwise." When mechanical clocks were invented, this rotation was duplicated. Regardless of the direction of your written language, the clock hands move the wrong way half the time!

South of the Tropic of Capricorn, a sundial moves counter-clockwise, and between the tropics, the motion of the shadow depends on the time of year. Had the clock been an invention of South American Indians or Southern Africans, "clockwise" would likely mean the opposite rotation.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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