More ritual is always better: my latest thinking on two-day yom tov

If you’re a long-time reader, you might’ve been surprised by a few words in my piece for the Sisterhood blog at the Forward:

But as I thought about the issue throughout the Passover holiday, which ends tonight, it began to make a lot of sense.

Emphasis mine — to point out that this piece, posted yesterday, assumes that Pesach ended yesterday. We initially planned to post it on Friday and that bit about when chag ended was added after I saw the last draft.

This might have troubled me… except that I’m now prepared to come out as in favor of observing a second day of yom tov. (Before we go into my thinking on this you can go read this stuff from fellow Jewschooler BZ about why two-day chag makes no sense.)

I have five reasons:

  1. I am always (I’m gonna regret using the word always later — I just know it) in favor of more ritual, rather than less.
  2. I like these elements of Jewish ritual that make their own internal sense — even if they don’t really make sense — elements that accrued over time that add texture and oddity to Jewish practice.
  3. When this blog began I was an ideologue, of sorts, a Reform ritual ideologue. My faith in the idea of liberal modern Jewish religious ideologies has since wavered and I’m now in pursuit of a personal approach that is less suspicious — but still somewhat suspicious — of the human propensity for attraction to ritual on purely aesthetic terms. This reason is, I suppose, a meta-reason that covers the above two.
  4. I really like singing Hallel. A lot.
  5. Two days off is better than one day off.

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14 Responses to More ritual is always better: my latest thinking on two-day yom tov

  1. Simcha Daniel Burstyn April 15, 2012 at 11:44 pm #

    These may all be good reasons, but none of them fit the halachic reasoning, which BZ nails in his work. One of the things I liked about this last shabbat was the quiet intimacy – much like the midrashic thing about Shmini Atzeret: the king makes an after party for the servants after the guests have left. And, btw, “time off” looks different when you’re the boss, not the plebe.

    • David A.M. Wilensky April 16, 2012 at 1:36 am #

      Correct, no halachic reasoning here. These are all mere statements of personal preference.

      Time off definitely does look different when you’re the boss — as I am. When you’re the boss, it’s all about rationalizing: “Can I reasonably take this time off and not feel like I’m slacking off?”

      • Larry Kaufman April 16, 2012 at 7:09 pm #

        Your best reason is that you like singing Hallel.  In your place, I would add that a pluralistic Jewish organization like the one(s) you work at needs to be seen as sensitive to what BZ (or do we now call him Papa BZ) calls the frummest common denominator.  And you might also justify yourself through your connection with an eight-day congregation, and the reminders in Pirke Avot not to separate yourself from your community.

        • David A.M. Wilensky April 17, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

          Indeed! I shall always remain opposed to appealing to the FCD as a default setting.

          But I wouldn’t use that PA argument because I think it applies to far larger issues than this one. (Now it just might be worth considering its application to the issues in my Forward op-ed….)

  2. Glenda April 16, 2012 at 9:23 am #

    One more time: I’ll add a second day to every holiday when we all start doing a second day of Yom Kippur.

    • David A.M. Wilensky April 16, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

      It’ll never happen. We intentionally don’t do that because it would add a ludicrous hardship that the rabbis who thought this stuff up didn’t want to impose on us.

  3. Michael Doyle April 16, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    I come at this from the opposite end (of the week!) Some of my fellow Reform congregants gave me grief for observing 8 days of Pesach (and our rabbi’s pretty negative about a Reform Pesach longer than 7 days.) But we make such a big deal out of second-night seders in our movement.

    Well, where did those come from, anyway? From 2,000 years of two-day Diaspora yom tovs. To my mind, our movement wants to have it both ways. But if you want to be halachic about it (and I love that some in our movement want to be just that), if you want that second-night seder to actually, you know, count, then that denotes a two-day yom tov–and only then do you count six more days of the holiday.

    My household had a second-night seder, and this is the reason we counted an 8-night Pesach. I tried explaining this to fellow congregants who were critical of my 8-night minhag, but it just went over their heads. Which, sadly enough, didn’t surprise me at all.

    • Larry Kaufman April 16, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

      As was noted in the Symposium on Second Seder posted at, the only ideologues concerned with Reform second sedorim are agin ’em, and their prevalence is more social than religious.  I do think your fellow congregants are out of line in criticizing your eight-day observance; although I admit to having been amused by a friend who said her family observes eight days of Passover, but only the first and the eighth are treated as yom tov. 
      The classic observation on tolerance for other people’s religious choices: We all worship God in our own ways — you in your way, I in His. 

    • David A.M. Wilensky April 17, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

      Your Reform co-congregants should shut up about your choice to observe 8 days of Pesach.

      But there’s certainly nothing wrong with an extraneous second seder. When I did one-day yom tov (my entire life up until last week, for example) I always went to a second seder. There’s nothing that prevents one from doing a second seder just because one does not regard day two as a yom tov.

      So I can’t figure out what you mean by making the second seder “count.” For what, holy mitzvah-points? 

      • Michael Doyle April 17, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

        In a sense yes. By which I mean, many of us (RJs) tend to consider the seders we attend or lead–if they’re the only seder we go to–as the major part (for some, the entirety) of our Pesach observance. On those terms, for those to whom it has meaning, I think counting seven days beginning from a second-night seder is reasonable.

        Of course, if your second-night seder attendance is simply to have an additional seder or because someone invited you but you already participated in or led a seder on the first night, then I think seven days for Pesach is reasonable, too.

        As far as my fellow congregants, they have more to complain about (I’m assuming) then my 8-day Pesach. After a lot of forethought, I’ve decided to begin wearing a talit katan to fulfill the mitzvah ot tzitzit. I assume several older members of my congregation may, simply, drop dead outright at the sight.

        • David A.M. Wilensky April 17, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

          In my experience (I wore a talit katan for five years, but stopped a few months ago), they won’t drop dead, they’ll just give you a bunch of shit. The best antidote to it is an explanation of your thinking regarding it that is so long-winded that they lapse into naps.

  4. Bob2 April 18, 2012 at 10:02 am #

    The problem for those of us who work for others is:  Is it legitimate to say that we need to be excused from work for a religious obligation if, in fact, we just like more davening than less and like to sing hallel?  That seems dishonest.

    For many, indeed, 2-day yomtov imposes a considerable economic hardship.  I think we should announce a 1-day policy to help them out as well as to legitimate our own requests for accommodations for those 1-day holidays.

    Also:  if you like more ritual rather than less, you can put on tfillin on the “eighth” day (not this past Pesach, but usually).

    • David A.M. Wilensky April 18, 2012 at 10:11 pm #

      Well, I should qualify my desire for more ritual by saying that I like more of the rituals that I like — by which I mean that I don’t like putting on tefilin no matter what day it is.

      I don’t think there’s anything dishonest in taking a day off from work if you can because that’s how you prefer to practice your religion. Say someone is raised Catholic, but prefers Eastern Orthodox churches for purely aesthetic reasons. Is there anything wrong with that person taking off for Eastern Orthodox holidays?

      My point is simply that more of our religious choices are basically aesthetic in nature than we’re generally willing to admit.

      • bob2 April 24, 2012 at 11:28 am #

        I hear you about “taking a day off from work if you can.”  But I tell my employer, “Such-and-such day is a religious holiday so I need to take off from work” – and my employer accommodates me (sometimes) at its substantial inconvenience.  If I said, “On such-and-such day I would like to take an extra day off and engage in choral singing,” my boss would say – “It’s the busy season, you’ll have to wait to practice your hobbies until the summer.”  I appreciate this difference of reaction, and don’t want to (and don’t think it’s ethical to) take advantage of it.
        As to rituals that you like, I agree it’s all about taste.  I like tfillin but can’t stand signing Hallel.  Why draw out something that can be done quickly?  But that’s just me.