Thursday, May 15, 2008

One-day yom tov: Beyond "Israelis are lazy"

Here at Mah Rabu, we also spend a lot of time talking about one-day yom tov. And the halfway point between two yamim tovim seems an appropriate time to do some more of that. This post will look critically at some of the ways that the 1-day vs. 2-day yom tov question is framed, and (if you want to skip ahead to the technical parts) culminate with a list in progress that you're invited to add to.

It is a little-known fact that the Conservative movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) passed a teshuva in 1963 saying that observing 1 day of yom tov is a valid option (along with other teshuvot saying that it isn't). So consider this a public service announcement for anyone out there who accepts the CJLS as an authority (and sees him/herself as a mara d'atra, or doesn't buy into the whole mara d'atra thing): you now have 1 day of yom tov as an approved option.

I can't find the actual teshuvot online anywhere (including the RA website), but one site has summaries of the conclusions. And the conclusions are the important part: the set of classical sources about the essence of yom tov sheini is very limited, and familiar to anyone who has looked into this issue, so it's unlikely that the teshuvot disagree on which sources they cite or what the sources say; their disagreement is surely about what to conclude from the sources. So the most pro-1-day teshuva, by Rabbis Philip Sigal and Abraham J. Ehrlich, says: "We declare that yom tov sheni is not a hok, a permanent enactment, but a minhag, a custom. Congregations need not feel compelled to observe other than the second day of Rosh Ha-Shanah. On the other hand, those who still desire to maintain it as an expression of personal piety, as a chumrah, might do so, vetavo aleihem berakhah, may God bless them."

I hear that Rabbis Sigal and Ehrlich went on to say: "People need not feel compelled to put more than four fringes on their tallitot. On the other hand, those who desire to wear five fringes as an expression of personal piety, as a chumrah, might do so, vetavo aleihem berakhah, may God bless them." But seriously, come on! If someone has a personal minhag to observe 2 days and is in a community that observes 1 day, I can certainly empathize with their decision to uphold their minhag, since I've been in the reverse situation many times. But I don't understand the perspective that affirms keeping one day, but then says that keeping two days is praiseworthy. Would they hold that it's even more praiseworthy to observe yom tov for three days, or to observe yom tov for the entire year and never do any work? As I alluded to with the tzitzit analogy, observing a non-yom tov day as yom tov is not meritorious; rather, it may be a violation of the biblical commandment of bal tosif. If you have a minhag that that day is yom tov and act on that minhag, then that's just fine, but then you're not displaying "personal piety", you're just being true to your understanding of the calendar. (One could make an argument that it is "personal piety" to refrain from work on the 2nd day of Pesach or Sukkot, since it's chol hamo'ed, but that argument wouldn't apply to the 8th day of Pesach, etc.)

Furthermore, it's not entirely true, on a technical level, that keeping two days of yom tov is a chumra. We'll get to that later.

My thinking about how to frame the 1-day versus 2-day options is much more in line with a 1999 CCAR teshuva that doesn't rule out observing 2 days, but advises extreme caution. It says in part: "For when we declare a second day of yom tov, we are not simply making a statement of identity, planning a creative worship experience, or arranging an experiment in spirituality. We are declaring a festival. When we say that a day is a yom tov, we mark it as holy; we transform it from ordinary time into sacred time; we make kodesh out of chol. We arrogate to ourselves the power of the ancient Sanhedrin to announce to the Jewish world--indeed, even to God--that such-and-such a date shall be a festival. And when we declare a yom tov sheni, that is, a festival day on a date that according to the Torah is not a festival at all, we create an actual festival day with all its relevant duties and restrictions."

(Read on for even stronger language, which I'm not quoting only because it applies mainly to the specific case. The question at hand was about "stretching" Shavuot to two days when the "2nd day" is on Shabbat. But the CCAR's rebuke should also be extended to those Reform and Reconstructionist congregations that generally observe 1 day of yom tov but then celebrate "Simchat Torah" on 23 Tishrei, to be cool like the cool kids. Of course, "Simchat Torah" has no fixed date and can be celebrated on any day of the year (yom tov or not), though doing it on 9 Av might be tacky. But, for the reasons stated in this teshuva, it is problematic to treat 23 Tishrei as a yom tov, in a milieu that does not otherwise recognize two days of yom tov. I don't care if everyone else is doing it. As I've said before, unity should not come at the expense of authenticity.)

The (summaries of the) other CJLS teshuvot make it clear that (at least based on these teshuvot, not looking at actual practice) the Reform movement takes the concept of yom tov far more seriously than the Conservative movement does.

The second teshuva, by Rabbi Wilfred Shuchat, calls for keeping 2 days of yom tov, and makes a slippery-slope argument: "If, however, the second day of Yom Tov were eliminated, it would not be long before the first day would fall into desuetude. We have living proof of this contention. A large and influential religious movement in Judaism has eliminated the second day of Yom Tov for the past two [sic] generations. De facto, if not de jure, the first day no longer exists as a significant factor in that movement." Rabbi Shuchat appears to believe that leaping from correlation to causation constitutes "living proof". I won't deny that both claims are true (the Reform movement has eliminated the second day of yom tov, and yom tov is not a "significant factor" in the practice of many Reform-identified Jews), but the causal link between them is without basis, and smacks of the usual intellectually lazy "If we did that, we'd be Reform" argument. Even the correlation can be knocked flat with a simple and significant counterexample: has yom tov "fall[en] into desuetude" in Israel?

The summary continues, "Rabbi Shuchat concludes by saying that he would agree to the elimination of Yom Tov Sheni if it were to come from a recognized halakhic body in the land of Israel." Don't hold your breath for any halakhic bodies in Israel to say anything one way or the other on this topic. They are, of course, already observing 1 day of yom tov, and don't generally make pronouncements about what people outside Israel should be doing. Rabbi Shuchat appears to believe that, when it comes to issues such as this, Israeli rabbis have jurisdiction in the Diaspora, but Diaspora rabbis don't have jurisdiction in the Diaspora. EV has a new comic out about this phenomenon.

The third teshuva, by Rabbi Aaron Blumenthal, says "that it would be tragic for us to initiate a program which must lead inevitably to the abandonment of the second day of the festivals. Let those who have no alternative... not feel that they are in violation of halakhah if they observe only one day. But we cannot condone the initiation of discussions about the second day in those Congregations which do have regular and meaningful services on it." The last sentence highlights a major failing of American liberal Judaism. Its emphasis is not on whether we should (as the CCAR teshuva says) declare a festival and "transform it from ordinary time into sacred time", nor on whether individuals and families should observe the positive and negative mitzvot of yom tov, but rather, on "services" in "Congregations". The implication is that regular people are insignificant sheep, with no independent motivation to pursue Jewish observance, and what really matters is what goes on in the synagogue. And of course, there is nothing preventing a congregation from having "regular and meaningful services" on 7 Sivan if it wishes (regardless of whether those services use the yom tov or the weekday liturgy), or any other day of the year. If congregational services are held up as the reason for keeping 2 days of yom tov, then this exactly is what the CCAR teshuva warns about when it says that declaring a day as yom tov isn't only about "arranging an experiment in spirituality" (even if the Conservative movement of the 1960s wouldn't have used the word "spirituality").

Neither of these CJLS teshuvot takes yom tov very seriously if they're willing to declare a day as yom tov in order to achieve short-term public policy objectives (maintaining "meaningful services" or, based on dubious evidence, preventing the apathy towards yom tov found in the Reform movement).

Furthermore, an underlying assumption in all three teshuvot is that keeping one day of yom tov is doing less, while keeping two days is more machmir (stringent). The argument in support of this assumption is self-evident, but I want to present some evidence against it (in addition to the bal tosif argument above). I've started making a list of ways in which keeping one day can actually result in practices that are more stringent than keeping two days, and you're invited to add to the list.

  • The most significant one for me (albeit less technical than the ones below) is that "ששת ימים תעבד" (six days you shall work) is a positive commandment, and observing 1 day of yom tov means working on more of the six days of creation. Getting up at 5:30 AM (after staying up all night and then squeezing 2 nights' worth of sleep into a 22-hour period) to take the train back into the city from the Shavuot Retreat and go to work on 7 Sivan doesn't feel like leniency to me.
  • Tefillin is the canonical example that comes up in discussions of 2-day yom tov observers visiting Israel. For those who wear tefillin, it's required on 23 Tishrei, 22 Nisan, and 7 Sivan for 1-day yom tov observers (and possibly on 16 Tishrei and 16 Nisan, but it depends on one's minhag), but not for 2-day yom tov observers.
  • When the first day of Sukkot or Pesach falls on Thursday, two-day yom tov observers may cook on Thursday for Shabbat (provided that they have set up an eruv tavshilin in advance), while one-day yom tov observers may not. [UPDATE: Never mind. See comments.]
  • If someone is buried during chol hamo'ed, the shiv'ah clock begins ticking (for everyone) at the end of the biblical festival (i.e. the 7th day of Pesach or the 1st day of Shemini Atzeret), but mourners who observe 2 days of yom tov don't begin actual mourning until the end of the 2nd day of yom tov. Thus, 1-day yom tov observers observe an additional day of shiv'ah in this case.
  • (This came up on the Hadar Shavuot Retreat last year.) At the conclusion of the 1st day of yom tov (assuming that neither day is Shabbat), 2-day yom tov observers may start ma'ariv earlier (to bring in the 2nd day of yom tov early), while 1-day yom tov observers have to wait until later. (The precise times are a matter of disagreement, but I think the relative times are accurate.)
  • (One-day yom tov observers may be obligated in lulav when the 1st day of Sukkot falls on Shabbat, but that's a controversial position.)
  • What else belongs on the list?

9 comments:

  1. A couple corrections from your post:

    The CCAR tshuva you quoted says "when we declare a second day of yom tov...we arrogate to ourselves the power of the ancient Sanhedrin"

    In fact, the ancient Sanhedrin declared two days of Yom Tov outside of Israel. Declaring that only one day should be observed is arrogating the power of the Sanhedrin.

    You claimed "when the first day of Sukkot or Pesach falls on Thursday, two-day yom tov observers may cook on Thursday for Shabbat (provided that they have set up an eruv tavshilin in advance), while one-day yom tov observers may not."

    An eruv tavshilin only allows you to cook on Friday for Shabbat.

    Another item for your list would be the date to read Shir Hashirim and Kohelet. When the first day of Pesach falls on Shabbat, one day observers read Shir Hashirim on that day since it is the only Shabbat during Pesach. Two day observers wait for the final day of Pesach. Similarly with Kohelet. If the first day of Sukkot is Shabbat one day observers read Kohelet on the first day, while two day observers wait for the Shemini Atzeret.

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  2. The local R shul in my old town in MA would do 2 days of yom tov if yom tov sheni fell on a weekend day, but not otherwise. The Rabbi explained that she could get a crowd for a holiday service as long as they didn't have to miss work. They never did observe only second day Yom Tov, to the best of my knowledge.

    I agree with Avi that my understanding of eruv tavshilin only allows cooking on Friday for Shabbat.

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  3. The CCAR tshuva you quoted says "when we declare a second day of yom tov...we arrogate to ourselves the power of the ancient Sanhedrin"

    In fact, the ancient Sanhedrin declared two days of Yom Tov outside of Israel. Declaring that only one day should be observed is arrogating the power of the Sanhedrin.


    Perhaps that was the case in 1846, but this teshuva was written in a milieu in which 1 day of yom tov was universal, so observing 2 days in that milieu would indeed be a significant change. But I agree that a community that has always observed 2 days isn't arrogating the power of the Sanhedrin each time they observe 2 days.

    An eruv tavshilin only allows you to cook on Friday for Shabbat.

    Huh. The Internet agrees, so I'll update the post. Thanks! I guess my perspective on the world is limited since the only "3-day yom tovs" I have ever observed have included a yoma arichta.

    Another item for your list would be the date to read Shir Hashirim and Kohelet. When the first day of Pesach falls on Shabbat, one day observers read Shir Hashirim on that day since it is the only Shabbat during Pesach. Two day observers wait for the final day of Pesach. Similarly with Kohelet. If the first day of Sukkot is Shabbat one day observers read Kohelet on the first day, while two day observers wait for the Shemini Atzeret.

    True, though not necessarily a chumra - everyone is still reading the same thing, just on different days.

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  4. Well, if you believe that the megilla should be read on the chag then one day observers are making sure they read the megilla on the chag, while two day observers might be reading the megilla on a random day.

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  5. The ma`ariv question doesn't sound right to me. In all cases, people with calendars know that the first day is from the Torah, and the second day is not. On the other hand, even on Shabbat one is (basically) allowed to daven ma`ariv during daytime, though that isn't exactly recommended.

    Another example is succah behavior on Shmini `Atzeret--required or prohibited, no middle ground.

    I would have to ask someone more knowledgeable for this, but what about kiddushin with chametz on the 8th day of Pesach? Now I'm curious.

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  6. Growing up as a 0 day yom-tov kid in a 1-day yom-tov Reform Congregation, I'm not sure of the basis for this, but I note that a fair number of Reform congregations hold Yizkor services on the 2nd day of chag even if they otherwise don't make a big deal out of the 2nd day.

    My impression is that many people who otherwise observe only one day of yom tov will still hold two seders. Definitely people are inconsistent - I suspect there are a fair number of folks who do 2 days of Rosh Hashana but only one day of Shavuot.

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  7. Growing up as a 0 day yom-tov kid in a 1-day yom-tov Reform Congregation, I'm not sure of the basis for this, but I note that a fair number of Reform congregations hold Yizkor services on the 2nd day of chag even if they otherwise don't make a big deal out of the 2nd day.

    Interesting. Do they do a yom tov service on that day, or a weekday service, or just yizkor by itself? In the Reform congregation where I grew up, yizkor was on the one day of yom tov (and was the main reason anyone showed up on the 7th day of Pesach).

    My impression is that many people who otherwise observe only one day of yom tov will still hold two seders.

    Yes. And there's nothing wrong with this - you can have a seder any night - though it may be preferable to hold the second seder on the 7th night.

    Definitely people are inconsistent - I suspect there are a fair number of folks who do 2 days of Rosh Hashana but only one day of Shavuot.

    This fair number of folks includes everyone in Israel. And this isn't inconsistent -- the reason for 2 days of Rosh Hashanah is different from the reason for 2 days of other yamim tovim (Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot). (Full explanation available upon request.) Inconsistent would be 8 days of Pesach and 1 day of Shavuot (which also seems to be common).

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  8. Inconsistent would be 8 days of Pesach and 1 day of Shavuot

    Actually, I take that back. There is a consistent case to be made for a 2-day yom tov person to observe 1 day of Shavuot (though I only know of one person who does this). It's harder to make a consistent case for a 1-day yom tov person observing 8 days of Pesach (which is what I had in mind).

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  9. Tefillin could be excused because tefillin are apparently not put on on Shabbat and Yom Tov because they stand themselves as אות, by way of "את שבתותיי תשמורו כי אות היא..." This may well stand for Yom Tov Sheni as long as it is kept as a שבת (although then there is the question of which are "God's shabbatot" and which are the Rabbis).

    Still, is not ברכה לבטלה a more pressing prohibition to be concerned about on a second day that is mere custom?

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