Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Yom tov survey results!

Thanks to everyone who filled out the survey about 1-day and 2-day yom tov!  We received 133 responses, but we should emphasize that we did not employ any sort of scientific sampling methodology, and therefore we cannot assume that the quantitative results can be extrapolated to any particular population.  Indeed, we received some comments expressing this concern:

·        The sample bias of this survey will likely be too large to draw any conclusions.
·        There has likely been a move towards 1-day yom tov over the past 10 years, but I don't know if that can really be attributed to the days of the week. That shift will also likely be over represented in this survey, as people who have made the switch will certainly be more inclined to take the survey and may even be more likely to see the survey.

However, given that the original prediction was nothing more than “This decade … will see lots of 2-day-yom tov people switching over to 1 day” (without a formal definition of “lots”), it is safe to say that this prediction was confirmed.  Beyond that, the qualitative data also provide an interesting snapshot of the diversity of thought and practice around this issue.

The survey was distributed by posting it on this blog (where very few people may have independently seen it without being directed from elsewhere, since the blog is largely inactive), on the author’s Facebook timeline, and in a number of Jewish-themed Facebook groups, and then some people further shared it from there.

The survey defined “yom tov” (for the purposes of this survey) as the festival days of Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot, and Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah (NOT Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur).  (One respondent commented “Thank you for noting the survey excludes Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I am adamant about observing Yom Kippur for only one day. Does that make me a heretic?”)  It asked respondents whether they did 1 or 2 days of yom tov (or “other”) as of 10 years ago, and whether they do 1 or 2 days of yom tov (or “other”) now, and invited them to comment on any part of this.  (The vague language of “do” was intentional, so as to capture the many ways that people approach yom tov.  We didn’t use language like “observe”, so that respondents wouldn’t get hung up on what counts as “observing” yom tov, and we didn’t ask “How many days of yom tov do you think there are?” because that doesn’t reflect the way that everyone relates to yom tov.)  The survey further asked for respondents’ age, number of children under 18 (10 years ago and now), how they describe themselves Jewishly (10 years ago and now), country of residence (10 years ago and now), and what they do/did (student, employed inside/outside the Jewish community, etc.).

The ways that survey respondents describe themselves Jewishly were all over the map!  In addition to all the standard denominations and the nondenominational labels that one might expect (“postdenominational”, “trad egal”, etc.), here were some other highlights:
·        Non-believing member of a religion: nominally secular but heir to a long tradition that is very meaningful and which I strive to continue
·        Egalish orthoish havurahish frummie
·        Predenominational
·        Observant with minor laxities
·        It’s complicated
·        Somewhere on the halachic spectrum
·        Lazy Hadar alum who will help at your new minyan
·        Short answer: fuck if I know
Long answer: I find myself unsatisfied in any one jewish community and I am trying therefore to find community in many places. I’m working towards engaging in judaism in ways besides just what I grew up with (artistically, spiritually, academically, physically, as a nation, as opposed to just halachically) but halacha is still an important piece of it to me. I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the way (orthodox) judaism deals with gender and sexuality.
·        [10 years ago] Traditional but egalitarian conservative / [now] Traditional and egalitarian conservative
To the extent possible, we grouped all the responses into four categories: 1→1 (i.e. they did 1 day of yom tov 10 years ago, and do 1 day of yom tov now), 1→2, 2→1, and 2→2.  In most cases, this matched the answers to the questions, but we also coded some of the “other” responses based on the free-response comments.  For example, someone who wrote “I have two seders at the beginning of Pesach, and don't eat chametz for 8 days, but I do one day for all of the other holidays listed” was coded as 1→1; someone else who said they converted within the last 10 years (and therefore wasn’t doing the holidays at all 10 years ago) and has always done 2 days since converting was coded as 2→2.

Out of the 133 responses, there were 10 that we couldn’t place into one of the four groups.  This included some who left one or more of the relevant questions blank, and others whose responses didn’t fit into a box, such as:
·        I’ve vacillated over the years depending on how flexible my job has been to my taking off lots of time. And depending on whether the chagim are on weekdays or not.
·        I did not observe yomim tovim 10 years ago … I went from completely secular, to observing 1 day with a Reform community, to now observing 2 days with a Conservative community
Of the remaining responses, 18 are 1→1, 5 are 1→2, 30 are 2→1, and 70 are 2→2.  Or to put it another way, out of the 123 respondents who were placed into these groups, ten years ago 23 did 1 day and 100 did 2 days, and now 48 do 1 day and 75 do 2 days.  We’ll look at each of these groups on its own.


18 respondents did 1 day of yom tov 10 years ago and still do 1 day.  Only one of those is in Israel (which is one indication that the sample is limited; Israelis either didn’t see the survey or didn’t think it pertained to them), but some others said they were originally Israeli and have maintained their 1-day practice after moving out of Israel (more than 10 years ago).  Many of the non-Israeli respondents in this category identify as Reform, but not all (one describes themselves as “flexibly traditional”; another identified as “sefardi orthodox/traditional” 10 years ago and “conservative/masorti” now).  Most had relatively little to say about their non-switching, but one wrote:
·        Born and raised Reform, and support 1 day for religious reasons. … I respect others practices, but believe it is wrong to continue to observe 2 days in the diaspora, as the reasons for it are long since gone, and I believe it is important, and mandated,  for us to continually reevaluate certain things.

5 respondents did 1 day of yom tov 10 years ago and switched to 2 days.  Only one of these moved from Israel to outside Israel (and switched for that reason).  The other 4 respondents (all outside Israel) all have similar trajectories:  They are all under age 23, grew up Reform (and were minors 10 years ago), and are now part of non-Reform communities that do 2 days.


30 respondents did 2 days of yom tov 10 years ago and switched to 1 day.  9 of these respondents moved to Israel in the last 10 years.  The other 21 are doing 1 day outside Israel.  Unlike the 1→2 switchers, many of the 2→1 switchers do not report a substantial change in the way they label themselves.  Some of their self-descriptions include Conservative, Independent/Conservative/Havurah-y, Non orthodox member of Chabad shul, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Shomer Mitzvoth Conservative, Traditional, and Traditional-egalitarian.

Here are some of their comments:
·        I changed because (and when) I moved to Israel. Actually, before I *moved* to Israel, I would only keep one day if I happened to be in Israel for that yom tov. By the time I found out that there are those who say visitors should keep two days even in Israel, I had moved there.
·        [from someone else who moved to Israel] It’s very weird
·        My kids moved to public school and 7 missed days in a single month was too much to justify.
·        Having a partner who does only one day definitely has made a difference. :-)
·        I was miserable and stressed by all the missed work/school and I thought observing one day might reinvigorate our practice.
·        Because of community, I treat the second day as a “liturgical yom tov”, but do malakha.
·        After studying Responsa on the topic, I have decided there is no compelling reason to continue to observe Yom Tov Sheni as there is no uncertainty over the days of chag anymore, and I generally find the arguments for "ancestral practice" uncompelling since our world is greatly different then theirs and to claim that we practice Judaism in the same way as it was practiced and understood a thousand years ago is false - this can change like other elements have changed.
·        I’ve never felt particularly attached to two days of yom tov. It’s always felt rather silly to me. But that’s what I grew up with and I didn’t have a good reason to change it. This year I’m working and even with only taking one day off I’ve gone into negative for PTO. I didn’t want to take off more days, and felt no need to.
I will maybe go back next year because (1) there is a lot of jewish community in my area and I would like to spend the hagim at lots of different shuls, and (2) they fall on the weekend
·        It became unsustainable for work to observe two days and I don’t believe it is halachicly required anyway, so I stopped.
·        School and work have made it nearly a requirement to switch
·        We began by holding services on only one day because we could not get a minyan the second day, but counting the second day as yomtov nonetheless.  I found that one day was enough for me, and I don’t intend to go to second-day services if they’re held this year.
·        1. working in the secular world, taking 2 days feels both overly burdensome and unnecessary:
- the "three days on - two days off" work schedule for a month is stressful. It turn into constant catchup.
- imposes burden on my colleagues; I'd otherwise take my time off in different configuration. (eg. week at at time)
- reduces other kinds of vacation I can take from work
- I enjoy yom tov more when it does not feel like a burden. 2 day yom tov feels like a burden.
- Many of my friends who do not work in the Jewish world find the second day to be egregiously burdensome.
2. I believe that the 2 days imposes unnecessary financial hardship and stress for some, given the communal pressure to take two days off.
3. I feel fortunate:
* To be on the same page as my spouse in this practice.
*  To be in a family and community where my practice is known and I'm not marginalized as a result
* I currently do not need to "say yizkor" (for a parent etc). This poses a challenge for second day.
* I work in a company with lots of Jewish people who practice differently, so I do not need to be overly concerned about my personal practice negatively affecting others.

The remaining 70 respondents did 2 days of yom tov 10 years ago, and still do 2 days of yom tov.  All are outside Israel.  Their comments fell into several categories.  Some expressed surprise or disbelief that the very question was being asked:
·        Out here in diaspora, it's what we do, and always have done. As such, I can't imagine anyone choosing not to "do" the second day, unless they also aren't doing the first day. … If I chose not to "do" the second day but still did the first, I'd be a hypocrite.
·        I'm Jewish and I live in America. How could I change?  … I think this is ridiculous. No one should be switching. If that was an option we'd all switch.
·        We live outside of Israel, seems pretty obvious.
Others explained why they haven’t changed:
·        Why I did not:  I don't have an employment situation that creates outside pressures.  I prefer to keep my practice consistent with the majority of observant folks in my community, who belong to Conservative and Orthodox shuls.  My Conservative synagogue observes second day and needs people to show up to services and participate, and I am a person who can do this.
·        Too important to change!
·        Once Hillel established the calendar, the need for two day Yom Tov was "eliminated", nevertheless the Rabbonim decided to maintain the practice. Nothing significant has changed since that time.
·        I didn't because I had no external pressure to do so.
·        I have changed many other aspects of my life drastically but this feels like a very big step.
And others talked about the possibility of switching:
·        One day I will! But I have so much inertia.
·        I'd definitely be open to a switch if my synagogue switched, but that isn't likely.
·        It’s very difficult to have to sacrifice so much work vacation time on the alter of two day Yom Tovs. When I hear rabbis talking about what can’t be done on Chol HaMoed and what loopholes can be used to work on Yom Tov, I wonder how anyone could have a secular job and NOT work on Yom Tov. If major Poskim had to work in the secular workforce, I wonder if the winds would shift. Also, I think there is a shift among Americans in Israel temporarily to observing one day of Yom Tov only.
·        I haven't changed, but it's become more difficult to maintain
·        I briefly kept 1-day yomtov for 2 years when I had a job/academic schedule that did not allow me enough days off. It felt very much like a compromise, like "this is not my ideal but it's temporary."

Thanks again to everyone who participated!  We’ll see what the future brings.  And in fall 2020, the Tishrei holidays will be on weekends for the first time since 2009!