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was a timezone issue.
our development takes place in a GMT+2 timezone (developer workstations are set to this).
the build server is configured on a GMT-7 timezone, but the file modification time (checked via the "stat" command was set to the GMT+2 time but on the -0700 time zone
Access: 2009-06-26 04:12:52 -0700
Modify: 2009-06-26 11:50:46 -0700
Change: 2009-06-26 04:12:25 -0700
jsf was not rendering correctly until time caught up. because jsf logs everything to stderr, we had set the logging of STDERR on our production AS to be exluded (as everything was logged to stderr, which the AS logs as ERROR, including info, debug and error logs). so we missed the logs about this error (and it wasnt even a very specific error)
the issue is resolved by setting facelets.refresh_period to -1.