A Quantum of Time

There are two halachic indivisible units of time. When it comes to interruption, or for defining a single statement (e.g. when correcting oneself in davening) the unit is tokh kedei dibbur — within the time it takes to say [“Shalom eilekha Rebbe uMori“], a greeting of 4 words consisting of 10 syllables. For calendrical calculations, the unit is the cheileq, 3-1/3 seconds. My instinct is that the two are intended to be equal — it takes around 3-1/3 sec to say 10 syllables, and for someone who isn’t timing themselves with a stopwatch, the tokh kedei dibbur definition is more useful.

Here is a possible explanation for the halakhah:

Hugs Follow a 3-Second Rule
by Rebecca Kessler on 28 January 2011, 1:23 PM
Science Magazine

Ever wondered how long a hug lasts? The quick answer is about 3 seconds, according to a new study of the post-competition embraces of Olympic athletes. But the long answer is more profound. A hug lasts about as much time as many other human actions and neurological processes, which supports a hypothesis that we go through life perceiving the present in a series of 3-second windows.

Crosscultural studies dating back to 1911 have shown that people tend to operate in 3-second bursts. Goodbye waves, musical phrases, and infants’ bouts of babbling and gesturing all last about 3 seconds. Many basic physiological events, such as relaxed breathing and certain nervous system functions do, too….

© 2011 American Association for the Advancement of Science. All Rights Reserved.

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  1. Neil says:

    R. Micha,
    I was thinking about the same thing when I heard about that paper. It would be interesting to look at halachic applications of Toch Kdei Dibbur and hypothesize based on this paper that one is still to be in the present in a three second block of time.

  2. The Last of The Telzers says:

    R’ Micha,

    This concept has been explained in similar fashion by the Alter Telzer Rav R’ Yosef Leib zt”l.

  3. The Last of The Telzers says:

    I first heard it from him back in the winter of 1926 and numerous times after. It’s also in print: Shiurei Halacha, the shiur is Toch Kedei Dibbur.

  4. Yona says:

    R. Chaim Zimmerman uses the same lashon – quanta – in referring to shiurim.

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