RR21 no. 5759.7



The Second Festival Day and Reform Judaism


Our Reform congregation normally schedules confirmation services on Shavuot, which this year (1999/5759) falls on Thursday night and Friday. Our Confirmation class prefers to have their service on Friday night so more of their friends, family and other Religious School kids can attend. Although Friday night is no longer Shavuot according to our Reform calendar, it is the second day of the festival which is traditionally observed in the Diaspora (yom tov sheni shel galuyot). Is it acceptable for us to “stretch” the festival to accommodate their request, observing Shavuot for a second day so as to observe confirmation along with the holiday? (Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, Binghamton, NY)


It is at first glance ironic that a Reform congregation should seek to restore a practice that our history has so clearly renounced. Reform Judaism–“since its very inception”[1]-has done away with the observance of yom tov sheni, the second festival day. The Breslau rabbinical conference of 1846 resolved that “second-day festivals and the eighth day of the Pesach festival, respectively, as well as the ninth day of the Feast of Tabernacles, have no more validity for our time.” While the conference urged consideration for the feelings of those Jews still attached to the observance of yom tov sheni, it insisted that communities were well within their rights to abrogate it, going so far as to conclude that “the prohibition of leavened bread on the last day of the Passover festival shall not be obligatory for the individual.”[2] By 1963, it could be stated that virtually without exception “Reform Congregations observe Pesach for seven days, Shabuot one day, Sukkot (including Shemini Atseret) eight days, and Rosh Hashanah one day,” so that “the Reform movement reverted to the Biblical observance of the length of the festivals, even with regard to Rosh Hashanah.” [3]

Then again, perhaps this request is not all that ironic. In recent decades, many of us have reclaimed ritual observances abandoned by previous generations of Reform Jews, from the generous use of Hebrew in the liturgy,[4] to the wearing of kipah,[5] talit and tefilin,[6] to the dietary laws (kashrut),[7] to the ceremonies surrounding marriage[8] and conversion.[9] These examples-and more could be cited-testify that our approach to traditional ritual practice differs significantly from that of our predecessors. This difference stems, no doubt, from the divergent religious agenda that we have set for ourselves. If our predecessors regarded their acculturation into the surrounding society as a predominant objective, we who benefit from the social and political gains that they achieved are more concerned with taking active measures to preserve our distinctive Jewishness. Thus, where they may have viewed many ritual observances as barriers to social integration and as obstructions to “modern spiritual elevation,”[10]

we may find them an appropriate and desirable expression of our Jewish consciousness. When a particular observance strikes us as moving and meaningful, even though our founders may have explicitly excised it from their communal practice, we have no qualms about restoring it to our own. This is true with the observances we have named; why should it not be true with yom tov sheni?

Accordingly, we cannot say that a Reform congregation is forbidden to observe the second festival day. The mere fact that our Reform ancestors abrogated a ritual practice is not in and of itself sufficient cause to prevent us from recovering that practice. On the other hand, the mere fact that a congregation wishes to restore it may not be a good enough reason to justify its abandonment of a teaching that has for so long characterized our movement. For though we are drawn to the traditions of our people, the tradition of our own Reform Jewish community also makes a powerful call upon us. We, the Reform Jews of today, are members of a religious experience that transcends the boundaries of individual congregations. To identify ourselves as Reform Jews is to acknowledge our participation in the historical religious enterprise that our predecessors founded. We look upon them, in a sense that is deeply significant, as our rabbis. Their conception of Jewish life has done much to shape our own; accordingly, their teachings demand our attention and our prayerful respect. That respect, we think, forbids us from discarding the instruction of our teachers in the absence of good and sufficient cause. In this case, the question of yom tov sheni, this means we ought to ask ourselves the following questions. What were the reasons for which our predecessors eliminated the observance of the second festival day? Do those reasons still strike us as powerful and persuasive, or have they lost their cogency in the context of our own Reform Jewish religious experience? And what sort of argument would count as adequate justification to depart from the widespread and long-standing minhag of our movement?

1. The Second Festival Day in Jewish Tradition. The term yom tov, or “festival day,” is roughly the rabbinic equivalent of the biblical mikra kodesh, “holy convocation” (Exodus 12:16, Leviticus 23, Numbers 28-29) or atzeret (“solemn gathering”; Lev. 23:36, Deut. 16:8).[11] It is a day on which special “additional” (musaf) sacrifices are brought in the Temple and on which many types of labor[12] are prohibited.[13] And, especially pertinent to our she’elah, it is a day, a single twenty-four hour period. The Torah instructs us to declare “holy convocations” on the first day and seventh day of Pesach (or Matzot; see Lev. 23:6ff ), the first day and eighth day of Sukkot,[14] the day of Shavuot, the “first day of the seventh month,” which we know as Rosh Hashanah, and the day of Yom Kippur, each occurring on a specified date. Rabbinic tradition holds that the power to make this declaration rested squarely in the hands of the Sanhedrin or supreme rabbinical court (beit din hagadol) in Jerusalem.[15] Moreover, since “these are… the holy convocations that you shall declare at their appointed season” (Leviticus 23:4), we learn that the festivals do not occur unless and until the beit din says so.[16] The court would accept the testimony of eyewitnesses that the new moon had appeared and would then communicate to the people that Rosh Chodesh (the new month) had occurred.[17] This communication, we are told, took the form of a kind of telegraph system: agents of the beit din on the Mount of Olives would wave torches to and fro until other representatives, stationed at Sartaba, would see them and wave their own torches in the sight of those stationed on the next hill. The chain would continue until the entire Diaspora (i.e., the Jews of Babylonia) were rather quickly informed of the new month. During the months of Tishri and Nisan, they could count fifteen days beginning with Rosh Chodesh and thereby determine the proper dates for the festivals of Sukkot and Pesach. This system broke down due to mischief caused by the Samaritans, who began to wave torches on hilltops on the thirtieth day of the month. Since the new lunar month could conceivably begin either thirty or thirty-one days following the previous Rosh Chodesh, this interference could mislead those on the next hilltops into thinking that the new month had begun a day earlier than the beit din had in fact declared it. To remedy this situation, the beit din decided to send official messengers to inform the outlying communities of the new month.[18] Since many Diaspora communities lay beyond a two-week journey from Jerusalem, the residents of those communities could not be certain, prior to the onset of the festivals, whether Rosh Chodesh had been declared on the thirtieth or the thirty-first day of the previous month. They therefore began to observe two days of yom tov (i.e., fifteen days from both of the days when Rosh Chodesh might have been declared) as a result of this doubt.[19]

The custom developed, therefore, that the Jews of the land of Israel would observe a yom tov for the biblically-sanctioned one day while those living in the Diaspora would keep a second day.[20] This was true even for Shavuot: even though the date of that festival is determined by counting forty-nine days from the second day of Pesach and does not depend upon the determination of Rosh Chodesh, the rabbis ordained that it be observed for two days in order to make it similar to the other festivals.[21] An exception to this rule is Rosh Hashanah, which is also observed for two days in the land of Israel. Rosh Hashanah is itself the new moon, so that “even in Jerusalem itself, where the Sanhedrin assembled, the residents frequently observed two days, for if the witnesses (to the new moon) did not arrive on the thirtieth of Elul, both that day and the next would be observed as holy days,”[22] since either of them might be the new moon of Tishri.

This narrative suggests that the second festival day originated as a popular response of the Diaspora communities to a situation of doubt, of uncertainty as to the correct day of Rosh Chodesh and therefore the correct dates of the festivals. If so, it would follow that yom tov sheni is not a matter of law but rather one of convenience: that is, should the doubt over the calendar be eliminated, there would be no objection were Diaspora Jews to return to the biblical standard of one day for each yom tov. As the Talmud itself puts it: “today, wherever the messengers are able to arrive (within fifteen days) they observe one festival day; and were the Samaritans to cease their mischief, everyone would observe one day.” Moreover, now that the Sanhedrin has disappeared and the calendar is determined by mathematical calculation, there is no longer any doubt as to the day of Rosh Chodesh or the date of the festivals; “why then do we still observe two festival days?” [23]Indeed, our reliance upon that system of calculation helps explain why we do not add an extra day to the fast of Yom Kippur, despite our “uncertainty” as to its correct date. [24] Yet we continue to observe the second festival day, the Talmud asserts, for two reasons. First, it is possible that yom tov sheni came about not as a popular response to poor communications from Jerusalem but as a takanah, an ordinance imposed by the Sanhedrin upon the residents of the Diaspora.[25] And second, even if yom tov sheni originated as a popular custom, the Rabbis issued a separate takanah that requires us to maintain that practice: “take care to maintain the custom of your ancestors, lest the government someday forbid you from studying Torah and you forget how to determine the calendar and come to observe the festival on the wrong date.”[26]

2. The Second Festival Day in Our Time. Does the ordinance which established the second day of yom tov as an obligation hold for us today? The answer would seem to be “no,” since the justification the Talmud cites for the decree (“lest…you forget how to determine the calendar”) is irrelevant in our time. The formulae for fixing the calendar, though once the exclusive possession of religious authorities, are now open to all, Jews and non-Jews alike. As such, this knowledge is no longer the sort of “Torah”–a particularly Jewish sacred literary tradition–that a hostile regime would forbid us from learning.[27] And Maimonides completely ignores the “lest…you forget” theory in his Mishneh Torah. This does not mean, however, that yom tov sheni has become optional. As Rambam writes: “nowadays…when we all rely upon mathematical calculation to determine the calendar, it would be logical for all Jews, including those in the farthest reaches of the Diaspora, to observe but one day of yom tov… but the sages have ordained ‘take care to maintain the custom of your ancestors.'”[28] The second festival day, in other words, is obligatory not because of the fear of persecution and the prohibition of Torah study but simply because the Rabbis established it as a takanah. And this takanah remains in force even though its original justification has disappeared. Rambam writes that, when a beit din issues a takanah or a gezerah that is adopted by all Israel, no subsequent court can overturn it, “even when the reason for which the enactment was adopted no longer exists,” unless that subsequent court is “superior” to the original tribunal. And since a beit din cannot be “superior” unless it happens to be the Sanhedrin of seventy-one judges, it is clearly impossible in our own day to annul the earlier decree.[29] If Maimonides is correct, then the ancient rabbinic decree can never be set aside. Diaspora communities are bound to observe the second festival day, even though the original justification for that decree no longer applies.

Yet it is not altogether certain that Maimonides is correct, for the halakhah on this matter is the subject of much dispute. R. Avraham b. David (Rabad), the Rambam’s contemporary and halakhic critic, rejects the latter’s ruling outright. Relying upon a case from the days of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai,[30] he argues that a later court may annul a takanah when the original justification for that enactment has disappeared, even though the later court is not “superior” to its predecessor.[31] Other examples, too, could be cited where talmudic sages, though not “superior” in authority to earlier courts, nonetheless annulled or sought to annul existing takanot and gezerot.[32] The Tosafists go even farther: they declare that when the concern that gave rise to the takanah disappears, the takanah is annulled of itself and no official court action is required.[33] R. David ibn Zimra (Radbaz; 16th-17th century Egypt), a commentator to Maimonides, may have been led by these rulings to soften the position taken in the Mishneh Torah. He writes in Rambam’s name that the original takanah remains valid in the absence of its original justification only if the sages adopted that decree without stating an explicit reason for it. “But if they stipulated that their enactment was the result of some particular factor, then when that factor disappears the enactment disappears with it.”[34] Like many complex issues of Jewish law, it is difficult to say with confidence just which point of view is the “correct” one. What is clear, however, is that the ruling of Maimonides is far from the exclusive and uncontested formulation of the halakhah regarding rabbinic enactments. In addition, it can be–and has been[35] –argued that Rambam’s opponents offer the better and more plausible interpretation of the Talmudic sources on this issue. We agree. We would add that their opinion is also more persuasive as a matter of common sense. If the Rabbis explicitly adopted their ordinance for a particular reason, to address a specific problem, it strains credulity to assert that they meant that takanah to endure for all time, regardless of changing circumstances, even in the absence of the reasons for which they enacted it. It is far more reasonable to understand them as saying that the takanah does not outlive its rationale, that it endures only so long as necessary to resolve the difficulty that led to its creation.

We Reform Jews respect the customs of our ancestors; we do not dismiss them with scorn or disdain or for no good reason. But when those customs no longer serve the purposes for which they were adopted, it makes no sense to insist they be maintained merely because they are ancestral customs. This is especially true when maintaining them becomes counter-productive, when powerful considerations that reflect our deeply-held religious values argue against their strict preservation. As our predecessors noted at the Breslau conference, the economic and other hardships imposed by the second festival day had already led the vast majority of our people to abandon its observance, and a community’s inability to abide by a rabbinic enactment is itself a valid argument in halakhah for annulling the enactment.[36] On the other hand, they suggested, the elimination of yom tov sheni would strengthen our religious life by allowing us to concentrate our efforts upon a more intense and meaningful observance of the first day.[37]

For these reasons: 1) since the observance of the second festival day is no longer necessary as a response to calendrical doubt; 2) since we are not bound to maintain ancestral customs once the justification for their creation has disappeared; and 3) since the interests of Jewish religious life would be better served by eliminating yom tov sheni than by maintaining it, we have therefore returned to the standard, as prescribed by the Torah, that each yom tov be observed for one day. This means that, for us, the “second days” of Rosh Hashanah, Shemini Atzeret, and Shavuot and the “eighth” day of Pesach are ordinary days (yom chol), while the “second” days of Sukkot and Pesach are the intermediate days of those festivals (chol hamo`ed). None of these days is a festival, and we do not treat them as such.

3. Restoring The Second Festival Day in the Reform Context. Our Reform movement made a principled decision to nullify the ancient rabbinic takanah establishing the second festival day. Do these principles continue to speak to us? The growing number of Reform congregations which already observe the second day of yom tov, particularly the second day of Rosh Hashanah, [38] answer this question in the negative. They reason, contrary to the argument just cited, that the recovery of yom tov sheni might improve rather than weaken the quality of our communal religious life. How might this happen? There is, first of all, the consideration of Jewish unity. We see ourselves as part of a larger Jewish community. By restoring the traditional Diaspora festival calendar, we can identify with this broader Jewish experience by uniting our sacred calendar with those of our Jewish neighbors. Secondly, by instituting a second festival day we can accommodate the growing percentage of our membership who come to us from Conservative- or Orthodox-Jewish backgrounds and who are familiar with that observance. And then there are what we might call “spiritual” motivations: a second day of yom tov allows us to provide additional and perhaps creative worship services that speak to the religious needs of a number of our people. Whether we accept these arguments or not, we must concede that they are serious and appropriate reasons that may lead a Reform congregation to observe the second festival day.

Yet for all that, these considerations by themselves are insufficient. For when we declare a second day of yom tov, we are not simply making a statement of identity, planning a creative worship experience, or arranging an experiment in spirituality. We are declaring a festival. When we say that a day is a yom tov, we mark it as holy; we transform it from ordinary time into sacred time; we make kodesh out of chol. We arrogate to ourselves the power of the ancient Sanhedrin to announce to the Jewish world-indeed, even to God[39]-that such-and-such a date shall be a festival. And when we declare a yom tov sheni, that is, a festival day on a date that according to the Torah is not a festival at all, we create an actual festival day with all its relevant duties and restrictions. On yom tov sheni, as on the first festival day, we recite the festival liturgy. We say kiddush over wine, praising the God “who sanctifies Israel and the festivals.” The mitzvot which pertain to that particular yom tov are just as appropriate, and obligatory under tradition, on yom tov sheni. And just as we abstain from work on a festival, we are to refrain from those labors on the second festival day. In short, yom tov sheni is the ritual equivalent in virtually all respects of the first day of the festival.[40] We are entitled to restore the observance of yom tov sheni and/or the second day of Rosh Hashanah, just as we are entitled to restore any number of ritual practices discarded by our predecessors. But if and when we do so, let us not forget that it is a festival that we are creating. If we do not treat the second day of yom tov as the ritual equivalent of the first, then we do not in fact perceive it as a true festival day. And if that is the case, it is dishonest for us to call it a festival.

We do not think that the congregation which poses our she’elah truly regards the “second day” of Shavuot as a yom tov. Their request is prompted, not by the desire to observe yom tov sheni as a permanent religious institution to be equated with yom tov itself, but by the desire to “stretch” the holiday to Friday night for the benefit of this year’s Confirmation class. They do not indicate any readiness to “stretch” the other festivals to a second day, to hold festival services and to close their offices on those days, or to do so again for Shavuot when that holiday does not fall on a Friday. They are not, therefore, departing from our movement’s teaching on the dating of the festivals. They do not accept yom tov sheni as a true festival, a holy day, the equivalent of the first day of yom tov. They rather wish to move Shavuot to a day that as far as we–and they–are concerned is not Shavuot at all. To call that day “Shavuot,” even out of the well-meaning intention to make the Confirmation service more meaningful for its participants and their families, is thoroughly inappropriate for a Reform congregation that does not observe yom tov sheni.

It is also unnecessary. The congregation need not “stretch” Shavuot to accommodate the Confirmation class, since it is perfectly acceptable to hold the ceremony on the Shabbat nearest Shavuot.[41] Similarly, the text of the Confirmation service can reflect the theme of Shavuot, “the season of the giving of the Torah” (zeman matan toratenu), without the need to recite the actual festival liturgy. Moreover, the congregation may read the festival Torah portion, the Sinai revelation (Exodus 19-20), on that day. As Rabbi Solomon B. Freehof has suggested, when the final day of a festival (i.e., the eighth day of Pesach or the second day of Shavuot) falls on a Shabbat, our Reform congregations may “simply reread on that Sabbath the special reading of the holiday that we read the day before.”[42] Although current Reform practice does not follow Rabbi Freehof’s suggestion,[43] his teshuvah offers an alternative that this congregation might consider.


. In Reform Jewish tradition, yom tov is observed for one day, not two. This congregation gives every indication that it accepts and practices that standard. The congregation may therefore draw upon the symbolism and the message of Shavuot to lend liturgical power to a Confirmation service held on the day after the festival. The service, however, should not imply that the day is in fact Shavuot.




  • Alexander Guttmann, “The Jewish Calendar,” in Peter S. Knobel, ed., Gates of the Seasons: A Guide to the Jewish Year (New York: Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1983), 10.
  • The sources are gathered by W. Gunther Plaut in The Rise of Reform Judaism: A Sourcebook of its European Origins (New York: World Union for Progressive Judaism, 1963), 195-199, from Protokolle der dritten Versammlung deutscher Rabbiner, Breslau, 1846, 208ff.
  • R. Solomon B. Freehof, Reform Jewish Practice and Its Rabbinic Background (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1963), 1:16, 19.
  • Michael Meyer, Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism (New York: Oxford U. Press, 1988), 373.
  • See the discussion by Lawrence A. Hoffman in Gates of Understanding 2: Appreciating the Days of Awe (New York: Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1984), 56-62.
  • See the meditations and blessings “For those who wear the Tallit” and “For those who wear Tefillin” in Gates of Prayer, 48-49.
  • Compare the fourth principle of the Pittsburgh Platform (Meyer, 388) with the language of Gates of Mitzvah, ed. Simeon J. Maslin (New York: Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1979), 40 (E-6) and 130-133.
  • For the way things were, see Freehof, Reform Jewish Practice 1:89 (the chupah is omitted from many Reform weddings), 96 (the kiddushin and nisu’in blessings are combined and only one glass of wine is used), and 98 (“the breaking of the glass is entirely omitted from Reform marriage ceremonies”). For the differences today, see Rabbi’s Manual (New York: Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1988), 50-59 and 239.
  • In 1893, the CCAR adopted a resolution which formally did away with the requirement for circumcision (milah) and ritual immersion (tevilah) in the conversion process; see American Reform Responsa (ARR), no. 68. Compare, however, Rabbi’s Manual, 210-215, which makes provisions for milah and tevilah, and 232, which offers an explanation for the use of the traditional rituals in Reform Judaism. See also Teshuvot for the Nineties (TFN), no. 5752.1, at 244-246, and the sources it cites, as well as our responsa no. 5756.6 (on the use of the mikveh for conversion) and 5756.13 (which provides a detailed critique of the scholarship employed in justification of the 1893 resolution).
  • See the fourth principle of the Pittsburgh Platform (Meyer, 388). This follows upon the third principle, which rejects the binding character of the Torah’s ceremonial legislation; “to-day we accept as binding only the moral laws.”
  • We say “roughly” because the term mikra kodesh is applied to Shabbat in Lev. 23:3, as is the term mo`ed, “appointed season.” The Sifra (perishta 9:1, cited by Rashi to the verse) notes this apparent discrepancy, asking: “what has Shabbat to do with the ‘appointed seasons’?” It answers that this comparison is brought as a means of strengthening the observance of the festivals: “when one desecrates a festival, it is as though he has desecrated the Sabbath.” The term is also applied to Yom Kippur (Lev. 23:27), even though the rules for abstaining from work on that day are equivalent to those for Shabbat and more stringent than those for the yamim tovim.
  • The term is melekhet avodah, translated variously as “servile work” or “working at one’s occupation.” Maimonides (Yad, Yom Tov 1:4) gives the traditional halakhic understanding of the term: melekhet avodah includes all the labors prohibited on Shabbat (melakhah; cf. M. Shabbat 7:2) with the exception of transferring fire (as opposed to kindling, which remains forbidden), carrying objects in the public thoroughfare and from one “domain” to another, and the activities involved in the preparation of food (to be consumed on the holiday itself; 1:9).
  • Both conditions are necessary in order for a day to be regarded as a yom tov; thus, Rosh Chodesh, on which additional sacrifices (musafin) were offered, is not a yom tov because labor is not biblically prohibited on that day. Similarly, the intermediate festival days of Sukkot and Pesach (chol hamo`ed) are not considered yamim tovim, even though they were the occasion for musaf sacrifices in the Temple. Although “unnecessary” sorts of work are prohibited on those days, one is traditionally permitted to undertake labor in order to avoid a substantial monetary loss, so long as the effort involved is not deemed “excessive.” See Yad, Yom Tov 7:1ff.
  • So Rambam (Yad, Yom Tov 1:1), after Lev. 23:36, even though Shemini Atzeret is regarded as a festival in its own right.
  • See Exodus 12:2, “this month (hachodesh hazeh) shall be for you (lakhem) the beginning of the months.” The Rabbis understand this to mean that God points out the form of the new moon (the demonstrative hazeh, or “this”) to Moses and Aaron (BT Menachot 29a), instructing them that the task of declaring the new month and setting the calendar shall be the exclusive responsibility of the beit din (lakhem, “for you,” i.e., the determination of the new moon shall be for you, Moses and Aaron and all your judicial successors, to accomplish; BT Rosh Hashanah 22a).
  • M.

Rosh Hashanah 2:8. See also Devarim Rabah, parashah 2, no. 14: when the angels gather to ask God when Rosh Hashanah will occur, God tells them to consult the earthly beit din, which has the authority, under Lev. 23:4, to determine the dates of the festivals.

  • Since Exodus 12:2 is understood to require that the new moon be physically seen and identified. In the absence of such testimony on the thirtieth day of the month, the first of the two days on which the new moon might appear, the court would declare the new month on the following day; see M. Rosh Hashanah 2:7.
  • See M. Rosh Hashanah 1:3: messengers were sent out following the new moons of Nisan, Av, Elul, Tishri, Kislev, and Adar, in order that the communities may know of the upcoming holidays and fasts. During the days of the Temple, messengers were also dispatched in Iyar, to inform the communities of Pesach Katan (Sheni; 15 Iyar).
  • BT

Beitzah 4b and Rashi ad loc., s.v. shel galuyot.

  • Yad

, Kiddush Hachodesh 5:5-6, and Yom Tov 1:21.

  • See Chidushey HaRitva, Rosh Hashanah 18a.
  • Yad

, Kiddush Hachodesh 5:8, based upon BT Beitzah 4b-5a and the ruling of Alfasi, fol. 3a. On the other hand, the talmudic discussion there suggests the possibility that Jerusalem and the land of Israel may have reverted to a one-day observance of Rosh Hashanah following the destruction of the Temple and the disappearance of the old eyewitness-based calculation of the new moon. There is evidence that this was indeed the case. See R. Zerachyah Halevy’s comment, in Sefer Hama’or Hakatan, to Alfasi, ad loc.: the requirement to observe two days of Rosh Hashanah in the land of Israel applied only during the time when the calendar was fixed by eyewitness testimony. Thereafter, “all the land of Israel took on the status of the Great Court” in this regard and observed one day. This situation held until “sages of Provence arrived and established there the custom of observing two days, according to the ruling of Alfasi.” R. Zerachya’s description of the practice in Eretz Yisrael is confirmed by paetanic, geonic, and later halakhic sources; for discussion of these see Charles L. Arian and Clifford E. Librach, “The ‘Second Day’ of Rosh haShana: History, Law and Practice,” Journal of Reform Judaism 32:3 (1985), 70-83, and Yosef Tabory, Mo`adey yisrael betekufat hamishnah vehatalmud (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1995), 231-232. Rabbi Solomon Freehof (Modern Reform Responsa, no. 51) concludes that Rosh Hashanah was observed for only one day in the land of Israel until the eleventh century. Yet there is also evidence for the opposite custom, namely that two days of Rosh Hashanah were observed in some places in Eretz Yisrael during the immediate post-talmudic period, possibly as a result of Babylonian influence; see the remarks of Ezra Fleischer in Tarbitz 53 (1984), 293-295.

  • BTBeitzah 4b.
  • See Magen Avraham, OC 624, end: since we know how to determine the month by means of mathematical calculation, and since our ancestors themselves did not institute a second day of Yom Kippur, why should we do it? According to Isserles, OC 624:5, the physical danger involved in a two-day fast is the reason we fast for only one day. On the other hand, we do have reports of at least some talmudic sages who fasted for two days; see BT Rosh Hashanah 21a. See Questions and Reform Jewish Answers, no. 66.
  • See Rashi, BT Beitzah 4b, s.v. veleima kasavar rav asi. According to a geonic tradition, the institution of yom tov sheni was an ordinance of the prophets; “thus did Ezekiel; thus did Daniel.” See Otzar Hageonim, Yom Tov, 3-9.
  • BT

Beitzah 4b, according to Rashi, s.v. degazrey. The Yershalmi version is found in PT Eruvin 3:9 (21c), end, the statement of R. Yose; see Peney Moshe and Korban Ha`edah ad loc.

  • See the argument of S. Herxheimer, Protokolle, 211.
  • Yad

, Kiddush Hachodesh 5:5. See also Yom Tov 1:21.

  • Yad

, Mamrim 2:2.

  • Hasagat HaRabad

, Mamrim 2:2. The case is that of neta reva`i, the produce of the fourth year of fruit-bearing trees, which is sanctified to God (Lev. 19:24). The Rabbis likened this to the “second tithe” (ma`aser sheni; Deut. 14:22ff), which was to be transported to Jerusalem and consumed there or, alternately, redeemed for money to be spent in Jerusalem (BT Kiddushin 54b; PT Ma`aser Sheni 5:2). An old takanah prohibited landowners living in close proximity to Jerusalem from redeeming their fruit. Instead, they were to carry the produce itself to Jerusalem, in order to adorn the city with the produce of the land (M. Ma`aser Sheni 5:2 and Bartenura ad loc.). Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai annulled this takanah, on the sensible ground that, following the destruction of the Temple, there was no longer any city to adorn (BT Beitzah 5a-b; Rashi 5b, s.v. ta`ama).

  • R. Yosef Karo (Kesef Mishneh to Mamrim 2:2) responds that perhaps Rabban Yochanan was actually “superior” to his predecessors and therefore had the legal power to depart from their takanah. This is an interesting departure from the general theory that the earlier authorities (rishonim) always enjoy greater stature than the later authorities (acharonim), and it is little wonder that Rambam’s other commentators (see Radbaz and Lechem Mishneh ad loc.) do not adopt it. But suppose that Karo has a point: could it not be that other generations than that of R. Yochanan ben Zakai are to be regarded as enjoying equal or superior stature to that of their predecessors?
  • See R. Eliezer Berkovits, Halakhah: kochah vetafkidah (Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 1981), 173, and Herxheimer, 212.
  • Tosafot

, Beitzah 6a, s.v. ha’idana; Hil. HaRosh, Beitzah 1:5.

  • Commentary of R. David ibn Zimra (Radbaz), Mamrim 2:2. The difference is that in some cases, we may be aware of the reason for the takanah even if the sources do not state it explicitly. In those cases, one may conclude that the takanah was meant to last even in the absence of that reason. When, however, the rabbis declare that “we are doing this on account of X,” they are telling us that their ordinance lasts only so long as X does. Note, too, that Radbaz does not contend that the later court “annuls” (mevatel) the words of its predecessor; rather, the earlier takanah loses its own force (nitbatlah), regardless of the lesser authority of the later court as compared to the earlier one. On all this, see Berkovits, 171-174.
  • Berkovits, 175.
  • “A decree is not imposed upon the community unless the majority of the community is able to abide by it”; BT Avodah Zarah 36a and parallels. And see Yad, Mamrim 2:7: a gezerah that was mistakenly thought to have been accepted by “all Israel” can be annulled by a subsequent court. The problem here, of course, is that the decree establishing yom tov sheni was in fact accepted by all Israel for hundreds of years prior to the nineteenth century. We would respond that the economic and social conditions of Western society following the Emancipation were of a fundamentally different nature than those facing the Jews prior to that era. As such, the Jews of modernity could not have been included in the original gezerah, and their inability to abide by it must be taken as a serious challenge to its applicability in their communities.
  • See Herxheimer in Protokolle, 214-215.
  • See Daniel Freelander, Robin Hirsch, and Sanford Seltzer, Emerging Worship and Music Trends in UAHC Congregations (New York: UAHC, 1994), 1: 206 Reform congregations, or 38 percent of those responding to a survey on ritual practice, noted that they observed two days of Rosh Hashanah. Anecdotal evidence suggests to us that the figure is higher today.
  • See note 16.
  • “All that is forbidden on the first day of yom tov is similarly forbidden on the second… There is no distinction between the first and second days of yom tov, except for burying the dead and painting the eye (for medical purposes)”; SA OC 496:1-2, and see OC 526 for the rules concerning preparations for burial on the festival.
  • Gates of the Seasons

, 133, n. 174.

  • Current Reform Responsa

, no. 10.

  • See Gates of Understanding (New York: CCAR, 1977), 271.


If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.