Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ontology of yom tov

This is a followup to Hilchot Pluralism Part VIII, which used Tikkun Leil Shabbat's Simchat Torah celebration as a case study to explore the possibility of pluralism regarding 1-day vs. 2- day yom tov.

To address this issue more deeply, we have to look at the ontology of yom tov, and where it is situated: with the community, or with the individual? SPOILER ALERT: I'm going to claim that it's some of each. (These thoughts are relatively raw, and refinements are welcome.)

In that post, I wrote "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," and one of the trends mentioned (hat tip to JGN for this one) was:
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)
If people are part of just one Jewish community (particularly if it is the only Jewish community they have ever been part of), they are less likely to have to give any thought to their personal minhagim, on 1-day vs. 2-day yom tov or any other issue, since they are more likely to just go along with the community's practice, whatever it is. Now that people participate in more communities, whether simultaneously or serially, it leads many of them to be more thoughtful about their own practice. I think this is mostly a positive development, since it contributes to a world in which people are more deeply engaged with and invested in their Judaism. But when taken to certain extremes (in either direction), it can become incoherent, as I'll discuss in this post.

The extreme manifestation of this individualization of Jewish practice can be found in the discourse of Stage-1 pluralism. (Just to be clear, when I say "individualization", I'm not talking about Sheilaism. What I mean is that if you find yourself in the desert for Shabbat with no other people around, you still keep Shabbat, without a community.) In Stage 1, the discourse is about what is forbidden, permitted, or required for the individual, and various properties of communities become projected onto the individual. For example, rather than talking about egalitarian and non-egalitarian communities, we can now talk about egalitarian and non-egalitarian individuals, even though this concept is mostly meaningless outside the context of a community, and even though the specific communal practices in question have their roots in concepts such as "kevod tzibbur" (the dignity of the community). Stage 2 is fundamentally similar in this regard, but more toned down.

The opposite extreme is in some non-pluralistic communities, where the community is seen as the source of all Jewish practice. This is manifested most not in the Orthodox world (where the concept of individual minhagim is alive and well), but in the allegedly individualistic Reform movement. Perhaps the most extreme example is in those Reform communities that do havdalah before dark on Saturday. The underlying assumption enabling this is that Shabbat exists only in the context of the community, and therefore the community has the power to determine when Shabbat starts and ends. There is no consideration that an individual might have a Shabbat practice that transcends the community (and therefore is not subject to the communal decision to end Shabbat at this time); that simply isn't the conception of Shabbat as understood by that community.

I think a happy medium can be found in Stage 3, in which the identity-based discourse includes individual identities, communal identity, and the interaction between these.

So with that in mind, let's look at the ontology of yom tov. Yom tov is an aggregation of multiple elements, some of which are situated with the individual, some with the community, and some are ambiguous. Here are some examples (looking only at the 3 pilgrimage festivals), but this is not a complete list; other examples are welcome.

Elements of Yom Tov Incumbent on the Individual
  • the prohibition on work
  • kiddush and havdalah
  • the yom tov prayers
  • dwelling in a sukkah (on Sukkot)
  • eating matzah and maror (on Pesach)
  • not eating or owning chameitz (on Pesach)
  • not wearing tefillin
What these have in common is that an individual who observes yom tov would do them even if s/he were spending yom tov in a desert with no other people, or in a foreign city with no other Jews. In some cases, their inverses are obligatory on days that are not yom tov (e.g., if you're praying on a day that is not yom tov, you should use the weekday or Shabbat amidah, and not the yom tov Amidah), and in some cases they're not (e.g., just because it's not Pesach doesn't mean you have to eat chameitz).

Elements of Yom Tov Incumbent on the Community
  • "Simchat Torah"
  • Torah/haftarah reading
  • reading of megillot
These are things that only happen in the context of a community, that individuals can't do on their own. For example, an individual who observes Shemini Atzeret (whether for 1 or 2 days, it doesn't matter), who finds him/herself in rural Djibouti when the holiday rolls around, would say kiddush and refrain from work activities, but wouldn't really have anything called "Simchat Torah".

I think this dichotomy among elements of yom tov is useful in thinking about 1-day and 2-day communities, on the one hand, and 1-day and 2-day individuals, on the other. An individual who observes n days of yom tov should hold on to the elements in the first category (as applied to n days of yom tov) wherever s/he happens to be, whether in a Jewish community that observes n days, in a Jewish community that observes (3-n) days, or not in a Jewish community. See, for example, the one-day-yom-tov person's guide to the second seder.

On the other hand, the elements in the second category don't follow individuals around in the same way. For example, it doesn't make any sense for a 1-day individual located in a 2-day community to say on 22 Tishrei, "Today is Simchat Torah for me." If there's no community doing the ritual of Simchat Torah, then there's no meaningful sense in which it "is" Simchat Torah. (If a Torah falls in the woods...) To take a more obscure and convoluted example, many communities read Kohelet on Shabbat Chol Hamo'ed Sukkot. In years in which there is no Shabbat Chol Hamo'ed Sukkot (because yom tov falls on Shabbat), 2-day communities read Kohelet on the Shabbat that is (the 1st day of) Shemini Atzeret. In order not to make the long Simchat Torah service even longer, 1-day communities read Kohelet on the Shabbat that is the 1st day of Sukkot instead. But if a 1-day individual is spending the 1st day of Sukkot (in a year when it falls on Shabbat) in a 2-day community, it doesn't make sense for him/her to say "My minhag is to read Kohelet today", or conversely, if a 2-day individual is spending that day in a 1-day community, it doesn't make sense for him/her to say "My minhag is not to read Kohelet today". This is because there is no individual minhag to read Kohelet (in a ritual context); this is only something that communities do.

Ambiguous Elements of Yom Tov
  • yizkor
Does yizkor belong to the individual or the community? I'm not sure. Specifically, if a 1-day individual is spending the 7th day of Pesach and/or (1st day of) Shavuot with a 2-day community (which does yizkor on the following days, when this individual is back at work), should this individual do yizkor in some form on the day s/he considers yom tov, or not do it at all?


  1. Cooking. I would love to hear you write about cooking.

    Cooking on yom tov is allowed, of course, but only for Jews, who are obligated in (and enjoy) yom tov. One isn't supposed to invite a non-Jew for a yom tov meal (unless, of course, it falls on shabbat, when cooking is forbidden).

    Now. You have two Jews in the desert for yom tov, one who keeps one day and one who keeps two. Can the person keeping the second day cook on the second day for the one who feels it is chol?

  2. Last year on Shavuot I was in a two-day community that said Yizkor on both days for the benefit of 1-day individuals in the community (specific ones, who were present -- not "theoretical" ones who might want it). Curiously, this only happened on Shavuot - perhaps because no one requested it on other occasions, or perhaps because the early morning minyan on Shavuot (day 1) is already a funny space.

    LOVE the construction of n or 3-n days!

  3. A slight correction on Kohelet. Reading Kohelet on the 1st day of Sukkot has nothing to do with not wanting to add to the length of the second chag, but has to do with the root cause of two days.

    According to the Torah, Sukkot is a 7 day holiday with 1 day of YT at the beginning. It is followed by a 1 day YT called Shmini Atzeret. Kohelet is read on the Shabbat of Sukkot. If Shabbat is the first day of Sukkot, then there is only option where to read Kohelet so it is read on the first day. In 2-day communities, people claim there is a doubt about the day Sukkot started, therefore an 8th day of possible Sukkot is added. That means that when the first day or Sukkot falls on Shabbat, there is now a second Shabbat during Sukkot, so Kohelet can be read then. The fact that this 8th day is also the first possible day of Shmini Atzeret really has nothing to do with it.

    So it's not really the 1-day communities shifting Kohelet to the first day, but the 2-day communities who shift Kohelet to the 8th day. It would be interesting to look into why such a decision was made, but that would be a separate post.

  4. JXG-
    Interesting question. Can the 2-day person just cook "for him/herself", and happen to have enough left over so that the 1-day person can eat too? But that's just a practical workaround that doesn't get at the deeper issue: Does the 1-day person's 1-day-ness have any reality that extends beyond him/herself to 2-day people?

    The reverse question is similar: Can a 1-day person do melacha on the "2nd day" for a 2-day person (or can the 2-day person benefit from such melacha)? I'm in a "mixed marriage", so this is personally relevant. During the last couple "3-day yom tovs", I ran the dishwasher on the middle day that wasn't yom tov for me (which I would have done anyway for myself).

  5. Avi-
    Ok, fair enough. That makes sense if Kohelet is supposed to be "the Shabbat of Sukkot", but what if it is supposed to be "the Shabbat of Sukkot or Shemini Atzeret"? After all, it's not so self-evident why Kohelet is connected to Sukkot, and most of the proposed connections apply equally to Shemini Atzeret, if not more so. Does anyone know where and when the practice of reading Kohelet during Sukkot began? Was it in a 1-day or 2-day milieu?

    Anyway, there's a similar situation with Shir Hashirim and Pesach. When the 1st day of Pesach is on Shabbat, 1-day communities read SHS on the 1st day (since that's the only Shabbat during Pesach), and 2-day communities read it on the 8th day (because... I don't know why. 1st day already has tal and full hallel? 8th day needs a special attraction?).

  6. RE: Cooking -- excellent question -- there must be teshuvot about whether בני חו"ל in חו"ל can cook for visitors from א"י who aren't observing י"ט שני, as well as teshuvot about whether people observing י"ט שני in א"י can benefit from מלאכה done by בני א"י.

    RE: Kohelet -- I'm pretty sure the practice is diaspora-derived; it's not even mentioned in מסכת סופרים. (I haven't traced its precise origins.) In any case, the practice in חו"ל is to read Kohelet on שמיני עצרת, and while the פרי מגדים (Eshel Avraham to Orah Hayyim 490:8) suggests, in years on which there is no שבת חול המועד, moving it to י"ט ראשון because of the length of תפילת גשם, he rejects that possibility. In Israel, however, the custom is to read Kohelet on the first day, and while I've looked and looked and come up empty trying to find a stated reason, it's likely that the length of davening on שמיני עצרת that includes הקפות tipped the scales.

  7. Wolfman writes:
    as well as teshuvot about whether people observing י"ט שני in א"י can benefit from מלאכה done by בני א"י.

    The existence of hakafot shniot suggests that the answer to this is yes. But 2-dayers in Israel would unquestionably recognize בני א"י in Israel as legitimate 1-dayers; would they all recognize me in chu"l as a legitimate 1-dayer?

  8. "For example, an individual who observes Shemini Atzeret (whether for 1 or 2 days, it doesn't matter), who finds him/herself in rural Djibouti when the holiday rolls around, would say kiddush and refrain from work activities, but wouldn't really have anything called "Simchat Torah"."

    I beg to differ. I recall a blogpost from Ari Johnson in Mali where he addresses how he celebrated Simchat Torah. I cannot find it right now. Perhaps someone else has the link to his blog?

  9. Not right to the point but because you brought it up, your statement "just because it's not Pesach doesn't mean you have to eat chameitz" seems undoubtedly true, but I've always wondered about it: why do we kinda say the opposite in the Four Questions?