Tuesday, September 16, 2008

ONE DAY ONLY! Part 1a: Reform

The holidays are coming soon, and that means a lot of things: making an accounting of our actions (individual and collective) over the past year, asking for forgiveness from those we have wronged, working to change our actions for the new year, etc. But I don't have any unique blogworthy insights on those issues that other people couldn't do much better, so instead, I'm going to focus on issues of less urgency where Mah Rabu has a specialized niche, and continue this blog's one-track mind. After Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur come Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret, and the question of one-day versus two-day yom tov!

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:

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?
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.

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."

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.
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.

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:

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.
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.

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.

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.
It is so ordered.

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.

25 comments:

  1. Overall, I agree with what you've said, and I love the clarity which the Responsum brings to the issue at the end (i.e. it's really about whether or not the second day is seen as "sacred.")

    I do think, though, that you're a bit unfair in regards to the need to accommodate other movements/practices. Leaving aside cases when the "traditional" approach (I know how much you love that word) is simply, from a Reform point of view, wrong (e.g. mamzerut or egalitarian issues), the Reform movement finds itself in a place of tension. We can acknowledge that, even though we may be the most Torah True Judaism (which I believe we are), we also do many things which deviate from centuries of practice (Yom Tov Sheni being a perfect example). To argue that we should, in some way, acknowledge Yom Tov Sheni is not, necessarily, to say that the Orthodox are more legitimate than we are. It may be just to say that a) they have a right to do things their way, b) the longevity of their practice isn't 100% irrelevant to us and c) they can't change. So, if we want to include k'lal yisrael as one of our values, then trying to find a middle ground (e.g. not holding any large, public events on Yom Tov Sheni) might be totally appropriate.

    Of course, we're in a gray area here, in that, at some point, a number of small accommodations starts to feel like a larger accommodation. And that can start to feel like a violation of my integrity. But, to chastise a Reform congregation simply because they, in small or large ways, acknowledge/observe Yom Tov Sheni, and to say/imply that this makes them less-than-serious Reform Jews is, I think unfair.

    L'Shana Tova!

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  2. I still don't understand the workings of Reform halacha. Can you do a post or five hundred on that?

    What are the extents of obligation? With whom does authority rest? What is the role of teshuvot?

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  3. BZ, Interesting post. About your statement that it's unjustifiable for someone with a long Reform background to acknowledge a 2nd day of yom tov since there is no other purpose: Couldn't that logic could be extended to other mitzvot not stated explicitly in the Torah, such as chicken with milk or even kosher slaughter?

    I believe that purpose of not mixing chicken with milk is unclear in the gemara, and pretty much just a takana, just like with 2nd day yom tov, right? So the only reason not to mix chicken and dairy is to concur with the rest of Jewish society.

    With the more outrageous case of kosher slaughter: obviously, the exact method is described in the gemara, but the Reform movement and individual units of custom chose to abandon it. My paternal grandfather's entire town transplanted itself from the same town in Germany, and stopped bringing a shochet in around the same time as the treife banquet. It seems like your logic could be stretched to apply here, as well.

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  4. RabbiRosenberg writes:
    It may be just to say that a) they have a right to do things their way, b) the longevity of their practice isn't 100% irrelevant to us and c) they can't change.

    a) What do "rights" have to do with anything? (In America, we have a right to observe any religion we want, but that's a non sequitur.) And how is a Reform congregation that exclusively observes 1 day of yom tov impinging on anyone else's ability to observe 2 days?

    c) Who says they can't change? "They" do, but why should that be relevant to what Reform Jews do? This idea, that some people should be more flexible because other people "can't", sounds like Stage 1 pluralism, which I don't think is a good idea for pluralistic inter/trans/nondenominational communities, let alone for Reform communities deciding internally on their practices. Interdenominational interactions have to come from a place of strength, and being secure in one's own practices and beliefs.

    So, if we want to include k'lal yisrael as one of our values, then trying to find a middle ground (e.g. not holding any large, public events on Yom Tov Sheni) might be totally appropriate.

    That may be the case, if these large public events are trying to be inclusive to the broader Jewish community, including those who observe two days. But that is not acknowledging yom tov sheini per se, so much as acknowledging that there are people who (for whatever reason) observe yom tov sheini. Likewise, a Jewish congregation might decide not to schedule an event for Christmas, in order to avoid creating conflicts for members with interfaith families, and to give non-Jewish employees the day off. But that's not the same as acknowledging Christmas on its official calendar, or including a special Torah reading when Christmas falls on Shabbat.

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  5. alan/scotty writes:
    I still don't understand the workings of Reform halacha. Can you do a post or five hundred on that?

    Here are two, but there's a lot more to be said.

    What are the extents of obligation?

    Good question.

    With whom does authority rest?

    As I understand it, authority rests with God, but no one can directly discern God's will, so each individual has interpretive authority in practice.

    What is the role of teshuvot?

    According to the CCAR Responsa Committee, "responsa provide guidance, not governance. As a body of literature, the responsa published by the Reform Movement reveal a broad consensus as to mainstream Reform Jewish thinking on important issues facing contemporary Judaism. Individual rabbis and communities retain responsibility, however, to make their own determinations as to the stance they will take on individual issues."

    This may be theoretically true in the Conservative movement as well (that CJLS teshuvot are not binding on individual rabbis), but it's actually true in the Reform movement -- even the movement institutions aren't necessarily bound by CCAR teshuvot, and I'm not aware of any instances of news crews waiting outside with bated breath to hear what the CCAR Responsa Committee will announce.

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  6. JZ:
    My point is that the motivation behind the minhag of 2nd day yom tov in the era of the fixed calendar is that it's "minhag avoteinu b'yadeinu", and nothing else, so that if it's not actually "minhag avoteinu" anymore, then it's not anything. (There have been apologetic interpretations about the Diaspora vs. Israel, but those are very late. I'd be interested in knowing precisely when that entered the discourse. I'm guessing after the State of Israel, or at least modern Zionism, began. See discussion in the comments here.)

    This is not the case for the other practices you mention. There are many substantive motivations for kosher slaughter: sanctifying the act of eating (along with the other elements of kashrut), preventing pain to animals, acknowledging that eating meat should have a different status from other things we eat, etc. Likewise, even if chickens don't lactate, the prohibition of mixing chicken and milk isn't so ridiculous once "don't cook a kid in its mother's milk" is expanded to a general prohibition on mixing meat and milk. There is already other precedent for classifying chicken as "meat" -- e.g. chickens (like mammals and unlike fish) require ritual slaughter and draining of blood.

    In any case, speaking for myself, I grew up in a house where we didn't mix chicken with milk, and only had kosher-slaughtered meat, so this is my minhag.

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  7. As someone who observes two days of YT AND RH, as well as someone who believes (believed?) the Reform movement to be pluralistic, I found the tone of this post to be grating, and quite the bit condescending, at the least.

    When the Reform rabbanus uses the argument of "creating holy space which only the Sanhedrin can" in declaring Yom Tov, I feel that it steps on itself a bit here. Okay, it might apply in this case where the congregation was declaring a second day (where it otherwise would observe only one) just because it was more convenient for the Confirmands. (In other words, just because.) So then when the rest of us decide to observe a second day of YT due to being in the diaspora (or living in Israel but having origins in galut), are WE being that arrogant, placing ourselves at a level of the rabbanim of days long gone, and declaring by fiat a festival without rational basis? Hell, why would we even observe ONE day of Hag, or even keep track of months, since the power to declare Rosh Hodesh was reserved for the Sanhedrin? On a given night I can see the actual molad, but can I announce the Month of Nisan and celebrate Pesah on this date when everyone else is celebrating it on another?

    The answer (not THE answer, but at least one of them) lies in convention. We follow the convention of a fixed calendar, and some of us follow the convention of second-day YT. They haven't been mutually exclusive in the past, and despite your tireless argumentation,* they aren't today. Likewise, there's the convention of Israel and general Reform of using a fixed calendar and one day of YT (and for Reform, 1-day RH, which requires explanation), which is also acceptable. And then there's the "Torah-true" Karaite convention of preserving announcements of months and observing one day only! (Whether that is an acceptable convention is up for debate.) We don't pretend to be the Sanhedrin when we do these things - we're just following convention.

    Which Begs The Question: How much of 2-day YT is acceptable in Reform practice? First of all, is the URJ pluralistic in its views of the practice of its congregants/congregations? (As opposed to Classical Reform in Germany, which was very forceful in imposing its practices. But I digress.) If so, does it allow for different practices among different congregations? Knowing that many come to Reform from O and C backgrounds, could a congregation that practices 2 days theoretically be established on the basis of minhag avoteinu? (Of course, as you said, they are free to practice two days on their own even if the congregation observes one.)

    Or is this simply a matter of "we have our own sets of practices; who are YOU to question them"?

    *You said it yourself that it's a one-track mind...

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  8. When the Reform rabbanus uses the argument of "creating holy space which only the Sanhedrin can" in declaring Yom Tov, I feel that it steps on itself a bit here.

    This argument needs to be understood in context. They are referring specifically to creating a yom tov where none existed before. So there is no issue with a community observing a particular day as yom tov this year if it observed that day as yom tov last year; the issue is with turning a day from chol into yom tov, which requires much stricter scrutiny. (And if you say that some people don't observe any days of yom tov at all, I would say that even if they don't observe Shavuot, they wouldn't say "Today is not Shavuot", which differentiates them from a movement that has been saying "Today is not Shavuot" on the 7th of Sivan for over 160 years.)

    Which Begs The Question:

    No it doesn't.

    How much of 2-day YT is acceptable in Reform practice? First of all, is the URJ pluralistic in its views of the practice of its congregants/congregations? (As opposed to Classical Reform in Germany, which was very forceful in imposing its practices. But I digress.) If so, does it allow for different practices among different congregations?

    Yes and yes. I don't speak for the URJ, and the CCAR Responsa Committee doesn't speak for the URJ. The URJ does not enforce any kind of ritual standards among its congregations as far as I know. I can't imagine that a congregation that observes 2 days of yom tov that applied for URJ membership would be rejected on these grounds. (And even if Classical Reform congregations were forceful in regard to individuals, I don't think there was an organized body that enforced standards of practice on congregations.)

    Knowing that many come to Reform from O and C backgrounds, could a congregation that practices 2 days theoretically be established on the basis of minhag avoteinu? (Of course, as you said, they are free to practice two days on their own even if the congregation observes one.)

    I explicitly said in the post that I thought this would be valid. And the teshuva says that, although 1 day of yom tov is standard in the Reform movement, any congregation is free to observe 2 days; they had just better have a good reason (i.e. a better one than scheduling Confirmation) and be serious about it. The relevant passage: "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."

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  9. Another interesting factor to consider is Reform shuls in Canada which observe two days of Rosh Hashanah, but only one day of Yom Tov on the rest of the Chagim.

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  10. Not just in Canada - as I said in the post, the teshuva cites a 1993 survey saying that 38% of UAHC congregations (US and Canada) responding to the survey observed 2 days of Rosh Hashanah. (They add, "Anecdotal evidence suggests to us that the figure is higher today.") This is a consistent position, because the historical origin of 2 days of Rosh Hashanah is different from the origin of 2 days of other yamim tovim, and the standard practice in Israel (in all denominations as well as civil religion) is 2 days of Rosh Hashanah and 1 day of everything else.

    Or do you mean that 2 days of Rosh Hashanah is universal (or close to it) in the Canadian Reform movement?

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  11. Yes, I mean that 2 days of Rosh Hashanah is universal (or close to it) in the Canadian Reform movement.

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  12. Isn't another reason for YT2 so that the habit is not lost in case the situation changes?

    To phrase that in terms of another widespread practice: many people learn kashrut with eggs as if the eggs they were using were potentially fertilized, even though normal supermarket eggs are unfertilized.

    As for why YT2 doesn't seem so different from kosher slaughter wrt the historical US Reform movement: Just as we have a calendar and know when the holidays are, we now have captive bolt stunning so cows don't feel pain. Sanctifying food and treating meat differently are pretty generic and sound just as modern as the Israel/diaspora explanation for YT2. I honestly don't see the difference from the perspective of US Reform psak since for about a century it dismissed the traditional sources about kashrut.

    (I know the Germany Reform movement kept kosher. The first time my childhood rabbi ate non-kosher food was his first day at HUC.)

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  13. It is worth noting that some quasi-official URJ appendages have suggested, if not openly advocated, 2-day Yom Tov: I'm thinking specifically of the "Ten Minutes of Torah" mailing list. (Note "quasi-"; I doubt the rabbis and cantors who contribute sichot are considered to be speaking for anyone other than themselves — but it's still done under the URJ name and umbrella.)

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  14. There is an easy solution to the "2-day-Yom-Tov" quandry (excluding, Rosh Hashana, of course). That is to make aliyah to Eretz Israel. We are waiting with open arms for all of you living in the EXILE (not, 'diaspora', mind you) to come home. Its a lot easier today than it was centuries ago. BZ-we need good physics teachers here in Israel.

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  15. Brandon-
    Do you have a link to the relevant post(s)? Maybe I'll include it in a future post in this series.

    Y. Ben-David-
    And will Reform Jews be welcomed with open arms as Reform Jews?

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  16. Isn't another reason for YT2 so that the habit is not lost in case the situation changes?

    Yes, that reason is given in the Talmud, but (as noted in the teshuva) is almost as obsolete as the original reason. Even the Rambam no longer mentions it. If we ever get to the point where there are no Jews who know how to calculate the dates of the holidays (and no more 100-year calendar books lying around, and no computer programs with the calendar rules coded in), it's also likely that there will be no Jews left who know the calendar even vaguely enough to figure out when the *two* days of yom tov should be (such that one of them is correct).

    As for why YT2 doesn't seem so different from kosher slaughter wrt the historical US Reform movement: Just as we have a calendar and know when the holidays are, we now have captive bolt stunning so cows don't feel pain. Sanctifying food and treating meat differently are pretty generic and sound just as modern as the Israel/diaspora explanation for YT2. I honestly don't see the difference from the perspective of US Reform psak since for about a century it dismissed the traditional sources about kashrut.

    So I think that someone who inherited a practice of no kashrut at all and then decided that they wanted to sanctify their eating by eating only meat that (by whatever method) didn't involve cruelty, while not incorporating any of classical kashrut, isn't necessarily wrong, even if that's not the practice that I choose. But I think that someone who wanted to achieve these goals through adopting classical kashrut, despite having a longstanding tradition of not observing kashrut (such that, without any context, kashrut would seem arbitrary), would be justified, because kashrut predates the denominational split and is part of all Reform Jews' shared history as well.

    And likewise, two-day yom tov is part of all Diaspora Jews' shared history. And because of this, I would go so far as to say that if I were looking to add extra days of yom tov, I would choose 23 Tishrei before I would choose 15 Cheshvan or some random date, because my ancestors (if you go far enough back) have observed 23 Tishrei as a yom tov. But why would I be looking to observe additional days of yom tov that aren't in the Torah and aren't part of my minhag? What goals would be achieved through this? The CCAR teshuva explains why adding days as yom tov shouldn't be done frivolously.

    Re treating meat differently as a "modern" position: in many circles, modern views of kashrut have gone entirely the opposite direction, with even canned vegetables (outside Israel, so agricultural laws aren't relevant) requiring a hechsher.

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  17. BZ-Are you saying that your commitment to Israel and the Jewish people is conditional? You will only consider making aliyah if the government carries out policies that you like? Is that how Israel was built...by people saying "I want somebody ELSE to make sure to arrange everything the way I want it, THEN I will consider coming?
    The fact is that there are very few self-identified Reform Jews in Israel (I believe there are only something like 15 congregations in the whole country...please correct me if I am wrong). If you consider yourself a Reform Jew and you remain in the Exile, how do you expect the Reform movement to grow? Golda Meir was asked when the Conservative movement would get official state recognition...she answered "when 1 million Conservative Jews make aliyah". Well, I throw down the same challenge to you.
    I am Orthodox and I would welcome mass aliyah by Reform and Conservative Jews because I believe in Zionism. Come and build your own Reform congregations. I heard that a Reform congregation in Modi'in is getting gov't funding. I have no objection to that IF there is a presence of Reform Jews on the ground in Israel. IT IS UP TO YOU, no one else, to determine the future of Reform Judaism in Israel.

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  18. Y. Ben-David writes:
    BZ-Are you saying that your commitment to Israel and the Jewish people is conditional?

    I'm not saying anything, I'm just asking a question. You're the one who said "We are waiting with open arms for all of you", so I was asking how much you meant it. You're the one who said "Its a lot easier today than it was centuries ago", suggesting that this should influence someone's decision whether or not to make aliyah. And let's not equate Israel with the Jewish people.

    I believe there are only something like 15 congregations in the whole country...please correct me if I am wrong

    You're wrong - there are at least 24 listed on the IMPJ website.

    I heard that a Reform congregation in Modi'in is getting gov't funding. I have no objection to that IF there is a presence of Reform Jews on the ground in Israel.

    I actually would object.

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  19. BZ-I find your last comment quite puzzling. You said:
    -------------------------------
    You're the one who said "Its a lot easier today than it was centuries ago", suggesting that this should influence someone's decision whether or not to make aliyah. And let's not equate Israel with the Jewish people.
    --------------------------------

    If we assume that a Jew's natural place is in Eretz Israel (and I do make that assumption), then the fact that aliyah is much easier than in the past is extremely relevant. In the past centuries, when poverty wracked the Jewish community here and things like plagues swept throught the population and pirates attacked people travelling there, then many scholars said that it was not MANDATORY for a Jew to live in Eretz Israel. Thank G-d, those things are not problems today, so those excuses for not making aliyah are not relevant any more.

    Regarding "equating Israel with the Jewish people", well, the people of the world do it, whether we like it or not. Israel is called "The Jewish State" by everybody, and that is a big reason why it is admired by some (mostly in the West, Africa and Far East), and why it is hated by others (much of the Muslim world, but not all of it). The question of whether one likes what the government does or not is not relevant...I despise the current gov't, but I still view Israel as "The Jewish State". Almost half of world Jewry lives here, and if G-d forbid, we were to go down here, no Jew ANYWHERE in the world would be safe.

    I also do not understand why you stated that you objected to government financial support for Reform congregations (it is ironic I as an "O" support it, at least under certain conditions, and you as an "R" object to it). Is it because you thing the American-style separation of religion and state should apply in Israel as well? Few people agree with that, even among anti-religious circles. Taxpayers are entitled to services for their money and religion (applied to all religious groups in Israel) is a worthy recepient.

    I am going to be blunt with you, I am getting a feeling that the tradition of extreme ambivalence to Zionism in the Reform movement is playing a part in your thinking. I think this ambivalence has been a major factor in the failure of the Reform movement to make any real headway in Israeli society, even though most Israeli are not Orthodox/religious. They simply are not receptive of Reform's message and they are aware of the Reform's problematic attitude to Israel, not just in the past, but in recent time's as well, particularly when Israel was under attack (Eric Yoffie's unfortunate comments explaining why they would not send their NFTY youth groups to Israel during the suicide bomber campaign whereas NCSY, Benei Akiva and others were continuing those programs).

    I think every Jew must be engaged in Israel's welfare and future, and if the Reform movement opts out of this (I am not saying that is the case, but as I said, I am getting a whiff of it here) then it is their loss, and they should not complain if they don't like they they are viewed in Israel. This is in direct contradiction to Reform explicity claim to be concerned about the welfare of Judaism and the Jewish people.

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  20. Y. Ben-David writes:
    If we assume that a Jew's natural place is in Eretz Israel (and I do make that assumption),

    I don't make that assumption, so therein lies our disagreement.

    then the fact that aliyah is much easier than in the past is extremely relevant. In the past centuries, when poverty wracked the Jewish community here and things like plagues swept throught the population and pirates attacked people travelling there, then many scholars said that it was not MANDATORY for a Jew to live in Eretz Israel.

    Now it's my turn to be puzzled. Are you saying that your commitment to Israel and the Jewish people is conditional? You will only consider making aliyah if you can avoid poverty, plagues, and pirates?

    I also do not understand why you stated that you objected to government financial support for Reform congregations

    If you had followed the link, you would understand.

    I am getting a feeling that the tradition of extreme ambivalence to Zionism in the Reform movement is playing a part in your thinking. I think this ambivalence has been a major factor in the failure of the Reform movement to make any real headway in Israeli society, even though most Israeli are not Orthodox/religious.

    Because no native Israelis are ambivalent about Zionism?

    I think every Jew must be engaged in Israel's welfare and future, and if the Reform movement opts out of this (I am not saying that is the case, but as I said, I am getting a whiff of it here) then it is their loss,

    As I already said in this comment thread, I am not a spokesman for the Reform movement. In fact, I'm not even a member.

    and they should not complain if they don't like they they are viewed in Israel.

    Show me the part in this post/thread where I was complaining. I live in the United States (where Jews have religious freedom) and am happy to stay here; you're the one who suggested that this was a problem.

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  21. Don't mean to make MORE irrelevant posts, but on the subject of Classical Reform, though there was no "central body" per se in Europe, Reform was aligned with local governments, as permitted by the system, and they used their power to shut down kosher slaughterhouses and mikvaot. I do believe that R' Samson Hirsch split off and declared Auschrift due to the overbearing control of Reform interests in Frankfurt.

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  22. Another reason why entanglement between government and religion is to be avoided...

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  23. Although some Jews don't yet see it, history has decided the relationship between the individual Jew and Eretz Israel. First, the question is halachic. There is a positive mitzvah to live in Eretz Israel. Almost all the traditional halachic authorities agree on that. The question then arises, is it mandatory, or simply praiseworthy?
    This is not clear. Since it is a halachic question, then the question of "pikuach nefesh" comes in, which I should have stated to preempt your question about whether I was "opting out" when I said Jews were not required to make aliyah if there was danger of starvation there due to the economic situation, or danger on the roads leading there, etc. I have pointed out those impediments to aliyah don't exist today, which is why millions of Jews have made aliyah in the 60 years of the existence of the state.
    But, now there is a bigger factor. Are we free agents in relating to this question? In Sefer Shmot (Book of Exodus), the Jews are described as leaving Egypt in the wake of the plague of the first born "hamushim". The simple meaning of this is "armed". However, Rashi says it means "one-fifth", i.e. only one-fifth of the Benei Israel that were in Egypt prior to the plagues, actually left. What happened to the other 4/5? They didn't want to leave and they died during the plague of darkness. Thus, history determined the what the individual Jew was to do...he or she was to leave Egypt and head for Eretz Israel.

    In 1917 the Balfour Declaration was promulgated. Just like in ancient Egypt, the Jews debated whether this was a good thing or not. Most Orthodox leaders were ambivalent, some were militanly for, some militantly against. The Conservative movement, as I understand it, was solidly for, and the Reform was predominately against (if I am wrong, please correct me). People said things like "we now have full religious freedom here in Germany, we are prosperous and the new democratic Weimar Constitution grants us full rights...we even have a Jewish Foreign Minister (Walther Rathenau)". Others, in places like Poland said "the leaders of the Zionist movement in Eretz Israel are anti-relgious, better to stay here in Poland where religiuos life is better".
    Just as before, in Egypt, circumstances intervened and decided the issue. Thus, there are greater forces at work. They are guiding us home to Eretz Israel. Yes, there Jews are unprecendently prosperous in America. But honestly, can you be sure this situation will last forever? I also see a spiritual sickness in American Jews of all persuasions (O, R , C and unaffliated). Not just assimilation in the form of intermarriage, but an internalization of foreign values that make a mockery of authentic Jewish values (and yes, there are such things). This is happening in the most Haredi circles in addition to more liberal ones. I heard it stated in the name of Shimshon Rafael Hirsch that he said whereas the Anusim (Marranos) were "goyim on the outside Jews on the inside, his followers (the Germanized Neo-Orthodox) were inverse Anusim, i.e. Jews on the outside and goyim on the inside".
    This is a signficant reason that Orthodox aliyah, at least, is slowly but steadily increasing over the years and explains the success of the Nefesh B'Nefesh aliyah program. And in spite of the supposed decline in interest in Zionism, which you claim is present in Israel itself, the Birthright Program which brings unaffiliated young Jews to Israel, is also a big success.
    Thus, the challenge is thrown down. Even if you don't identify with the Reform movement (you do seem to write about it a lot, though), whatever philosophy it is you subscribe to will never get off the ground in Israel if you stay in America. It is only in Israel that a Jew can live a fully Jewish life, immersed in his or her culture and language and with the Jewish calendar defining our time framework. There you have it.

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  24. Even if you don't identify with the Reform movement (you do seem to write about it a lot, though)

    I didn't say I don't identify. I said I'm not a spokesperson for the Reform movement (so my positions do not reflect official movement positions), and I'm not a (dues-paying) member.

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  25. The best place to learn about the authority of Reform Halakhah is in the introduction of Dr. Mark Washofsky's book "Jewish Living: A Guide to Contemporary Reform Practice." A great article about the theories of Reform/Liberal Halakhah is his article "Against Method: Liberal Halakhah Between Theory and Practice" which can be found electronically on his HUC faculty webpage http://www.huc.edu/faculty/faculty/washofsky.shtml .

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