Back between Pesach and Shavuot, I wrote a post looking briefly at some Reform and Conservative teshuvot on this question. Now, as promised, I'm going to examine the teshuvot, and some other arguments, in greater depth. This first post will focus on Reform views, and the next post in this series will look at the Conservative movement teshuvot (which I have now obtained in full).
One day of yom tov has been standard practice in the Reform movement since the 19th century. Therefore, contemporary Reform discussions on this topic do not focus directly on the core issue of 1-day vs. 2-day yom tov (except in regard to Rosh Hashanah, for which the Reform movement is split down the middle, based on local custom; the URJ web site now lists two days of Rosh Hashanah and one day of everything else), but rather focus on side issues that result from living in a world where many Jews still observe two days. The Jewish calendar that you get at the funeral home (etc.) still lists two days of yom tov (and in some years, as we'll discuss, the schedule of weekly Torah portions that results from two days of yom tov), so two-day yom tov has not been forgotten in the Reform world, just as Christmas has not been forgotten in the Jewish world as a whole. As I see it, these side issues boil down to whether Reform Jews have any principles, or actually see themselves as less authentic than other movements.
In the previous post, I looked in passing at a CCAR teshuva from 1999, "The Second Festival Day and Reform Judaism", the most recent on this topic. Now let's look at it in greater depth. While the question is actually about one of these side issues, the teshuva uses it as a jumping-off point to look at the larger issue.
Here's the question:
Our Reform congregation normally schedules confirmation services on Shavuot, which this year (1999/5759) falls on Thursday night and Friday. Our Confirmation class prefers to have their service on Friday night so more of their friends, family and other Religious School kids can attend. Although Friday night is no longer Shavuot according to our Reform calendar, it is the second day of the festival which is traditionally observed in the Diaspora (yom tov sheni shel galuyot). Is it acceptable for us to "stretch" the festival to accommodate their request, observing Shavuot for a second day so as to observe confirmation along with the holiday?To be clear, they're not asking about whether Shavuot should in general be observed for one or two days, or about whether it would be acceptable for this congregation to adopt the practice of observing two days, but about whether they can make a one-time exception. I find the very question shocking. And the CCAR Responsa Committee comes to basically the same conclusion that I do, but they convey it in more measured tones, demonstrating why they have the temperament to be clergy and I don't.
Still, they don't mince words. The first sentence of the responsum is "It is at first glance ironic that a Reform congregation should seek to restore a practice that our history has so clearly renounced." They go on to outline the history of the well-established Reform practice of one-day yom tov. Rosh Hashanah is explicitly treated the same as the other festivals, though the explanation of why it might be different does show up briefly later on. The number of days of Rosh Hashanah would be an interesting subject for a future teshuva (no pun intended).
The teshuva goes on: "Then again, perhaps this request is not all that ironic. In recent decades, many of us have reclaimed ritual observances abandoned by previous generations of Reform Jews, ..." followed by a list of such ritual observances, and a historical/sociological explanation (which I have used before) for the transformed role of ritual in post-Classical Reform Judaism:
If our predecessors regarded their acculturation into the surrounding society as a predominant objective, we who benefit from the social and political gains that they achieved are more concerned with taking active measures to preserve our distinctive Jewishness. Thus, where they may have viewed many ritual observances as barriers to social integration and as obstructions to "modern spiritual elevation," we may find them an appropriate and desirable expression of our Jewish consciousness.
Thus, two-day yom tov is (at least as an intermediate step in the logic) placed in the category of "ritual observances" that have historically been absent in the Reform movement and but may be appropriate for contemporary Reform practice. The teshuva does not question the existence of such a category, but has to consider the question of whether two-day yom tov properly belongs there. The framing of this question raises questions far beyond the issue at hand:
This paragraph brings up some fundamental tensions that can be attributed in part to the fact that Reform Jewish identity (as I have written before) is a convoluted mix of multiple elements that seem like they should be separable in theory but have become strongly linked. I have promised a future post that will attempt to start cutting through this intellectual thicket. In brief, the elements of Reform Jewish identity can be grouped into three major areas, which might be labeled as halachah (this is actually more of a meta-halachah, since the Reform commitment to internal pluralism (which is itself a part of that meta-halachah) means there isn't a unified Reform halachah; this includes principles such as informed autonomy and the progressive reinterpretation of Torah in each generation), aggadah (this includes principles of social justice and equality that motivate many Reform halachic positions), and minhag (historical continuity with the set of people who have called themselves Reform Jews; one might call this an ethnicity, and not only to annoy the Classical Reform types who think they've rejected ethnicity). And that's not even touching on the institutional elements of Reform Jewish identity. In that future post, I'll look at the contradictions that can arise when attempting to combine all three of these elements, and look for a way out. For now, let's just look at the question at hand.
Accordingly, we cannot say that a Reform congregation is forbidden to observe the second festival day. The mere fact that our Reform ancestors abrogated a ritual practice is not in and of itself sufficient cause to prevent us from recovering that practice. On the other hand, the mere fact that a congregation wishes to restore it may not be a good enough reason to justify its abandonment of a teaching that has for so long characterized our movement. For though we are drawn to the traditions of our people, the tradition of our own Reform Jewish community also makes a powerful call upon us. We, the Reform Jews of today, are members of a religious experience that transcends the boundaries of individual congregations. To identify ourselves as Reform Jews is to acknowledge our participation in the historical religious enterprise that our predecessors founded. We look upon them, in a sense that is deeply significant, as our rabbis. Their conception of Jewish life has done much to shape our own; accordingly, their teachings demand our attention and our prayerful respect. That respect, we think, forbids us from discarding the instruction of our teachers in the absence of good and sufficient cause. In this case, the question of yom tov sheni, this means we ought to ask ourselves the following questions. What were the reasons for which our predecessors eliminated the observance of the second festival day? Do those reasons still strike us as powerful and persuasive, or have they lost their cogency in the context of our own Reform Jewish religious experience? And what sort of argument would count as adequate justification to depart from the widespread and long-standing minhag of our movement?
The elements that I have classified as aggadah don't particularly come up here (though they could, insofar as the choice of one vs. two days is tied to a narrative about exile or the lack thereof); rather this is a conflict between Reform halachah (which theoretically should permit either one or two days of yom tov) and Reform minhag (which strongly favors one day of yom tov). (These are bound to come into conflict, because the Reform approach to halachah actively opposes granting too much authority to established minhag; I'll try to address this in my future post.)
So there's actually another potential reason for Reform Jews keeping two days of yom tov that gets mentioned later from another angle. (I know, I'm breaking character by presenting a case for two days.) The context in which a Reform Jew might want to do two days isn't only one of breaking with Reform minhag for the sake of "reclaim[ing] ritual observances." (In that context, I actually think two days is unjustifiable, at least for me (a fifth-generation Reform Jew) and anyone else from a Reform background. Unlike other ritual observances, keeping two days of yom tov in our time has no other purpose (anti-Diaspora apologetics aside) than "it's our minhag". So if it's not one's minhag, then what other purpose is left?) The Jewish population surveys show that the Reform movement is gaining members who moved there from other movements. This means that there are self-identified and affiliated Reform Jews, theoretically aligned with Reform halachah and aggadah, who are not inheritors of Reform minhag. (And that's not to mention the many people out there in independent communities, with progressive outlooks on halachah and aggadah, who do not identify or affiliate as Reform.) It seems to me that it would be reasonable for such individuals to observe 2 days of yom tov if that is their minhag that they brought with them, and if such individuals constitute the majority of the active participants in a Reform congregation, then it would be reasonable for the congregation to adopt 2 days as its minhag. As much as it pains me to say that.
Moving along, the teshuva then explains the origins of two-day yom tov, and the Talmud's reasons for preserving it in the era of the fixed calendar. Obviously the original reason for two-day yom tov no longer applies, and neither does the Talmud's reason of "lest you forget how to determine the calendar". But that's not the only reason -- the Rambam ignores this reason, but still holds that two-day yom tov is in force, because the rabbis established it as a takanah. (Because both the Mishneh Torah and this CCAR teshuva were written before 2006, the word "takanah" does not have a pejorative connotation.)
The teshuva then looks at different opinions on the circumstances under which a takanah can be overturned: does a modern-day beit din have to be greater than the Sanhedrin that established the takanah in order to overrule it, or is it sufficient that the reason for the takanah no longer applies? Unsurprisingly, the teshuva sides with the latter position. This is to be expected, since halacha's ability to adapt more rapidly to changing circumstances is part of what makes the Reform halachic approach progressive. This means that the Breslau rabbinical conference in 1846 was authorized to eliminate the second day of yom tov, as it did. This analysis is surprisingly process-oriented for a Reform teshuva. Did the rabbis in Breslau undergo this same analysis, or is this an interpretation that modern rabbis are imposing on the past? I'm not sure the answer to that question actually matters -- the rabbis of the Talmud excelled at creative anachronism, analyzing biblical narratives using rabbinic halacha in order to position themselves as lineal descendants of biblical Jews (despite having very different practices), and I'll argue in my future post that we would do well to adopt this technique in understanding our own more recent ancestors.
So the Breslau rabbinical conference was authorized to do what they did, but were they justified? The teshuva presents their reasons:
As our predecessors noted at the Breslau conference, the economic and other hardships imposed by the second festival day had already led the vast majority of our people to abandon its observance, and a community's inability to abide by a rabbinic enactment is itself a valid argument in halakhah for annulling the enactment. On the other hand, they suggested, the elimination of yom tov sheni would strengthen our religious life by allowing us to concentrate our efforts upon a more intense and meaningful observance of the first day.
It's somewhat surprising that the reasons given here don't say anything about Israel vs. Diaspora, not seeing ourselves as in exile anymore, etc. But maybe there were still so few Jews in the land of Israel in 1846 that the existence of Jews who keep 1 day because they're in Israel was simply not on their radar. I'm entirely unqualified to address the social realities in Europe at that time, in regard to how many days of yom tov Jews were keeping and whether this was a response to a grassroots movement. Of course, these reasons go alongside the fact that the Torah prescribes 1 day, we have a fixed calendar, etc. -- these additional reasons were simply the motivation for departing from estabished minhag. For the rabbis of 1846, 2 days was the inherited minhag, so these motivations were necessary to justify making a change. For me and others who have inherited 1 day, the burden of proof falls on the 2-day position, so these additional reasons for 1 day, even if they sound weak, aren't necessary.
The CCAR summarizes up to the present:
[W]e have therefore returned to the standard, as prescribed by the Torah, that each yom tov be observed for one day. This means that, for us, the "second days" of Rosh Hashanah, Shemini Atzeret, and Shavuot and the "eighth" day of Pesach are ordinary days (yom chol), while the "second" days of Sukkot and Pesach are the intermediate days of those festivals (chol hamo`ed). None of these days is a festival, and we do not treat them as such.I like the use of scare quotes. This emphasizes that, for those on a 1-day yom tov calendar, there is no such animal as "the second day of Shavuot". Maybe they went a little bit far with the last set of quotes -- there is, of course, a second day of Sukkot.
It's interesting that Rosh Hashanah is not distinguished from the other holidays: they seem to be taking the position that, a priori, there is no second day of Rosh Hashanah, and it's something that might be added in for various reasons discussed below. The Rambam takes an analogous (though very different) position, in emphasizing that the second day of Rosh Hashanah (in Israel and the Diaspora) is derabbanan, just like the second day of other holidays (in the Diaspora).
Our Reform movement made a principled decision to nullify the ancient rabbinic takanah establishing the second festival day. Do these principles continue to speak to us? The growing number of Reform congregations which already observe the second day of yom tov, particularly the second day of Rosh Hashanah, answer this question in the negative. They reason, contrary to the argument just cited, that the recovery of yom tov sheni might improve rather than weaken the quality of our communal religious life.
I think lumping Rosh Hashanah in with the other holidays is unfair and misleading. They cite a survey saying that 38% of Reform congregations responding to the survey observe 2 days of Rosh Hashanah. But I highly doubt there are anywhere near 38% observing 2 days of any other holiday. This conflation is fair in that observing 2 days of Rosh Hashanah still represents a departure from both biblical and historical Reform practice, but the original reason for 2 days of Rosh Hashanah is entirely different from the original reason for 2 days of other festivals, so it is an entirely coherent position to evaluate them differently and come to different conclusions.
How might this happen? There is, first of all, the consideration of Jewish unity. We see ourselves as part of a larger Jewish community. By restoring the traditional Diaspora festival calendar, we can identify with this broader Jewish experience by uniting our sacred calendar with those of our Jewish neighbors.Eek! I'll address this in greater detail when looking at the Freehof teshuva in the next post, but the short response is that unity shouldn't be one-sided, and you can be sure that the other denominations aren't thinking about how they can unite their sacred calendar with the Reform movement's. As I have written, "I understand that Kelal Yisrael may be a value that motivates wanting to be in sync with other Jewish communities. But as liberal Jews, our commitment to Kelal Yisrael must not come at the expense of our own independence or sense of authenticity."
As I said above, I think this is a legitimate reason for people to observe two days in a Reform context. BUT I don't think "we" should be doing any "accommodating", insofar as "we" refers to anyone other than the people from Conservative and Orthodox backgrounds, unless such people constitute a majority of a particular community. I think this reason is valid if it's really about preserving a minhag, but not if it's about marketing.
Secondly, by instituting a second festival day we can accommodate the growing percentage of our membership who come to us from Conservative- or Orthodox-Jewish backgrounds and who are familiar with that observance.
And then there are what we might call "spiritual" motivations: a second day of yom tov allows us to provide additional and perhaps creative worship services that speak to the religious needs of a number of our people.
I think this reason is the worst of all, but I'll hold my fire for the upcoming post about the Conservative teshuvot, which actually advocate for this reason, and not just as a straw man. For now, I'll just let the CCAR fire back:
All I can say is, hells yeah!!! We shouldn't be observing or even acknowledging yom tov sheni out of convenience, unless we intend to treat it (and the second days of other holidays, unless we have a coherent reason for making a distinction between holidays; Rosh Hashanah > Sukkot = Shemini Atzeret = Pesach > Shavuot) consistently as a full yom tov.
Yet for all that, these considerations by themselves are insufficient. 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. On yom tov sheni, as on the first festival day, we recite the festival liturgy. We say kiddush over wine, praising the God "who sanctifies Israel and the festivals." The mitzvot which pertain to that particular yom tov are just as appropriate, and obligatory under tradition, on yom tov sheni. And just as we abstain from work on a festival, we are to refrain from those labors on the second festival day. In short, yom tov sheni is the ritual equivalent in virtually all respects of the first day of the festival. We are entitled to restore the observance of yom tov sheni and/or the second day of Rosh Hashanah, just as we are entitled to restore any number of ritual practices discarded by our predecessors. But if and when we do so, let us not forget that it is a festival that we are creating. If we do not treat the second day of yom tov as the ritual equivalent of the first, then we do not in fact perceive it as a true festival day. And if that is the case, it is dishonest for us to call it a festival.
Now it's time to lay the smack down on the original question.
We do not think that the congregation which poses our she'elah truly regards the "second day" of Shavuot as a yom tov. Their request is prompted, not by the desire to observe yom tov sheni as a permanent religious institution to be equated with yom tov itself, but by the desire to "stretch" the holiday to Friday night for the benefit of this year's Confirmation class. They do not indicate any readiness to "stretch" the other festivals to a second day, to hold festival services and to close their offices on those days, or to do so again for Shavuot when that holiday does not fall on a Friday. They are not, therefore, departing from our movement's teaching on the dating of the festivals. They do not accept yom tov sheni as a true festival, a holy day, the equivalent of the first day of yom tov. They rather wish to move Shavuot to a day that as far as we--and they--are concerned is not Shavuot at all. To call that day "Shavuot," even out of the well-meaning intention to make the Confirmation service more meaningful for its participants and their families, is thoroughly inappropriate for a Reform congregation that does not observe yom tov sheni.
Oh snap! Again, not much more to say besides "I approve this message."
It is also unnecessary. The congregation need not "stretch" Shavuot to accommodate the Confirmation class, since it is perfectly acceptable to hold the ceremony on the Shabbat nearest Shavuot. Similarly, the text of the Confirmation service can reflect the theme of Shavuot, "the season of the giving of the Torah" (zeman matan toratenu), without the need to recite the actual festival liturgy.I mean really. Confirmation? The requirement that Confirmation actually take place on Shavuot itself is as rigid and hoary as the requirement that the bar mitzvah candlelighting ceremony include exactly 13 candles. For this you want to make a mockery of the idea of sacred time?
Moreover, the congregation may read the festival Torah portion, the Sinai revelation (Exodus 19-20), on that day. As Rabbi Solomon B. Freehof has suggested, when the final day of a festival (i.e., the eighth day of Pesach or the second day of Shavuot) falls on a Shabbat, our Reform congregations may "simply reread on that Sabbath the special reading of the holiday that we read the day before." Although current Reform practice does not follow Rabbi Freehof's suggestion, his teshuvah offers an alternative that this congregation might consider.In the next post, I'm going to look at the Freehof teshuva in question. In brief, I'm really not a fan.
It is so ordered.
Conclusion. In Reform Jewish tradition, yom tov is observed for one day, not two. This congregation gives every indication that it accepts and practices that standard. The congregation may therefore draw upon the symbolism and the message of Shavuot to lend liturgical power to a Confirmation service held on the day after the festival. The service, however, should not imply that the day is in fact Shavuot.
Because this post has gotten long enough, I'll publish now and put the other content in the next post. Part 1b will be on other Reform opinions (including Freehof on the Torah reading calendar), and part 2 will be on the Conservative teshuvot.