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In Defense of Yom Tov Sheni (The second day of Yom Tov outside the Land of Israel)

Tablet Magazine tells us that there is a new crisis in the orthodox Jewish community. Keeping two days of yom tov outside the Land of Israel is under attack.

The Torah commands the Jewish people to celebrate certain holidays with restrictions on creative activity akin to Shabbos. There are 6 days like this in the Torah. Rosh Hashanah (1), Sukkos (2), Shmini Atzeres (3), Pesach (4,5) and Shavuos (6). In the Diaspora these days are celebrated for two days of restrictions on creative activity akin to Shabbos. When these days fall out on Thursday and Friday it creates the proverbial 3 day yom tov. For 3 straight days, one is bound by those restrictions and it can make even the most fervently religious and observant person uncomfortable.

It seems that the discomfort is becoming so great that liberties are being taken with the “2nd day”.

An article in Tablet describes one orthodox family that allows their family to use “electronic entertainment” on the 2nd day. They have basically abandoned the 2nd day but supposedly keep everything else. Over time they have found more families that observe similarly and they feel less guilty. In fact the mother was quoted as saying “Mostly, I feel like I know a fabulous secret that no one else knows.”

The article assumes that the backlash and difficulty in keeping the 2nd day comes from a lack of understanding or appreciation for why we keep the 2nd day. I tend to agree.

As a rabbi in a very diverse community I have been asked this very question in many way, shapes, forms and formats. Perhaps my understanding of the issue will help illuminate some of the people who are on the fence or even if they are not on the fence, curious, as they should be about the observance of 2 days in modern times.

First, a bit of background and history.

The first commandment given to the Jewish people as a nation was the requirement that they follow the lunar calendar and establish the new months via witnesses who testify that the new month had begun. When 2 witnesses would see the new moon they would come to the court and testify as what they saw. If their testimony was accepted, the new month would begin immediately.

Sometime during the Second Temple a comprehensive lunar calendar became available. But the Biblical requirement to establish the new month via witnesses remained. Further, there was a bit of ambiguity that remained in the calendar. The previous month could be 29 or 30 days. This would be determined by the witnesses. If the moon was seen the eve of the 30th day it would become the 1st of the next month and the previous month would have had 29 days. If it was seen the eve of the 31st day the previous month will have had 30 days and the next day would the 1st.

The news of the new month was sent across the Land of Israel and the territories with Jewish inhabitants. News of the new month would hit almost immediately in Israel. But the outlying territories would not hear about the precise date of the new month for up to 2 weeks.

So in Israel it was simple to establish the start of the holidays that begin on the 15th of the month (Sukkos and Pesach) and on the 15th the holiday began, they celebrated one day as the Torah commands. But in the outlying territories, news of the which kind of month, the 29 day month or the 30 day month, was not heard before the holiday was scheduled to commence.

So let’s assume the 29th was Sunday. If the 30th day was really the 1st day of the new month, the 15th would be Monday. If the first day of the new month was the day after the 30th, the new month would begin on Tuesday and the 15th would be Tuesday as well.

In the outlying areas they would celebrate Monday AND Tuesday as the holiday just to be certain that it was being celebrated at the right time. This became the established law during the time of the Talmud.

Today, we have a set calendar and there is no court to establish the new month via witnesses. There is no doubt as to which day is yom tov. So why do we celebrate the 2nd day in 2011?

Tablet correctly notes that since it was established in the Talmud as law we are bound to it. What they do not explain is why the Talmudic scholars may have done so.

There is significance to the fact that the very first mitzvah given to the Jewish people as a nation is the commandment to establish the new month. Many reasons and explanations are given. One of the more poignant proposals is that of R’ Hirsch.

R’ Hirsch compares the Jewish people to the moon. Just as the moon waxes and wanes, so too the Jewish people rise and fall. Sometimes we are up. sometimes we are down. Just as the moon reflects light from the sun, so too the Jewish people reflect the light of God and the Torah.

This comparison reminds us that we are constantly forming and reforming ourselves. The story is never over. Our choices can change who we are at any time. We are anything but complete.

Further, the power of the people to proclaim the new month, the requirement that the new month be established by the people serves as a constant reminder that we have so much power as human beings. We can control time and we must harness it to work for us.

This is an integral lesson for the Jewish people and the entire world. The Torah clearly wants us to master this life lesson as indicated by the very prominent place the Torah gives this commandment. It is the first commandment given to the Jewish people as a nation.

But how are we to integrate this lesson into our lives with action if the commandment to establish the new month with witnesses has become obsolete? If our calendar is set, we miss out on learning this valuable lesson.

It is for this reason, the rabbis established that we celebrate 2 days in the diaspora even when we no longer rely on witnesses to begin the new month. By keeping the 2nd day we remind ourselves of the important lessons of the moon and the important lessons of human beings establishing the new month. If we always kept one day, we would lose that opportunity. Forever. That would be tragic.

To make sure that this lesson remained part of the Jewish experience the rabbis of the Talmud mandated that we keep the 2nd day in the Diaspora. Even today.

I think that if we view the 2nd day as an opportunity for making these lessons real, we have a better chance of withstanding the temptation to dismiss the 2nd day. However if we view it as a quirk of history, a mistake as it were, then it is far too easy to do away with the 2nd day.

It is my hope that we can inspire each other to commit to the 2nd day with as much fervor, excitement and passion as the 1st day and use it is a springboard for greater personal growth through the years.

Link: Tablet


44 Comments
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  • Anonymous

    By keeping the 2nd day we remind ourselves of the important lessons of the moon and the important lessons of human beings establishing the new month.

    Sorry, but I don’t buy it. It is the 1st day that reminds us of the lesson and is the day that was “chosen” by humans based upon seeing the new moon. The 2nd day is simply the day that happens to follow the 1st day and nothing at all of its own reminds us of anything.

    But the outlying territories would not hear about the precise date of the new month for up to 2 weeks.

    I’ve never truly understood this part (I know eidim, sanhedrin, etc) … why didn’t they simply look up and see the moon from where they were?

    • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

      Sorry, but I don’t buy it. It is the 1st day that reminds us of the lesson and is the day that was “chosen” by humans based upon seeing the new moon. The 2nd day is simply the day that happens to follow the 1st day and nothing at all of its own reminds us of anything.

      I think you misunderstood. The first day only works in the times of the Temple when they actually used the witnesses to establish the dates. But now we don’t so without the 2nd day to remind us of the issue it would be forgotten.

    • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

      I’ve never truly understood this part (I know eidim, sanhedrin, etc) … why didn’t they simply look up and see the moon from where they were?
      Because the law is that only the moon of the Land of Israel is determinative of the new month.

  • http://profiles.google.com/holyhyrax Holy Hyrax

    I have to agree with Mark. I don’t see the second day per say as a reminder of what you say here:

    “By keeping the 2nd day we remind ourselves of the important lessons of the moon and the important lessons of human beings establishing the new month. ”

    Whatever lesson you were referring here, I don’t see what the second day gives that the first day did not. Rabbi Hirsh’s explanation is a real nice one, but I don’t see it determinative on a second day, let alone a temple existing.

    On a personal basis, I see the positive and negative of a second day. We are in galut. A second day is an ever present reminder for us never to feel too comfortable. Galut SHOULD feel uncomfortable. In our time, where Jews have so much freedom, it is easy to forget that we are in galut. I believe this serves as a reminder. [IIRC, I think the Rav said this]

    On the other hand, I work for a company that pays me by the hour. I don’t show up, I don’t get paid. This holiday season is financially difficult for us. When I check the account, I sometimes feel like skipping out on the second day and getting to work so I don’t get further into debt.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_M5TFA2LNGNXLLMLJJ6GVEK23BQ Willbe

      Why don’t feel like skipping the first day of yom tov?

      If you accept that Hashem runs the universe, determines your income, and that the only viable method of changing Hashem’s decree is Repentance, Prayer, and Charity – then you aren’t losing anything by taking off Yom Tov 2.

      If you don’t accept it, then stop wasting your time with sabbaths and holidays, you’re living a lie.

      • http://profiles.google.com/holyhyrax Holy Hyrax

        First day is from God
        Second day is from humans. 

        • Anonymous

          And all the rest of the oral torah as well.  The is one of the tenets of Judaism, all of the oral torah was given to Moshe at Mount Sinai.

          • http://profiles.google.com/holyhyrax Holy Hyrax

            Second day yom tov was something orally transmitted from Sinai?

          • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

            Mitzvos m’draban were not given at Sinai.

            You think they celebrated Purim during the Second Temple?

          • Anonymous

            I did not say it was a halacha lmoshe misinai.  I said everything was given to Moshe, including the mitzvos d’rabanan.  That does not mean it is a biblical commandment.  But we believe in everything the rabbis have taught and commanded us.

            • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

              Sorry it was a typo. I meant first. Obviously.

          • Anonymous

            @efink:disqus Considering that the miracle of purim occurred between the first and second temples, and there are sources that point out that it was Mordechai and Esther who instituted Purim, yes, they observed it during the second temple.

          • Anonymous

            @efink:disqus When something was enacted does not take away from the validity of whether it was transmitted to Moshe.  We believe all of the torah was given to Moshe.

            • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

              I see. So did they keep Purim during bayis rishon?

            • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

              We believe that Torah She’Bksav and Torah She’Baal Peh were given to Moshe at Sinai. We agree on that.
              We disagree on the parameters of TSBP. You seem to hold some sort of maximalist position that believes that every thing that ever came out of a rabbis mouth was once said to Moshe at sinai and passed down through the generations.
              I don’t.

          • Anonymous

            @efink:disqus I hope you are not doing this intentionally because it is quite childish. 

            No, they did not.  It was enacted later.  Again, what was taught to Moshe was all of the oral torah.  Are mitzvos d’raban excluded from torah shel bal peh?

            • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

              It is intentional and it is not childish.

              Please find me a source that claims that mitzvos m’drabanan were given to Moshe at Sinai.
              What you are proposing borders on the absurd. For 1500 years the greatest rabbis of the generation knew Purim would be enacted one day and they were just waiting for it to happen?!

          • Anonymous

            I don’t think it was passed down through the generations.  What I am saying is that what we consider to be part of the Torah was taught to Moshe.  I saw from the Gaon a explanation of the words “v’sen chelkeinu b’torsecha” that we are asking for our specific lot in the torah that was given to Moshe.  That would mean anything new we come up with was given to Moshe.  My issue was with second day is from “humans”.  The connotation is that it is some sort of lesser not necessary to abide by law. We do not consider it like human made law of the judicial systems of the world.

          • Anonymous

            Choosetoswim –  That would mean anything new we come up with was given to Moshe.

            Anything? Do you really mean anything?

            So, for example, the Rebbe being Mashiach despite being niftar years ago was given to us by Moshe?

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_M5TFA2LNGNXLLMLJJ6GVEK23BQ Willbe

          It doesn’t matter the source – halacha is one package.  Now that the shomrei mitzvot of the Diaspora have accepted two-day yom tov, that is the obligation.  

          Once you start picking and choosing which universally held halachot to keep and which to disregard, you are no longer serving Hashem.  

          It’s not that every single rabbinic enactment was given at Mount Sinai, but the process by which the enactments were made was given at sinai, along with the written and oral law.

          It’s a bit Skinnerian, but the rabbanim who enacted second day yom tov used a logical process to arrive at that conclusion.  That process was given to them by their teachers, who received it from their teachers, etc etc.  who received it from Moses who received it from Hashem.

          Halacha is one package.  Accept its validity or don’t, but to cherry pick from it when it suits you is an invalid approach.

          • Anonymous

            While your point about picking and choosing is true and certainly an issue in today’s society where many pick and choose what they want to keep, your definition of what was given is not as true.  If you can find a source for what you are saying I would appreciate that.  I have found sources that explicitly state that mitzvos d’rabanan were given at Sinai, and they specifically cite Purim as an example.  These sources are not contemporary I am talking about gaonim and rishonim like R’ Saadya Gaon and the M’eiri.

          • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

            I know about your sources. They were emailed to me. Likely by the same person who emailed them to you. I don’t find them persuasive at all. If you’d like to discuss them with me you are welcome to email me.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t think our celebratory holidays should make us “uncomfortable”, I’d much rather they be enjoyable. Even Yom Kippur, despite the fasting, is enjoyable because of the realization that God granted us that particular day to give us a new start, and hopefully better start, each year.
      Whatever levels of discomfort there must be should apply only to days of mourning.

    • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

      I have to agree with Mark. I don’t see the second day per say as a reminder of what you say here:

      That’s why I wrote the article. So YOU WOULD START to see it that way.

      Rabbi Hirsh’s explanation is a real nice one, but I don’t see it determinative on a second day, let alone a temple existing.

      I don’t understand this sentence. At all. It IS determinative on a 2nd day when THERE IS NO temple / kidush al pi re’iya.

      • http://profiles.google.com/holyhyrax Holy Hyrax

        Sorry. My point is, everything that R’ Hirsh said is just as nice and valid for the first day. Why do you need a second? Why not a forth then or a fifth

        >So YOU WOULD START to see it that way.

        Ok, but why? When I can simply see it for the first day and thats it.

        • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

          Because you can’t see it the first day without kidush al pi re’iya. The calendar is set and the first day is automatic.
          You could either learn it during the times of the Temple via kidush al pi re’iya OR keeping a 2nd day today to remember it.

          • http://profiles.google.com/holyhyrax Holy Hyrax

            >OR keeping a 2nd day today to remember it.
            Isen’t the 2nd day automatic now too? :)

  • http://twitter.com/fouadity Fouad

    Rav Drazin states there might be even earlier sources for the 2nd day, not related to the calendar question: 
    http://www.jewishideas.org/articles/real-reason-second-day-rosh-hodesh-and-holidays

    regarding electricity on yom tov, theres more than dozen sephardic authorities who permit it (on and off). although entertainment systems, tv . .etc is pushing it, and a desecration of the day, and could lead to other prohibitions. (i will post the authorities if you desire (or care)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=566959127 David Waghalter

    I’m all for 2nd day in Galut. Nevertheless, a couple of questions:
    1. 2nd day is relevant even *with* the Temple standing, right? Isn’t that the point?
    2. Taking your grander point at face value, wouldn’t the Jews in Eretz Yisrael be in danger of losing the lessons you mention, since they keep only one day?

    • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

      1. Indeed. It is halachically required because of the sfeika d’yoma. Today there is no kidush al pi re’iya so there is no safek. Yet, we keep it to internalize the lesson of kiddush hachodesh.
      2. Absolutely. I think it is fair to assume that chazal never envisioned a time where the majority of Jews lived in the EY without a Temple and kidush hachodesh.

      • Anonymous

        I think it is fair to assume that chazal never envisioned a time where the majority of Jews lived in the EY without a Temple and kidush hachodesh.

        It’s also fair to assume that Chazal never envisioned technology that can keep precise track of dates everywhere in the world.

        • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

          No!

          They ALREADY had that technology in the 2nd temple!

          • Anonymous

            They ALREADY had that technology in the 2nd temple!

            Is this really true? For example, someone on a ship making the journey to Europe or to some other faraway place? What did they use as a reference to determine the current time in places far away from E”Y?

            • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

              There were set calendars for fixed locations. At sea it was nearly impossible to know one’s position so it would be a lot harder.

  • Eric Bailey

    With all due respect, Rabbi, does not the speed of communication in this day and age render the second day of observance unnecessary? Even if we were to rely upon witnesses once again and not upon the scientifically set calendar, we would be able to obtain the information from the court within a matter of minutes (or hours if they were especially lazy) or, at the most, if the new moon occurred on Shabbos, a day later. Since the second day has never been observed in Israel, I find it difficult to understand why there is merit to observing a second day in the Diaspora with the advent of this technology. 

    The only consistent alternative, at least as I see it, would be to suggest that all observers, regardless of their locale, observe for two days. In doing so, the entire Jewish population would have these powerful metaphorical reminders that you suggest. Put otherwise: why should only the Jews of the Diaspora be reminded of these important lessons? How will Jews in Israel get the same reminders? If those reminders are good enough for the Jews of Israel, why aren’t they good enough for the Jews of the Diaspora?

    • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

      With all due respect, Rabbi, does not the speed of communication in this day and age render the second day of observance unnecessary? Even if we were to rely upon witnesses once again and not upon the scientifically set calendar, we would be able to obtain the information from the court within a matter of minutes (or hours if they were especially lazy) or, at the most, if the new moon occurred on Shabbos, a day later. Since the second day has never been observed in Israel, I find it difficult to understand why there is merit to observing a second day in the Diaspora with the advent of this technology.

      A fair point. My contention is that even WITH that technology, the rabbis of the Talmud were wise to enact a practice that would guarantee that we would have the lessons of the new moon for posterity. It is an important lesson that they managed to keep in our observance.

      The only consistent alternative, at least as I see it, would be to suggest that all observers, regardless of their locale, observe for two days. In doing so, the entire Jewish population would have these powerful metaphorical reminders that you suggest. Put otherwise: why should only the Jews of the Diaspora be reminded of these important lessons? How will Jews in Israel get the same reminders? If those reminders are good enough for the Jews of Israel, why aren’t they good enough for the Jews of the Diaspora?

      This was asked above. See #2 in the comment before yours.

  • Anonymous

    Doesn’t LO ADU ROSH prevent a safek in Tishrei (except for Monday vs Tuesday)?

    • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

      I think that came later on.

      • Anonymous

        see Sukkah 54 b

    • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

      Yes. I’m not sure I see the problem. Please elaborate?

      • Anonymous

        Based on LO ADU ROSH, Tishrei 1 can not be on Sunday, Wednesday or Friday. Thus, the only possible safek is between Monday and Tuesday. Thus, if Elul 30 is on Shabbos, that day must be Rosh Hashanah. If it is on Sunday, then Monday must be Rosh Hashanah.
        The Gemara on Sukkos 54b, says that according to the Rabbanan, the first day of Sukkos (and therefore Rosh Hashanah) could not be a Friday. Thus this rule applied at the time of the Mikdash.
        Rosh Hashanah 20a explained the reason as due to either burial or vegetables which also meant Yom Kippur couldn’t be on Friday. Thus, RH also couldn’t be on Wednesday.
        When Sunday was excluded is not as clear (however, it could not have been after the calendar was fixed). There is some mention of this in Sukkah.
        Finally, Elul was rarely full.

        To summarize, by the time the calendar was fixed, there rarely was a safek (except for Mon/Tuesday). Were the people outside of Eretz Yisroel, holding one or two days?
        ________________________________

        • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

          I think this supports my point. Even after the days were partially established by rabbinic law they kept 2 days in chutz la’aretz to make a point.

  • http://profiles.google.com/holyhyrax Holy Hyrax

    >I said everything was given to Moshe, including the mitzvos d’rabanan.

    oy

    • Anonymous

      I think you misunderstood.  All of the torah was given to Moshe including all of the oral torah and all the rabbis enacted and taught.  It’s one of the 13 principles of faith of the rambam.  This is fundamental if we are to believe in any of the oral torah.  If you dont believe in this then you can write off anything that is not black and white written in the written torah.  Thus, whatever human made you want to call it it is not actually human made.