Happy Birthday Sung Twice

Happy Birthday sung twice is the length of time for which one should wash one hands after possible contact with the corona virus, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested today.

He said that people should wash their hands with soap and water. He didn’t explain why that is effective, but it dissolves the lipid membrane of the virus and destroys it.

This follows the advice from the Government health advisors that one should wash ones hands for twenty seconds.

I imagine the Prime Minister or someone in his office realised that without a watch handy, people would have a poor idea of how long twenty seconds is. In contrast, we know how long to sing Happy Birthday twice. We just sing it. But how fast do we sing it? Well, if we imagine we are singing it to someone, we know how fast that is.

The Talmud

In the Talmud a question is asked as to how long one should allow a witness under oath to change the narrative of their evidence.

Should one believe them if they say something and then fifteen minutes later contradict what they said?

Peace Be With You, Teacher And Rabbi

The Talmud considered the question and decided the length of time for testimony to be accepted as continuous without alteration. They decided it should be the time it takes a person to say Peace be with you, teacher and rabbi.

if a witness takes longer than this then we question the truth of the testimony. We don’t automatically reject it, but it gives us cause to wonder. That change of testimony becomes part of the evidence.

The beauty of this is something we all recognise. That is that there is a speed and a cadence to the way that a person would say Peace be with you, teacher and rabbi. We would not rush the sentence, or if we did then we would say that is not the correct speed. And if we were to slow down to a crawl we would say that is not correct either.

Therefore, anyone can estimate the time without needing a watch or a timer. And it is something that can span all ages. Therefore we can always know how long a witness can take to correct his testimony.

To confuse things a little, another version gives a slightly shorter version, which is Peace be with you rabbi. I guess the decision might hinge on what testimony is being given and by whom.

I forgot the source of the decision. So I asked at the place I used to study – and received this reply.

The source is the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Makkos 6. The Talmud teaches that a witness can retract their testimony within tokh k’dei dibur (תוך כדי דיבור) or the space between what is said.

Happy Birthday Sung Twice

So, for washing one’s hands after possible contact with the corona virus, it’s Happy Birthday sung twice.

I wonder how the Prime Minister’s office came up with that particular piece of advice. And who specifically came up with it?

Was it Boris Johnson himself? He has a good educational background, so he may know about the Talmudic decision. Or it may be coincidence.