Monday, December 29, 2008

ONE DAY ONLY! Part 2: Conservative

Happy end of Chanukah! Sorry about the delay in getting this next installment posted, but it still seems timely -- even though the Tishrei holidays are long past, the book of Maccabees says that the 8 days of Chanukah were intended as a makeup for the 8 (not 9) days of Sukkot + Shemini Atzeret. After a general post that discussed several teshuvot on 1-day versus 2-day yom tov, this series began with Part 1a and Part 1b, which examined Reform teshuvot on the topic in greater detail. Now that we have obtained copies of the Conservative teshuvot (whose full text is not available online), we'll examine those more closely.

I'm open to suggestions for the next post in the series. I know the Reconstructionist movement includes both 1-day and 2-day options; is there a teshuva discussing this? Are there any Orthodox teshuvot that address the possibility of 1-day yom tov outside Israel? (I'm not so interested in the question of non-Israelis visiting Israel or vice versa, though maybe I should be, since that may be the clearest path to incremental change right now.)


Rabbi Aaron Blumenthal, "Yom Tov Sheni Shel Goluyot", 1963

This statement was passed unanimously by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly in 1963. It's not a teshuvah per se, in the sense that it's not answering a specific question, but an article that opens the topic for discussion. It was answered with three teshuvot, including one by Rabbi Blumenthal himself, all of which were passed by the CJLS in 1969. These were the three teshuvot summarized in my original source, which I erroneously dated to 1963 in a previous post.

Blumenthal begins this introductory article with a history of yom tov sheini. Everyone who has been reading this blog for long enough knows the basic facts by now. This account of the history also focuses on the ways that calendrical controversies are actually manifestations of political jockeying between the land of Israel and the Babylonian diaspora, citing the stories of Rabban Gamliel vs. Rabbi Yehoshua and Saadiah Gaon vs. Aharon Ben Meir as parallel examples. The Babylonian Jews had the algorithm to calculate the calendar independently (which would make two days of yom tov unnecessary), but they were instructed by the Palestinian Jewish authorities to continue observing two days, to keep this practice around for the day when the Sanhedrin would be reestablished in Jerusalem and would once again set new months based on the testimony of witnesses, making two days necessary once again in the Diaspora. (I would note that, in our time, even if the Sanhedrin were to be reestablished and start accepting testimony for the new month, this would not make two days necessary, since we have near-instantaneous global communication. Or if the modern interpretation of the story of the Kutim is that email can be hacked, we have airplanes.)

Blumenthal then goes through various halachot regarding yom tov sheini, showing that it is treated as a distinct day inferior to the first day (and not part of a yoma arichta, as on Rosh Hashanah). "On the other hand, one may not read into these halakhic distinctions any tendency to abandon or abolish the second day. The problem of abolishing the second day seems to be purely a modern one. But is it really a modern problem?" Actually, it turns out that the question was raised during geonic times. A questioner, concerned about Karaite criticism, asked Rav Hai Gaon how to explain yom tov sheini in light of bal tosif concerns. The responses from geonim, among other arguments, retroject the origin of yom tov sheini to much earlier periods in history, to the prophets, Joshua, and even the revelation to Moses. More recently, but before the modern Reform movement, Rabbi Isaac Lampronti (1679-1756) recorded that he met a Sephardi rabbi who considered abolishing yom tov sheini, and responded to him that we don't have the authority to eliminate this minhag.

In the present time, Blumenthal sees only two valid arguments for observing two-day yom tov: 1) the need for a beit din greater in wisdom and number than the original beit din that established yom tov sheini, 2) minhag avoteinu.

Addressing the first argument first, Blumenthal takes the same approach as the CCAR teshuva, and notes that not all of the rishonim agree on the application of this principle (from Mishnah Eduyot). The Raavad says that a greater beit din is not necessary if the reason for the original takanah no longer applies. Since the original reason for yom tov sheini is long obsolete, Blumenthal finds the Raavad's precedent to be sufficient. This is accompanied by a display of self-confidence that would be unusual in the Conservative movement today:

We are not Orthodox rabbis, and the decisions of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards are not intended for those Jews whose lives are moulded by the Orthodox interpretations of the Law. This Committee has been charged by the Rabbinical Assembly with the responsibility to interpret Law and establish standards for the Conservative Jewish community and those who wish to be guided by it. Had we, the Conservative rabbinate or the Conservative laity, wished to be guided by the Orthodox understanding of halakhah, we would not be here.

Next, Blumenthal addresses the question of minhag avoteinu. "One can assemble a whole arsenal of arguments in favor of the retention of any minhag per se and supplement it with a crushing onslaught against the subversive elements who would snatch the minhag from its sacred sanctuary. But what confers the exalted status of minhag upon a practice, and when is it permitted to tumble from its pedestal into the sea of neglect?" He brings sources that discuss cases in which two minhagim came into conflict, or a minhag came into conflict with a new situation, so the cases were adjudicated based on a subjective evaluation of the values behind the minhagim, as well as "intelligence and common sense." "The social, moral, ethical and esthetic values on which the scholar takes his stand, his sense of justice and propriety, his common sense, his understanding of the intent of takanot and of the altered circumstances which prevail in his day . . . all these and more are the tools with which the scholar pummels and pounds the mass of halakhic material to create a decision."

In other words, since there is precedent for overturning an established minhag, it is possible to eliminate yom tov sheini, and "the pivotal consideration is whether it is in the best interests of American Judaism to abolish it." So Blumenthal looks at some of the factors in his own time and place, which (along with the followup teshuvot) provide an interesting window into the sociological realities of American Conservative Judaism in the 1960s.

First of all, with the establishment of the State of Israel, we are no longer in "compulsory Galut", but are connected to Israel in various ways: "We have adopted the Israeli pronunciation of Hebrew in our speech, in our schools and even in many of our synagogues." (I had heard that this was primarily a post-1967 thing, but I guess I was wrong.) "It seems all the more important to extend this process by having our religious calendar conform to that which prevails in Israel." This is a similar argument to one of the sides of the URJ Eilu v'Eilu debate that I blogged about (Rabbi Eric Wisnia also emphasizes the Israeli pronunciation of Hebrew), and stands in counterpoint both to the amoraic idea (which Blumenthal discussed) that yom tov sheini is about the primacy of Israel in setting the calendar, and the modern idea that yom tov sheini is about retaining a consciousness that we're not in the land of Israel.

Next, the practical considerations:

Hallowing two days of Yom Tov, for many observant and would-be observant Jews, constitutes a serious hardship. Both for adults and university and high school students, the necessity to absent themselves from their regular employment or studies exacts a penalty which is very burdensome. A survey indicates that 80% of our congregations experience a drop in attendance on the second day of anywhere from 5% to 90%.

I understand that synagogue attendance is intended here as a proxy, albeit an imperfect one, for observance of the holiday in general. But this description seems very different from my anecdotal experience 45 years later. Looking at the people I know who recognize 2 days of yom tov and are in communities that recognize 2 days of yom tov, there are people who take off work/school for both days no matter what (and may or may not make it to services both days, but are observing yom tov at home either way), and there are people who, depending on circumstances, may take off 0, 1, or 2 days, balancing observance of the holiday with the demands of work/school. But if people in this latter category are taking off work for one day, it wouldn't necessarily be the first day. For Pesach, it's more likely to be the first than the second day (though synagogue attendance is low for unrelated reasons -- people are up late for the seders). But for Shemini Atzeret, it's more likely to be the second day, since that's when the fun happens, and people think I'm strange for taking off work on (the 1st day of) Shemini Atzeret and going to work on the following day, even when I explain that I don't consider that day to be yom tov. And I'm not sure there's any strong preference between the 7th and 8th days of Pesach that is consistent across the population, though maybe other folks here who think Pesach has 8 days can share their own ethnographic observations. The point is that, in my experience, most people who think there are two days of yom tov, regardless of whether they observe both days in a given year, don't think of the second day as having a fundamentally different status from the first (and may not even be aware of the halakhic sources Blumenthal cites indicating that it does have a diferent status). So it's interesting to see that, in 1963, there was apparently a substantial number of people who considered the 2nd day of yom tov less important than the 1st.

The suggestion to eliminate Yom Tov Sheni comes from two sources: 1. From observant Jews for whom the new status of the T'futzah and a yearning to invest Israel with greater spiritual influence are sufficient warrant for the change. Their religious life would not suffer. The elimination of unnecessary hardships and superfluous duplication would enhance the observance of the festivals in their homes. Yielding to their suggestion would stem from factors of strength in Judaism. 2. From non-observant Jews or at best from would-be observant Jews for whom the lesser demands of Judaism might contribute to a wider observance of the holidays, and from those congregations which find it difficult to assemble a minyan on Yom Tov Sheni. One hesitates to predict the measure of success that would follow from yielding to their suggestions, but it would derive from factors of weakness in contemporary Jewish life.
I don't understand the second group. Maybe I don't understand what "observant" and "non-observant" meant in this cultural context, but it seems to me that "non-observant Jews" would do whatever they do and wouldn't care whether other people are observing 1 or 2 days, whereas "observant Jews", who are committed to observing every day of yom tov that exists, would be the ones with a stake in how many days of yom tov are officially recognized.

The simple truth of the matter is that Jewish observance in America is not strong enough in depth to justify the assumption that elimination of the second day will enhance our religious life. On the other hand, its elimination will deny us the utilization of the second day for religious inspiration, instruction and exhortation. Large segments of our movement do conduct meaningful services on the second day.
So I already responded to this problematic idea. The emphasis on "meaningful services" creates a top-down institutional view of Judaism centered on the synagogue and the "us" (rabbis) who are engaged in "religious inspiration, instruction and exhortation", rather than on individually motivated observance. I'd be curious about what yom tov observance meant in Conservative communities in 1963. Was it just about going to services?

It is not necessary to eliminate Yom Tov Sheni for the sake of those congregations in which hardships prevent the conduct of religious services.

Well, yeah. That shouldn't be the reason. First it should be determined whether yom tov should have one or two days, and then congregations should set their schedule of services based on this and based on their human resources. If a community determines that yom tov has two days, but it doesn't have enough of a critical mass to hold services on both days, then the individuals who agree that yom tov has two days and consider themselves obligated are still obligated to observe both days regardless of whether there are services to go to. And if a community determines that yom tov has one day, then it could still have (chol hamo'eid or weekday, or Shabbat in some cases) services on the following day if there are enough people to make it happen.

So Blumenthal recommends "further study and experimentation with Yom Tov Sheni in an effort to render its observance more meaningful," and if that doesn't work out "within the next decade", then yom tov sheini should be reconsidered. This led to the three responsa passed in 1969, which we'll discuss next.


Rabbis Philip Sigal and Abraham J. Ehrlich, "A Responsum on Yom Tov Sheni Shel Galuyot", 1969

Note the shift from "goluyot" to "galuyot".

Question: Is it permissible to cease observing the second days of Shavuot, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and the second and eighth days of Pesach, treating all of as regular weekdays or as Chol Hamoed, as the case may be?

Rabbis Sigal and Ehrlich begin with some of the factors motivating asking the question: "Regrettable as we might consider it, the fact is that the overwhelming majority of our people do not observe the two days of Yom Tov." However, they note what I noted above, that people observing one day in two-day communities aren't necessarily observing the first day: "By a quirk of history, the second day of Shavuot and the last day of Pesach are now observed more fully than the Torahitically ordained first and seventh days of these festivals, because of the Yizkor service. The same is true of Simchat Torah, which is observed by more people than Shemini Atzeret because of the hakafot."

Next is the obligatory background material about the calendar and the origin of yom tov sheini. "Had our forefathers enjoyed the world-wide system of communications which we have today, such as telephone, telegraph and jet airplanes, each one more effective than bonfires, Yom Tov Shel Galuyot and even the 'continuous day' (yoma arikhta, encompassing two days) of Rosh Hashanah certainly would never have come into being." (Actually, that reflects an inaccurate understanding of the origin of yoma arikhta, but that's not the question at hand. Also, bonfires were fast enough; it was the requirement of human messengers that necessitated two-day yom tov.) Then the discussion of shtei kedushot versus kedushah achat (are the two days two separate entities or one long day like Rosh Hashanah?). Conclusion: yom tov sheini was just intended as an emergency ruling, and not permanent. Even the second day of Rosh Hashanah was eliminated in Israel until it was brought back. Also, it's just a minhag, not a law, and can be changed. Thus, Sigal and Ehrlich reach the same conclusion as Blumenthal, that there is a possibility to eliminate yom tov sheini.

They bring stories from the Talmud (which I hadn't encountered before) indicating that in Talmudic times, some Diaspora communities observed one day. Furthermore, Rashi says that even in the time of messengers, two days were observed only if the messengers didn't arrive in time. "This has tremendous implications for the modern age when some people are vitally concerned lest diversity in Jewish ritual upset the equilibrium of the Jewish community. As a matter of fact, conformity is too much with us and stifles experimentation and progress." Hear, hear!

Thus, they say that observing one-day yom tov would be "consistent with halakhah", and would "make our expectations for children to remain out of public school more reasonable by reducing the number of festival days in any given year." (Has this voice been silenced in the Conservative movement today, now that anyone who sends their children to public school is looked upon as less Jewishly committed anyway?)

In fact, two days of yom tov may lead to violation of yom tov:

In reality, through our insistence on keeping this second day as a Yom Tov, we become makhshilei harabim, misleading thousands of our congregants. Suburban congregations enjoy considerable attendance at services on the last day of Passover and on the second day of Shavuot because of the Yizkor service, but have barely a minyan on the seventh day of Passover and on the first day of Shavuot. Our synagogues are crowded on the eve of Simchat Torah or the hakafot, but empty on the eve of Shemini Atzeret. Thus, by trying to maintain a custom (minhag) we cause our people to disregard the law (din).

Next they consider and reject the procedural argument that we lack the authority to make such a change.

They discuss Rabbi Blumenthal's survey, and note: "Most significant was the fact that thirty-five colleagues, in Rabbi Blumenthal's words, 'not all from small congregations, urged the abolition of Yom Tov Sheni, some of them rather forcefully.'" Fascinating. So if this was being urged so forcefully, then why have the teshuvot permitting 1-day yom tov as an option been virtually ignored in the Conservative movement? After this teshuvah was passed in 1969, did 35 Conservative congregations begin observing 1-day yom tov? If not, why not?

There are those who argue that being permissive toward the second day will not improve the sanctity of the first day. They may be right. But value judgments can only be made with a historian's perspective many generations later. Above all, a decision should not be made on the basis of precarious predictions regarding the future success of the first day. A declaration on Yom Tov Sheni should be offered because the second day is halakhically indefensible. It is not crucial if the declaration utterly fails to increase piety or Jewish observance among those of little devotion. We should act for the sake of those who enjoy and observe one day, but regard the second day as repetitious and burdensome, although they observe it because of their loyalty to halakhah.

In other words, even though Sigal and Ehrlich note that many people already observe only one day and argue that bringing the official practice in line with the actual practice will have positive effects, they also argue that these potential positive effects are not the only reason for one-day yom tov (and therefore, the question should not be argued solely based on predictions about effects) -- one-day yom tov is also the right thing to do.

They also mention unity with Israel as a positive goal.

Of course, as I have often discussed on this blog, observing one day of yom tov leads to various ritual differences with two-day communities beyond the fact that the second day is not observed as yom tov. Sigal and Ehrlich note these issues, but ultimately punt (probably wise if they didn't want the merits of their specific recommendations to become the focus for CJLS members deciding how to vote on the teshuva):

Many questions concerning liturgy and congregational procedures will have to be solved. It is not the purpose of our teshuvah to outline a program for congregations. Generally, for perhaps a generation, each congregation will seek to solve these problems as best meet the local tone. In time we will evolve a consensus.

So I ask again, why didn't this happen?


While we reaffirm the inherent value of Yom Tov Sheni, in order to provide relief to those who no longer find in it spiritual satisfaction and enrichment, and to those who for socio-economic reasons find it is not feasible to observe the second day of Yom Tov, we declare that Yom Tov Sheni is not a chok, a permanent enactment, but a minhag, a custom. Congregations need not feel compelled to observe Yom Tov Sheni, other than the second day of Rosh Hashanah. On the other hand, those who still desire to maintain it as an expression of personal piety, as a chumrah, might do so, vetavo aleihem berakhah, may God bless them.

This conclusion is disappointing in some ways. Though one-day yom tov is officially stated as an option (which was a very significant breakthrough), they ultimately frame it as a concession, a kula, the same problematic way that the Conservative movement has often framed egalitarianism even when "permitting" it. This is somewhat of a retreat from stronger pro-one-day statements expressed in the body of the teshuva.

In my earlier post I discussed other problems with this conclusion: two days of yom tov isn't always a chumra, and isn't meritorious if you think there is actually one day. Now that I read it again, I see an ambiguity in the wording: does "those who still desire to maintain it" refer to individuals (as I had previously understood it, perhaps influenced by the phrase "personal piety"), or to congregations (the antecedent from the previous sentence)? The latter reading would seem more consistent with the Conservative philosophy of following one's local rabbi, though both readings suffer from the same problems I have mentioned.

Perhaps the affirmation of "the inherent value of Yom Tov Sheni" is part of the reason why the one-day option has never been significantly adopted in the Conservative movement, similar to the way that the Conservative movement's lukewarm acceptance of egalitarianism has led to true egalitarianism moving slowly.

Rabbi Wilfred Shuchat, "Response to a Responsum", 1969

Rabbi Shuchat first makes the point that yom tov sheini was not merely a minhag, but was elevated to a takanah. (Blumenthal's original article addressed this, even if Sigal and Ehrlich did not.) However, he still asks: "What principle explains the fact that Yom Tov Sheni has spread to every corner of the Jewish world, and has been observed with sacrificial dedication for two thousand years?" His answer is the same principle mentioned by Blumenthal: "a tremendous well-spring of optimism, faith and hope that a Jewish State in Israel would some day be restored, climaxed by the re-establishment of a Sanhedrin." Given this, he questions whether even Jews in Israel should be observing one day in the present time (because how do we know it's the same day that the Sanhedrin would have sanctified?), and quotes Rabbi Jacob Emden (18th century) who considers this practice a major error. Shuchat adds: "Thus the observance of one day in Israel as presently practiced is also only a minhag, a takanah. The authority of the minhag for two days in the Diaspora is not less powerful than the minhag that decrees one day in Israel."

Emden promotes some extreme fringe views as a result: a Diaspora community that moves to Israel should continue observing two days forever. Thus, as he sees it, the minhag avoteinu being preserved isn't keeping two days in the Diaspora, but simply keeping two days. Shuchat stops short of endorsing this suggestion (which obviously was not followed by the waves of immigration to Israel in the 20th century), and instead heads in a different direction, making the apologetic arguments that have some basis in classical sources but have become much more popular in recent times: "a permanent reminder of the spiritual superiority of Eretz Yisrael in Jewish life"; "difficulty of observance ... to urge us to aliyah"; "galut means not only physical but spiritual exile". I would respond that yom tov is supposed to be happy (there is even a commandment to be happy), and if it is being seen as a penalty or a disincentive, then something is seriously broken with the whole thing. Likewise, teachers aren't supposed to give homework as a punishment if they want their students to learn the value of homework.

Shuchat then addresses the practical issues of two-day yom tov. He argues that the second day is valuable as a fence around the first day. "The State of Israel can afford to observe only one day of Yom Tov, since the entire apparatus of the State backs the national character of the holyday. If, however, the second day of Yom Tov were eliminated, it would not be long before the first day would fall into desuetude. We have living proof of this contention. A large and influential religious movement in Judaism has eliminated the second day of Yom Tov for the past two [sic] generations. De facto, if not de jure, the first day no longer exists as a significant factor in that movement." I already noted that this attack on the Reform movement involves serious confusion between correlation and causation. There is no suggestion of a mechanism for how the elimination of the second day would lead to the decline of the first day. And the only such mechanism I can think of represents a cynical approach to Jewish ritual observance: perhaps he is suggesting that people will always observe less than they are supposed to, thus if people observe one day when the official position is two days, then people will observe less than one day when the official position is one day. I hope this attitude has been proven obsolete in the intervening decades, with the rise of American Jewish communities (though, unfortunately for the liberal movements, primarily Orthodox communities) whose participants are "fully observant" in the way defined by their movements. If anything, I think Shuchat's attitude leads to the opposite of his desired effect. If it is clear that the official party line doesn't reflect actual expectations, then people will simply take the official party line less seriously. And if people are told that the second day is equal in importance to the first day, and they don't observe the second day, then they are likely to take the first day less seriously as well. (Similarly, synagogue A calls its services for x:00 and actually starts at x:00 sharp. Synagogue B calls its services for x:00, knowing that people don't come on time, with the goal of actually starting at x:15. Then, in the long term, synagogue A is likely to have more people there at x:00 than synagogue B has at x:15.)

Shuchat writes that the purpose of yom tov sheini is "to turn our eyes toward Zion." "Those Jews who do want to observe Yom Tov and who find the extra day a burden, already have an option, the only option that should be created: aliyah to Israel." This is ridiculous and can't be a serious suggestion. If people are concerned about burdens, then picking up and moving to another country, especially the Israel of 1969, is a more significant burden than any number of days of yom tov. In both cases, the burden may or may not be outweighed by the positives.

Shuchat then turns to these positives of 2-day yom tov: "[I]t might be in place to note that not all Jews find it a burden. Some find it a blessing. Some look upon it as replete with so much joy that they would like to find a reason for a third day of Yom Tov." If this were Wikipedia, I think that would get a big fat "[citation needed]". Has anyone heard such a suggestion before, other than as a reductio ad absurdum?

Shuchat mentions all the advantages of yom tov sheini, including Yizkor, Simchat Torah, and the second seder. (All of these, of course, can and do exist without yom tov sheini.) "One Jewish editorial writer has commented that if Yom Tov Sheni really possessed the kind of spiritual advantages its protagonists [sic] claim, it would have been adopted in Israel long ago. To tell the truth, we should not be too surprised if such a thing really happened." All right then.

Next we see a typical Conservative maneuver: defining the Reform movement out of existence. "The religious calendar ... has united the Jewish people in such a remarkable way that even unobservant Jews are influenced and guided by it. What a tragedy it would be if the calendar became a denominational battleground. The differentiation of the calendar between one movement of Jews and another has no meaning." As Shuchat was surely aware (given that he already made reference to it), the calendar was already a denominational battleground when he wrote this. The Reform movement had been observing 1 day of yom tov for over a century, and the Orthodox communities were observing 2 days with no sign of changing this. Therefore, nothing the Conservative movement did could possibly have increased or decreased the amount of unity in the American Jewish calendar -- no matter what, there would still be some movements observing 1 day and some observing 2 days. And since the Reform population in the US was significantly larger than the Orthodox population in 1969 (much more so than the disparity today), if the Conservative movement had been primarily concerned about Jewish unity, it would have officially adopted 1 day to join the Reform movement in creating a solid 1-day majority. But this argument isn't really about "the Jewish people" as a whole (including "even unobservant Jews"), it's about looking over their right shoulder.

"If we cannot even share Yom Tov with each other, how much more difficult will it be to preserve a feeling of fellowship in the broader areas of Jewish life!" 1) So Rabbi Shuchat is only interested in sharing yom tov with Orthodox Jews, not with Reform Jews. 2) Anyone who has been involved in Jewish pluralism knows that this argument is misguided -- coming together for ritual is actually much harder than "fellowship in the broader areas of Jewish life". This is why many Hillels have multiple prayer options but do everything else together.

Finally, Shuchat concludes that "the hegemony of Israel is paramount", and only an Israeli authority can make changes to the calendar. As I said in the previous post, Israeli authorities don't think or care about what Diaspora Jews are doing. But maybe he knows that, and is just finding another way to say that 2-day yom tov should never be eliminated.


Rabbi Aaron H. Blumenthal, "The Challenge of Yom Tov Sheni", 1969

Finally, Rabbi Blumenthal, who started the whole series with his initial article, finishes it off with a teshuva that responds to the other two. He says that either of the solutions "would be consistent with the traditional evolution of halakhah", and this should be decided based on what is "good for the future of Judaism". His original paper recommended that there be an attempt to find new values for yom tov sheini, but apparently that didn't work out: "Unfortunately, the leadership of the Conservative movement in the last five and one-half years has not even attempted to search for new values in Yom Tov Sheni. This failure has produced a predictable result in our Committee: a desire to return to the fork in the road, and to proceed along the alternate highway in a search for a solution to the problems of Yom Tov Sheni."

He agrees in part with Sigal and Ehrlich, "in permitting those congregations who experience extreme difficulty in conducting religious services on the second day, to dispense with it without placing themselves outside of the mainstream of our movement." But what does that mean? It's not just about canceling services. Should people in those communities put on tefillin on those days? If the second day is Shabbat (so that services are being held anyway) or Sunday (so that people could come to services without missing work), should the second day be observed in those limited cases? As I keep repeating, attendance at services is a poor way to determine the sanctity of time.

Blumenthal says that congregations that adopted the one-day option would end up with deep divisions, since some people would continue observing two days and would expect the congregation to support this by holding services. But why? Personally I don't have a problem with communities that embrace multiple practices (Blumenthal doesn't like the idea of a weekday minyan and a yom tov minyan on the same day, but I think it's just fine), but if they're going to be the Conservative movement and say that the mara d'atra is the final halachic arbiter for the congregation, then why not say "The mara d'atra has ruled that this congregation observes 1 day, so if you want to observe 2 days, you're on your own"? He adds: "On some Sabbaths there will be serious questions about the choice of kiddush and Torah readings." Agreed. It does make things more complicated. He also says that if there is one day of yom tov, grandchildren can go to seder at the house of only one set of grandparents each year. This reflects an interesting sociological reality, since attending seders at different sets of grandparents each night means that either the two sets of grandparents live in very close proximity or that people were traveling on yom tov to get from one to the other. Neither of those can be assumed in today's world. So if the goal is to visit both families for seder, it's probably better to have the two sedarim on the 1st and 7th nights, to facilitate travel from one to the other.

"The net result, however, will be that after one or two generations all of American Jewry will be left with the observance of only one day." Too bad this didn't happen.

"History has demonstrated the folly of attempting to shift the Jewish Shabbat to Sunday for some of the same reasons which motivate the suggestion to abandon Yom Tov Sheni." And here we see the enduring blood libel that the early Reform movement tried to move Shabbat to Sunday. It's not true. Reform congregations moved the main prayer service to Sunday, but never called it Shabbat; this was a weekday service (analogous to the practice of reading Torah on Mondays and Thursdays, which were market days when farmers came into town). Many Conservative and Orthodox congregations have services on Sunday too! But I can see the source of the confusion, since a number of these teshuvot fail to distinguish between holding services and sanctifying a day.

"It is ironic that precisely when America is moving towards an ever wider recognition of the value of leisure for mental and physical health, we should be forsaking the cumulative value of two successive days of Yom Tov." Spoken like a Jewish professional (who didn't have to make any special accommodations to observe two days of yom tov) and a man (who, in 1969, probably wasn't doing the cooking for all these days of yom tov).

"We conclude that it would be tragic for us to initiate a program which must lead inevitably to the abandonment of the second day of the festivals. Let those who have no alternative, because the condition of their communal lives is poor, not feel that they are in violation of halakhah if they observe only one day. But we can not condone the initiation of discussions about the second day in those congregations which do have regular and meaningful services on it." See comments above. Nobody has "no alternative" - it sucks to observe yom tov without a community, but it's still possible. And "regular and meaningful services" can happen on weekdays too.


So I'd be interested to know the subsequent history. After these teshuvot were passed, did any Conservative congregations or institutions start observing 1 day? Did the number of such congregations increase or decrease over time? (I imagine that the whitecollarization of the American Jewish population, and the increasing acceptance in the Conservative movement of the idea that all serious Jews send their kids to day school, took away motivation from the 1-day cause.) Why is the Sigal-Ehrlich teshuva such a well-kept secret in the Conservative movement?


  1. I believe Philip Sigal moved towards the Reconstructionist movement at some point

  2. I believe Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh observes only one day of Yom Tov.

    I think I have a somewhat related subject that I hope you could help me find some information about. Are there any Reform or Conservative teshuvas that allow for Passover sedarim to start earlier in the night then when the stars come out? Here in Pittsburgh I know lots of people who start their sedarim around the usual time they might eat dinner; let's say 5:30 or 6:30. However around here in April the stars come out around 8 or even later. The Mishna in Pesachim is pretty clear that sedarim should start when the stars come out. But again so many people just start the seder hours earlier. The local big Reform shul-Rodef shalom starts there in-house seder also around 6 or so. So I wonder where is the teshuva for non-Ortho movements that allows this? Or is this just a case of people not wanting to face a hardship of going through all the seder rituals and a big dinner so late at night? I hope you can help me out with finding an answer. Thanks. Jonathan Loring Pittsburgh PA

  3. Here is an article from Mechon Hadar that provides support for a number of possible positions regarding the timing of seder.

  4. Thank you so much for posting this analysis. I am (probably) in the process of switching over to observing only one day of yom tov, but I want to make an informed decision, and your blog is the only thorough, well-reasoned account of the teshuvot that I can find on the web.