Monday, October 3, 2011

Two Days of Yom Tov and Other Halachic Challenges

Tablet recently ran a piece about the challenges of keeping two days of Yom Tov, especially when the calendar bombards Shomer Shabbat communities with three three-day Yom Tovs in a row (and will again over the next three years!) The piece, while chronicling the challenges of fastidious observance to Yom Tov, also notes that there are people in the Orthodox community who "choose" to keep only one day. After all, they reason, the first day is biblical, while the second is only rabbinic.
This isn't a new observation. I can remember one member of a shul I served in who would "work" on the second day of Yom Tov for many of the same reasons outlined in the piece. Moreover, I've noticed a growing phenomenon of Orthodox Jews who, when in Israel, don't keep a second day of Yom Tov in any way - not even a "day and a half".
If this is a "growing" trend, I can think of several reasons:
Many people who live within the big tent of Orthodoxy are not all or nothing people. They struggle with the challenge of the demands of traditional Judaism, and make compromises. I'm not judging them, and actually celebrate the fact that they consider themselves Orthodox nonetheless. But they should keep both days, and I hope that they know this, despite any justifications they create for themselves.
More significantly, people who come to Israel and keep only one day (because they either own an apartment here, or they come for all three yom Tovim, or they have a cousin who operates an Israeli website, or any other reason) then return home for the next holiday and and feel a sense of dissonance. After all, last year, they ate a falafel on the 8th day of Yom Tov, and this year it's completely forbidden? Last year, they were snorkeling in the Kineret on the first day of Chol Hamoed while their friends were sitting down to yet another heavy meal in the Sukkah. And this year they too must "suffer". What other halachah seems to change by location? (Imagine having to keep the laws of tzniut in Brooklyn, but not in Miami. Ridiculous, right? Er...) That dissonance makes it easier to begin to slowly reject the entire notion of the validity of the second day.
Moreover, with the advent of global, instant communication, people in the Golah know exactly what concerts we've been to on their "second" day. They have an immediate sense that people they know who are perfectly observant don't observe two days of Yom Tov. And, while they know the law, that doesn't make it any more emotionally palatable.
I suppose that we here in Israel don't make things any easier for our exiled brethren. In emails and phone calls, blog posts and Facebook updates, we're constantly extolling the virtues of one day of Yom Tov: the added vacation day of Chol Hamoed, the avoidance of three-day yom Tovs, (two this year. And next year. And the year after that. Sorry, I'm doing it. See? We just can't stop ourselves.) One Seder! But, in doing so, we cheapen the idea of the two days of Yom Tov in the exile, and the obligation of observant Jews to maintain both days under all circumstances. Sure, it's in good fun. And of course Golah Jews could avoid our good-natured jabs by simply moving to Israel. But I must admit: It's not that nice, and it probably doesn't help matters. Nor do I believe it promotes aliyah either. (I just can't see Nefesh B'nefesh's new marketing campaign as, "Aliyah: You'll Never Make a Second Seder Again.")
On the other hand, I have little sympathy for people who complain that keeping two days is just two hard. The article quotes Rabbi Alan Brill who posted on his blog,
“The past few years there has been a growing tension among those who work in interactive professions about their need to check their blackberries on Yom Tov,” he wrote. “Some fields need daily input.”
Really? These people never go on vacation? They never ever walk away from their Blackberries for more than one full day? Please.
I just think back to the stories my grandfather would tell about his work life during the early 20th century in New York. He'd get a job on Sunday in some store, and not show up on Shabbat. When he'd come back on Sunday morning, his boss would tell him to get lost. That went on until he found a boss who didn't fire him on when he came to work on Sunday morning.
He sacrificed for Shmirat Shabbat, and every one of his grandchildren remains observant today. I don't doubt that putting away the iPhone for three days is hard. I'm certain that the work pressures are immense. But the costs of not making the sacrifice are far greater in the long run.