Population Research and Policy Review 19: 143–154, 2000.
© 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Thank God it’s Friday: The weekly cycle of mortality in Israel
JON ANSON & OFRA ANSON
Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel
Abstract. The purpose of this study was to explore the weekly cycle of mortality among Jews
in Israel. Drawing on previous research on the association between holy-days and the timing
of death, we hypothesized that mortality of Jews declines on Sabbath (Saturday), and rises to
a peak on Sundays. We analysed daily numbers of deaths of Jewish men and women aged 5
and above in Israel from 1983 to 1992, and found a clear and signiﬁcant dip-peak pattern in
the number of deaths around the Sabbath. This pattern was found for all causes of death, was
stronger for men than for women, and was not found among young Jewish children, or among
the non-Jewish population.
Keywords: Mortality, Israel, Sabbath
How random is the day of death? A number of studies have indicated that the
day on which people die may not be strictly a chance occurrence, or result
solely from physiological deterioration. Rather, there appears to be some so-
cial patterning which makes certain days more or less prone to fatalities than
others. In the present study we wish to consider the patterning of mortality in
Israel around the weekly cycle, and in particular, whether there is a signiﬁcant
reduction in the number of deaths occurring on Saturday, the Sabbath, among
the adult Jewish population.
The social patterning of mortality
Various studies have argued that mortality decreases in the period im-
mediately leading up to religious holidays, with a compensatory increase
immediately after the holiday. Thus, Phillips & Feldman (1973) examined
the number of deaths in New York City and in Budapest during the years
1875–1915, when over 20% of the population in both cities was Jewish, and
found a decline in mortality during September in the years that the Jewish
Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), undoubtedly the most sacred holiday in the
Jewish calender, fell between 28th September and 3rd October. Phillips &
King (1988) reported similar mortality patterns for two religious groups in