Read this first:
- Taxonomy of Jewish pluralism
- Hilchot Pluralism, Part I
- Hilchot Pluralism, Part II
- Hilchot Pluralism, Part III
- Hilchot Pluralism, Part IV
- Hilchot Pluralism, Part V
- Hilchot Pluralism, Part VI
- Hilchot Pluralism, Part VII
Coming in Part VIII: I don't know. Maybe something with an actual concrete solution?And it's taken almost 3 years to find something, but now here we are!
We look at Tikkun Leil Shabbat's first ever Simchat Torah celebration (last week), which successfully avoided taking a communal stance on whether or not it was yom tov.
The Broader Issue
This represents an attempt to achieve Stage-3 pluralism on the question of 1-day versus 2-day yom tov. (As we'll see, this solution is of limited generalizability, but still valuable.) This is an issue that will become more and more relevant in the future, due to various trends resulting in more intermingling between 1-day and 2-day people:
- cross-fertilization between Israel and the Diaspora (including Israelis living in the Diaspora and retaining their 1-day practice, and 2-day Diaspora Jews going to Israel and picking up the 1-day custom there)
- greater empowerment and education among people coming from 1-day backgrounds who may be more likely to retain their practice when making contact with 2-day Jews
- potential shifts in practice catalyzed by the upcoming calendar patterns
- the increased incidence of "shulhopping" (individuals participating regularly in multiple Jewish communities, and thereby having a greater need to define their own practice and identity rather than adopting a single community's practice)
- the more general trend of pluralistic communities defining themselves along lines other than the established denominational boundaries
Background on Simchat Torah
Contrary to popular belief, there is (technically speaking) no holiday called "Simchat Torah". Simchat Torah is the celebration of the completion of the Torah that typically takes place during the holiday of Shemini Atzeret. (Similarly, there is no holiday called "Seder"; seder is a ritual that takes place on the holiday of Pesach.) Shemini Atzeret is observed on 22 Tishrei (by those who do 1 day of yom tov), or 22 and 23 Tishrei (by those who do 2 days of yom tov). In most cases, communities that observe 1 day have their Simchat Torah celebrations on that one day (22 Tishrei), and communities that observe 2 days have their Simchat Torah celebrations on the second day of Shemini Atzeret (23 Tishrei). Of course, the day on which the Simchat Torah celebration takes place (whichever day that is) is often colloquially referred to as "Simchat Torah", but in more formal contexts (e.g. the kiddush, the Amidah), it is still called "Shemini Atzeret".
While the timing of Simchat Torah celebrations is highly correlated with a community's stance on 1-day vs. 2-day yom tov, there are some exceptions: Some Chasidic communities (and the Carlebach Shul in New York), which do 2 days of yom tov, do hakafot (dancing with the Torah) on both nights of Shemini Atzeret. And for various reasons, some communities that do 1 day of yom tov have their Simchat Torah celebrations on the night that would be the "2nd night", even though it is no longer yom tov for them. In some cities in Israel, you can find "hakafot shniot" (second hakafot) on the night of 23 Tishrei, originally for the benefit of visiting Diaspora Jews who were keeping two days, with musical instruments played by Israelis (who wouldn't play instruments on yom tov, but for whom it is no longer yom tov).
Background on Tikkun Leil Shabbat
Tikkun Leil Shabbat (TLS) is an independent minyan/havurah in the District of Columbia, founded in 2005. As its name suggests, it meets primarily on Friday nights. TLS has also had non-Shabbat services on several special occasions: Purim, selichot, and the second night of Rosh Hashanah. However, before this year, TLS never met on any of the three pilgrimage festivals, and therefore never had to take a stance on 1-day versus 2-day yom tov. (Yes, TLS has had Rosh Hashanah services on the 2nd night, but for reasons beyond the scope of this post, Rosh Hashanah is a separate question from the other holidays.)
TLS is an extraordinarily diverse community, with participants originating in all of the Jewish denominations and non-denominations, and TLS embraces pluralism. One of the constituent communities that merged into the current incarnation of Tikkun Leil Shabbat was the DC Reform Chavurah, which identified as Reform. Though the post-merger TLS has retained no denominational identification, TLS continues to have more participants from Reform backgrounds than most independent minyanim of its vintage. Combined with participants from Reconstructionist and other backgrounds, this means that the TLS community includes a number of 1-day-yom-tov people. They dwell alongside 2-day-yom-tov people, as well as people who don't have a firm position on 1 day vs. 2 days (but would go to a Simchat Torah celebration wherever and whenever the party is happening).
So all this means that the question of 1 day vs. 2 days was an actual question for TLS, unlike for many communities in which the answer is self-evident. It was a question that TLS never had to ask for its first 5 years, but it finally came up this year when TLS decided to do Simchat Torah. And the decision was made to avoid taking a communal stance on the issue.
The easiest way to do this might have been to hold the Simchat Torah event on the night of 22 Tishrei, which everyone agrees is yom tov. This would have been out of the ordinary for the 2-day people, but not objectionable in principle (cf. the Chasidic communities mentioned above that do hakafot on both nights). But among the people who had preferences on this question, more preferred to do it on 23 Tishrei. (And of course, 1-day people are already well-accustomed to compromising on this if they want to go to the happening Simchat Torah events.) And so the decision was made to do "Simchat Torah" on 23 Tishrei, but not take a position on whether or not this night was yom tov.
Here's how it played out in practice:
The event began with the evening service: a yom tov service for some, and a weekday service for others. Everyone davened together, and a packet was made up that had all the prayers for yom tov and for weeknights. The logistics were made immeasurably easier by the fact that the vast majority of liturgical differences between yom tov and weekday ma'ariv are in the Amidah, which is said silently at TLS. There are also a few minor differences in the parts said out loud:
- "Vehu rachum", at the beginning of the service, is said only on weekdays.
- Hashkiveinu has different endings for weekdays ("shomeir amo Yisraeil la'ad") and yom tov ("haporeis sukkat shalom...").
- "Vaydabeir Mosheh", before the Amidah, is said only on yom tov.
- [Some communities add an extra berachah before the Amidah on weeknights. However, TLS had already established a precedent, through several years of Purim services, of not being such a community.]
What of nusach? The musical modes associated with the time of the day, time of the week, and time of the year situate the entire service in Jewish time. Since the sheliach tzibbur was representing the entire community, neither yom tov nor weekday nusach would have been appropriate, since this would have framed the communal prayer as a yom tov or weekday service. Instead, the sha"tz (when not leading non-nusach melodies) used High Holiday ma'ariv nusach, which some communities use for "Simchat Torah". This is associated with "Simchat Torah" as an event, not with a particular date on the calendar, and so it did not break the calendrical neutrality. (No one in attendance actually believed it was a High Holiday.) The weekday and yom tov helpers used weekday and yom tov nusach for their pieces, as appropriate.
Alternate proposals that were not implemented:
- Have two simultaneous leaders for the entire service, one for yom tov and one for weekday, diverging when the liturgy diverged and converging the rest of the time. This would have had the advantage of each leader leading a coherent service from start to finish. However, having co-leaders tends to be clunkier, since the leaders can't make adjustments in the moment without conferring with each other, and the differences between yom tov and weekday ma'ariv (listed above) were not significant enough to warrant this layer of complexity.
- Have one leader lead the whole service according to his/her own custom (weekday or yom tov), and one helper fill in the pieces for the other custom. After all, one might say, isn't this consistent with the principle in Part IV that the sheliach tzibbur need not represent the entire community, but simply one facet of the community's diversity? No, I think this case is different, because the framing of the service as a weekday service or a yom tov service (even if the differences in the words are small, outside the Amidah) is an act of much greater magnitude than differences here and there in the words of a service that has a communally agreed shared framing (e.g. as a Shabbat service). Furthermore, since almost no one there had any prior experience participating in a service where it was explicitly unstated whether or not it was yom tov, it would be much harder to convey this message through mere explanations than through actions. If the sha"tz led a [weekday | yom tov] service, people would walk away with the impression (correct or not) that the community was acknowledging [1 | 2] days of yom tov. It's not like going to a service where you hear the imahot included in shacharit and excluded in musaf, and you come to the conclusion that the community doesn't have a stance on the issue; in this case, the next opportunity to correct this impression wouldn't have been until next year.
After ma'ariv, there weren't really any other times when the yom tov / weekday issue had to be finessed; the rest of the event was fully compatible with both. The Simchat Torah celebration took place in one of TLS's regular Shabbat locations, so it was in walking distance for whomever TLS is usually in walking distance for.
Some of the hakafot were accompanied by musical instruments, and some were not. However, this wasn't explicitly a compromise between the 1-day and 2-day yom tov positions. After all, TLS's Friday night services alternate between instruments and a cappella, and everyone agrees that it is Shabbat. There are some people who attend only one type of service, but most attend both (though they may prefer one over the other). Thus, the yom tov vs. weekday question didn't really come up in the deliberations over instruments, except in that some people thought it was yom tov, and some of those people wouldn't go if there were instruments on yom tov (or would prefer no instruments on yom tov), and this was a reason for having some of the event without instruments. (I'm not aware of anyone who wouldn't go if there were instruments on yom tov, but didn't think it was yom tov that night. But maybe there were such people.) But, given that instruments are already not expressly forbidden at TLS on Shabbat, there were many other arguments both for and against instruments that had nothing to do with whether or not it was yom tov, and in the end this resulted in splitting the difference.
Torah was read. Yes, it's weird for 1-day yom tov people to read Torah on a day that isn't yom tov (or Shabbat, or Monday, Thursday, Rosh Chodesh, etc.). On the other hand, Simchat Torah is weird in general. There's a sense in general that this celebration of Torah is so exuberant that many of the usual rules and conventions of Torah reading are suspended. The most prominent example is that many communities never read Torah at night, except as part of their Simchat Torah celebration. (TLS is one such community. In fact, since TLS has only had evening services, this was TLS's first time reading Torah!) In this spirit, reading Torah on that night was entirely appropriate (or festively inappropriate) for everyone.
The evening didn't include any official kiddush or havdalah, but could have included both if desired, whether simultaneously, sequentially, or interwoven (and there were drinks available, and people could have done either for themselves).
Scope and Generalizability
A number of factors conspired to make this solution feasible, and at the same time limit its generalizability to other communal events on days with disputed status:
- Davening wasn't the focus of the event; it was just a warmup for the main event (hakafot and Torah reading).
- It was an evening service, so the Amidah is silent, and the overall structure of the service is almost identical for weekdays and yom tov.
- "Simchat Torah" allowed for a creative resolution to the nusach question.
- TLS does not meet every Shabbat, and does not meet on most holidays; this was a special event.
Now taking requests for Part IX.