We'll start with a teshuva by Rabbi Solomon Freehof, published in Current Reform Responsa in 1969. (As a side note, there is a shockingly large number of Reform responsa collections with instantly dated names, as if each new volume thought it was going to be the last: Contemporary American Reform Responsa, Recent Reform Responsa, Today's Reform Responsa, New Reform Responsa, etc. Hasn't anyone learned any lessons from New College? But the most laughable title, without question, is Teshuvot for the Nineties. Even though it's West Asia to the other titles' Middle East.)
It's not available online, and it's short, so I'll just post the text here.
The question is:
Since the Reform practice as to the length of the festivals is the same as the biblical and the Israeli, which Torah reading shall be used on the Sabbath of what would be the eighth day of Passover? What is the practice of Reform congregations in America?
This question has been asked a number of times, and answered by the writer as Chairman of the C.C.A.R. Committee on Responsa, so the answer may be deemed official, or as nearly official as any Conference responsum is. That is to say, it is meant for guidance and not for strict governance. Yet in general, it represents a fairly universal practice among our congregations.
The actual problem is this: On the holidays, the regular sequence of weekly readings (the Sedras) is suspended and a special holiday Torah reading is provided. When the holiday is over, the regular sequence of Torah Sedras resumes on the first Saturday after the holiday.
But if, as happens fairly often, the eighth day of Passover is on a Saturday, then in Israel, which considers the eighth day a regular non-festival Sabbath, the regular cycle of Torah reading resumes. Therefore Israel is one week ahead of the rest of the Jewish world in the Torah cycle. But not for long! Israel continues ahead until they come to the first double portion. On Pesach, which usually takes place on the Sedra Tzav, the dislocation continues for only two weeks, when the double portion Sazria-Mezoro comes. That week Israel just reads Sazria separately, and the next week Mezoro separately, and thus the rest of world Jewry catches up with them.
Rabbi Freehof gets major props for the transliteration "Sazria". Explanation: The letters בגדכפת get a dageish kal when they are at the beginning of a word, but not if the previous word (within the same phrase) ends in a vowel letter. Since this Torah portion begins (after the standard intro) אשה כי תזריע, the tav in "tazria" loses its dageish. (This is, of course, irrelevant to those of us who pronounce tav the same with or without a dageish, but Ashkenazi pronunciation of Hebrew was standard in the US Jewish community (and not just in frum and Yiddishist enclaves) before 1967.) See also: Vayakheil-Fekudei.
But I'm not sure this is an accurate description of Israeli practice. Or perhaps there are multiple practices in Israel (though that's a little bit hard to believe, with the pervasiveness of the Jewish calendar there), or the practice has changed. In my post on single and double Torah portions, I wrote (based on Israeli calendars) that in this case, Israelis read Behar and Bechukotai separately (not Tazria and Metzora), even though that's not the next opportunity to get everyone back in sync. I don't know why that is, but it seems to be supported by empirical evidence. Can anyone shed light on this?
In leap years (when all of these portions are already read separately), the two calendars are out of sync for substantially longer, for about 3 months until we get to Matot and Mas'ei. This last happened in 1995, and the next time will be in 2016. It also happened in 1965, which may or may not have been the year that this question was posed to the CCAR Responsa Committee. (There is no date on the teshuva. The "8th day of Pesach" also fell on Shabbat in 1961 and 1964, which were not leap years.)
This problem does not arise with regard to the ninth day of Succos because that cannot be on Sabbath.Here I assume he's referring to the second day of Shemini Atzeret, or the day colloquially known as "Simchat Torah". But there is some precedent for calling it "the ninth day" -- the Talmud does so at Sukkah 46b.
The second day of Rosh Hashanah cannot fall on Shabbat either.
However, the second day of Shavuot can fall on Shabbat, and does slightly more frequently than the eighth day of Pesach (and much more frequently in recent years -- 5 of the last 10 years, in contrast to 0 of the last 10 years for Pesach, though this trend will soon reverse itself).
These details do not undermine Rabbi Freehof's conclusion; rather, the fact that the calendar disparities are longer and more frequent than the teshuva explicitly mentions makes the motivation for his position even stronger. So I bring these details up to make it clear that, even though I'm aware of these additional facts, I still disagree with the teshuva's conclusion.
Now this solution (of Israel being ahead one week until the next double portion comes) works well because of the fact that the different schedule of readings occurs in different countries
It seems to me that this distinction, between different countries and the same country, was more relevant 40 years ago than it is now. These lines have blurred. People are traveling between Israel and other countries much more frequently now, and the Internet makes communication instantaneous, so that American Jews can now think of Israel as part of "our environment" (see below). I have closer contact with a number of communities in Israel than with the Orthodox shul down the street in New York.
(although even in Israel it is still a problem for visitors who do not come there as permanent settlers, since they must follow their home schedule).Is this still the case in Israel? I know there are second-day yom tov minyanim for visitors, but are there also minyanim on subsequent Shabbatot that read according to the corresponding Torah reading schedule? More to the point, I'd be interested to know about any such minyanim run by Israelis in the United States.
But the problem remains in the relationship between Reform and non-Reform congregations in America, England, etc. Here we are in the same country, and it is not convenient that for a number of weeks we should be in dislocation as to Torah reading with the rest of American Jewry. We have therefore arrived at the following practical solution: We simply reread on that Sabbath the special reading of the holiday that we read before, and take a Psalm as the supplementary reading, but the service that day is a regular Sabbath service. In this way, on the very next Sabbath we are in accord with all the Jews of our environment.I assume that "supplementary reading" means "haftarah". A psalm seems like an unusual choice, but that's the least of the problems here.
Is there any chance that there has ever been a single Conservative or Orthodox congregation that considered even for a second that it was "not convenient" that, in certain years, they were reading a different Torah portion from their Reform neighbors, and that therefore it would perhaps be best to read the next regular Shabbat portion rather than the yom tov reading on the 8th day of Pesach or 2nd day of Shavuot, in order to stay in accord with all the Jews of their environment? If not, why not? Perhaps because they take their own practices seriously? And if unity is so important, why isn't Rabbi Freehof's first instinct to ask the other movements to work out a mutually agreeable solution, and why does he say instead that Reform congregations alone should adjust, and twiddle their thumbs for a week while waiting for the other denominations to catch up? It appears to me that he treats Conservative and Orthodox practices with more deference than Reform practices. That's not the way to win respect from others or from oneself, any more than voting for everything Bush asked for helped the congressional Democrats win elections in 2002.
I'll say the same thing that I said about the triennial cycle: "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."
Rather, whatever we do in the name of Kelal Yisrael must come from a position of strength. We must first figure out what we would do if we were the only Jews on earth, and let that be our starting point, and then, only after that, determine what (if any) adjustments should be made due to the fact that other Jews exist. This is certainly the way that Orthodox communities operate (at least in the United States; it's hard to imagine the economics of the Israeli haredi sector arising from this approach), and is a major factor in Orthodox Judaism's success. The Reform movement's failure to do this is part of the reason that Reform identities are steamrolled in pluralistic settings. There can be no one-sided "Kelal Yisrael", just as there can be no one-sided "bipartisanship".
It defies all reason to imagine how this teshuva's "practical solution" could be arrived at without making reference to non-Reform Jews and their two-day yom tov observance. In my post on single and double Torah portions, I explained the principles behind each configuration. How does one explain this teshuva's proposed algorithm without making reference to the concept of "the 8th day of Pesach" (a concept that, as this teshuva concedes, does not exist in the Reform calendar)? Here's an attempt: "The cycle of Torah readings on Shabbat is only interrupted by major holidays. When minor holidays, such as Chanukah and Rosh Chodesh, fall on Shabbat, the holiday reading is read in addition to the regular Shabbat portion, and does not replace it. The exception is when 22 Nisan or 7 Sivan, which are not holidays at all, falls on Shabbat, in which case the Shabbat Torah reading cycle is interrupted, and a special Torah reading related to a recently ended holiday is read instead. But if 22 Nisan or 7 Sivan falls on a weekday, then no Torah portion is read at all." Like I said, it defies reason.
Convenient or not, the only self-respecting solution is one that would make sense if everyone else followed it, rather than one that depends on other movements that are implicitly perceived as more authentic.
Again, this debate has nothing to do with the question of how many days of yom tov to observe, because all sides agree that the answer is one. (For Reform congregations that decide to observe two days of yom tov, this question is irrelevant.)
The list of Torah readings at the back of the Union Prayer Book Newly Revised follows this solution of the problem.
In contrast, the "Table of Scriptural Readings" at the back of Gates of the House (1977, the companion volume to Gates of Prayer) says: "When, in the Diaspora, the eighth day of Pesach or the second day of Shavuot falls on Shabbat, Reform congregations read the sidra assigned to the following week in the standard religious calendars." This apparently descriptive statement is a rapid reversal from what Freehof describes as a "fairly universal practice among our congregations". Perhaps the reality has been somewhere in between for a while.
Gates of the House goes on: "However, in order to preserve uniformity in the reading of the Torah throughout the entire community, it is suggested that on these occasions, the sidra be spread over two weeks, one portion to be read while traditional congregations are observing the festival, and another portion to be read the following Shabbat."
This solves some of the problems of the Freehof teshuva but not others. The cycle of Shabbat Torah readings is not interrupted for a day (22 Nisan or 7 Sivan) that is not a holiday, and no special Torah readings are inserted that appear to acknowledge the existence of the 8th day of Pesach or the 2nd day of Shavuot (in some years but not others). Spreading one parasha over two weeks is not a practical problem, since (unfortunately) I don't know of any Reform congregations in the United States that read the entire portion each week, or even the "entire" "triennial" portion. In my experience, most select one piece of the parasha to read, so spreading the portion over two weeks would simply mean selecting two pieces.
But it retains the problem of an incoherent calendar algorithm, or a calendar algorithm that only makes sense if it incorporates the concept of "8th day of Pesach"/"2nd day of Shavuot". The algorithm for Torah readings makes special exceptions for years when 22 Nisan or 7 Sivan falls on Shabbat, for no internally defensible reason. This is invisible to most people, since most people (including rabbis) don't know how the calendar is calculated and rely on published calendars. But the need for self-sufficient and coherent Jewish practices still stands even when the lack of self-sufficiency is less blatant.
The URJ's online Eilu v'Eilu feature addressed this question in 2006 in a four-part series: week 1, week 2, week 3, and week 4. Rabbi Eric Wisnia takes the position that American Reform congregations should follow the Israeli calendar, and Rabbi Richard Sarason concurs with the various methods of being "in sync with the local community" (his words), though he doesn't express a preference for one of the two methods discussed above.
I would ask Rabbi Sarason why he thinks Reform communities should see local custom as something set in stone to react to, rather than something to influence. In fact, one letter writer does ask that in week 3, and Rabbi Sarason doesn't really answer the question. He punts and says "Ultimately, there is not a lot at stake here. (Indeed, the majority of North American Reform Jews will not care one way or the other about this issue since it doesn’t even register for them.)" Depressingly true, but I would argue that that's precisely what's at stake.
I agree with Rabbi Wisnia's conclusions (obviously) and with many of his arguments, but find his style somewhat grating. Some of it descends into gratuitous Orthodox-bashing: "I was born in Brooklyn. I know these people. Many of them are my relatives. They are all crazy!" The point isn't whether Orthodox Jews are right or wrong, or whether they're crazy or not. The point is that, right or wrong, Reform Jews have chosen a different path, and this issue is a test of whether Reform Jews really believe in that path.
Interestingly, Rabbi Wisnia focuses a lot on the fact that the 1-day yom tov calendar is the Israeli calendar, and argues that Reform Jews are being better Zionists by following this calendar in solidarity with the State of Israel. This approach certainly provides a significant counterpoint to some of the comments on the previous post.
Coming up next: the Conservative teshuvot about 1-day vs. 2-day yom tov.