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Yom Tov Sheni (1)

  • Rav David Brofsky

the laws of THE FESTIVALS


by Rav David Brofsky


Shiur #29: Yom Tov Sheni (1)





            This week, we will begin our study of the laws of Yom Tov Sheni. 


The first commandment given to the Jewish People was the mitzva of the sanctification of the new moon - “This month will be for you the first of the months” (Shemot 2:2). The Jewish calendar is based upon the lunar cycle.  Each month, the moon completes a cycle around the earth.  At the beginning of each month, the moon is slightly “visible,” growing larger and larger until the middle of the month, at which time the entire moon may be seen (a “full moon”), after which it slowly “disappears” throughout the rest of the month.  At end of each month, the moon completely “disappears” from our vision. A lunar month is between twenty nine to thirty days long.  Therefore, Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the next month, upon which the mussaf sacrifice is offered (and nowadays the mussaf prayer is recited), falls out on either the 30th or 31st day. 


The Talmud (Rosh Ha-Shana 21b–25b) describes how each month, witnesses who saw the new moon (the “molad”) would travel to the beit din in Jerusalem and testify that they saw the new moon.  Based upon their testimony, the beit din would declare that the new moon had been sighted, and proclaim the first day of that month “Rosh Chodesh.” By sanctifying the new month, beit din also indirectly determined the proper day of the festivals, such as Sukkot and Pesach, which fall out on the fifteenth day of their respective months. 


The mishna (Rosh Ha-Shana 22b) relates that after declaring the new month, beit din would light torches on the tops of mountains, thereby conveying the message from mountain top to mountain top all the way from the Land of Israel eastward, towards Babylonia. Most communities were informed of which day was declared to be Rosh Chodesh, and they were therefore able to properly determine the proper days upon which they should celebrate the festivals.  Apparently, those communities that did not learn when the new month began observed two days of Yom Tov out of doubt.


The mishna (ibid.), however, relates that a group of antagonistic residents of the Land of Israel known as the Kutim (Samaritans) purposely disrupted the system of lighting fires by lighting fires on the wrong days. The Yerushalmi (Rosh Ha-Shana 2:1) relates that R. Yehuda Ha-Nasi, discontinued the practice of using fires as a result. The Rabbis therefore had no choice but to send out messengers to inform the communities regarding the exact day of Rosh Chodesh. These messengers did not reach the communities on the Diaspora, and therefore these areas would observe two days of Yom Tov, as they did not know the proper day of the Festival.


Yom Tov Sheni Nowadays


Sometime during the later Amoraic period, the Jewish communities began to observe Rosh Chodesh and the Festivals based upon a fixed calendar.  The establishment of this calendar and its halakhic basis are the subject of great debate, both Rabbinic and academic, and lie far beyond the scope of this shiur. (For more information, see Rambam, Hilkhot Kiddush Ha-Chodesh 5:3; R. Avraham bar Chiyya’s Sefer Ha-Ibbur, citing R. Hai Gaon, who attributes the set calendar to Hillel in the year 358/9 CE; see also Sacha Stern, Community and Calendar: A History of the Jewish Calendar, Second Century BCE-Tenth Century CE [Oxford University Press, 2001]). After the establishment of the calendar, it became customary for communities outside of Israel to observe two days of Yom Tov, while those in Israel only observed one. 


The gemara  records that some began to question this practice:


Now that the calendar is fixed, what is the reason for which we observe two days of Yom Tov?

They send from there [from the Land of Israel to Babylonia]: Be careful in maintaining the custom of your forefathers, lest a foreign government issue a decree [thereby preventing knowledge of the Jewish calendar] and it will cause confusion [in ritual]. (Beitza 4b)


The gemara mentions two reasons for this practice: minhag avot (maintaining the custom of one’s forefathers) and kilkul (the fear that a government might issue a decree that would lead the community to forget the calendar and become confused regarding ritual). The Rishonim differ as to whether the primary reason to observe Yom Tov Sheni stems from the fear of kilkul or the desire to maintain the well established minhag of the Diaspora communities. Interestingly, the Yerushalmi (3:9) only mentions the minhag, and not the fear of a government issuing a decree. 


In addition, the Rishonim question whether to view the observance of Yom Tov Sheni as a minhag, an ancient custom (Rabbeinu Tam, Sefer Ha-Yashar, Chelek Ha-Chiddushim 537, cited by Tosafot, Sukka 44b, s.v. kan), or a formal Rabbinic enactment, a takana (Ritva, Rosh Ha-Shana 18a; Ran Sukka 22a, s.v. itmar). Some confusion surrounds the position of the Rambam (see Hilkhot Berakhot 11:16, Hilkhot Yom Tov 1:21 and 6:14, Hilkhot Talmud Torah 6:14, Hilkhot Kiddush Ha-Chodesh 5:6). This question is relevant to next week’s discussion regarding a resident of the Diaspora who travels to Israel for Yom Tov.


One might suggest that even in the Diaspora one should only observe one day of Shavuot, as the day of Shavuot is set by counting fifty days from the second day of Pesach, and one surely would have known the proper day of Pesach weeks after Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Some explain (see Ritva, Rosh Ha-Shana 18a), however, that the Rabbis did not wish to distinguish between the Festivals. 


Regarding Yom Kippur, the Ritva (ibid.) explains that we do not observe two days of Yom Kippur, especially after the establishment of the fixed calendar, as this would constitute an enactment that the majority of the community could not fulfill. 


Before the establishment of the set calendar, Rosh Ha-Shana was observed for two days even in the Land of Israel. Even if the beit din declared the thirtieth day of Elul to be Rosh Chodesh/Rosh Ha-Shana, the messengers were unable to inform anyone outside of the beit din, and everyone else therefore had to assume the Rosh Ha-Shana might not actually be until the next day; it was thus necessary to observe two days. 


There is a disagreement, however, as to whether the communities in Israel should continue to observe two days after the establishment of the calendar. 


R. Hai Gaon (939-1038, Teshuvot Ha-Geonim Musafiyah 1), responding to an inquiry from R. Nissim, acknowledges that the contemporary custom (11th century) of many in the Land of Israel was to observe one day of Rosh Ha-Shana, but he argues that they should return to the original custom of their forefathers and observe two days.  Similarly, Rabbeinu Chananel (990–1053) also implies that the residents of the Land of Israel should keep two days of Rosh Ha-Shana (Beitza 5b). The Rif (Beitza 3a), as well as the Rambam (Hilkhot Yom Tov 1:21, Hilkhot Kiddush Ha-Chodesh 5:8), concurs. 


The Rosh (Beitza 1:4) cites the Rif’s student, Rabbeinu Efraim, who disagreed, ruling that in the Land of Israel, one should observe only one day of Rosh Ha-Shana. R. Zarachya Ha-Levi agrees in his Ba’al Ha-Maor (Beitza 3a). He insists that the custom in Israel had always been to keep one day of Rosh Ha-Shana, as the above cited responsum from R. Hai Gaon implies, although the influence of Provencal scholars had brought about a change in that practice.  The Ramban (Milchamot Hashem, ibid.) defends the position of the Rif, and insists that although the custom in Israel was indeed to keep one day of Rosh Ha-Shana, this was a mistaken custom brought about by the long exile of the Jewish People. 


The current practice is in accordance with the Rif, and even in Israel all observe two days of Rosh Ha-Shana (Shulchan Arukh 601:2). 


Although the obligation to observe Yom Tov Sheni, as described above, is of Rabbinic origin, or possibly even a custom, the rabbis did not distinguish between the first and second day of Yom Tov in order to prevent people from not properly observing, or possibly demeaning, Yom Tov Sheni. Therefore, one recites the berakhot of Yom Tov, including Kiddush, Hadlakat Neirot, and the Yom Tov prayers, on Yom Tov Sheni (Shabbat 23a), despite the prohibition of reciting a blessing in vain. Furthermore, one does not lay tefillin on Yom Tov, thereby forgoing the fulfillment of a Biblical commandment in order to protect the integrity of the day. Finally, one who violates Yom Tov Sheni is punished, and even excommunicated, by the beit din (Pesachim 51a; Rambam, Hilkhot Yom Tov 1:22). 


There are, however, some differences between Yom Tov Rishon and Yom Tov Sheni. For example, one may violate a Rabbinic prohibition for a choleh she-ein bo sakkana, a sick person facing no mortal danger (Beitza 22a), on Yom Tov Sheini. This leniency does not apply to the second day of Rosh Ha-Shana, however.  Similarly, if a person died on Yom Tov Sheini, one may prepare him for burial, and even actually bury him (Beitza 6a).  Finally, if a relative is buried on Chol Ha-moed, the last day of the Festival, Yom Tov Sheni, is considered the first day of the seven days of mourning, due to its lower status (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De‘ah 399:2). 


Where is Yom Tov Sheni Observed?


            As described above, Yom Tov Sheni is observed outside of Israel, where the messengers sent by beit din did not reach. The gemara, however, does not clearly explicate how to determine which communities observe one day and which communities are to observe two. Which borders of Israel are relevant for a discussion of Yom Tov Sheni?


The Rambam writes:


When the Sanhedrin functioned and the calendar was established based on the sighting [of the moon], the inhabitants of the Land of Israel, and [similarly, the inhabitants of] all the places where the messengers of Tishrei would arrive, would celebrate the holidays for one day only.  The inhabitants of the distant places that were not reached by the messengers of Tishrei would celebrate two days because of the doubt involved.  For they did not know the day that the inhabitants of the Land of Israel established as [the beginning of] the new month


Thus, the principles governing this matter can be summarized as follows: Whenever the distance between Jerusalem and a particular place exceeds a ten-day journey, the inhabitants should observe [the holidays] for two days, as was their previous custom, for the messengers sent out for Tishrei [cannot be guaranteed] to reach places other than those within a ten-day journey from Jerusalem. 

[The following rules apply when, by contrast,] places are a ten-day journey or less from Jerusalem, and thus it is possible that the messengers could have reached them: We see whether that place is [located in the portions of] the Land of Israel that were inhabited by Jews during the time the calendar was established on the basis of the sighting [of the moon] during the second conquest [of the land] – for example, Usha, Shefaram, Luz, Yavne, Nov, Tiberias, and the like.  [The inhabitants of these places] should celebrate only one day. If the place is part of Syria – for example, Tyre, Damascus, Ashkelon, and the like – they should follow the custom of their ancestors. If [the custom was to celebrate] one day, [they should celebrate] one day.  [If the custom was] two days, [they should celebrate] two days.


When a place is located within a journey of ten days or less from Jerusalem, and it is part of Syria or the Diaspora, and [its inhabitants] have no [established] custom conveyed [from previous generations], they should celebrate two days, as is customary in the world at large.  [The same rules apply to] a city that was created in the desert Land of Israel, or a city first populated by Jews in the present era. (Hilkhot Kiddush Ha-Chodesh 5:4, 11-12)


            The Rambam clearly maintains that only places within a ten day journey of Jerusalem, which could have been reached by the messengers and which were actually inhabited during that time, may observe one day of Yom Tov.  Communities farther than a ten day journey from Jerusalem or new communities which did not exist in the time of the Talmud must observe two days. Based on this opinion, some suggest that even places within the Land of Israel, which were not inhabited during the time of the Talmud should observe two days of Yom Tov according to the Rambam (She’elat Ya’avetz 1:168; see Piskei Teshuvot 496:4, who cites those who questioned whether one should refrain from doing melakha on Yom Tov Sheni in Bnei Berak, and R. Yitzchak Ze’ev Soloveitchik, who was stringent regarding the new city of Jerusalem). 


            The Ritva (Rosh Ha-Shana 18a, Sukka 43a) disagrees and explains that when the Rabbis established the obligation to observe Yom Tov Sheni, they decided that since most of the communities in the Disapora generally observed two days, outside of Israel, all communities should observe two days.  Similarly, since most communities within the Land of Israel observed one day, all communities within Israel should observe one day. 


            Some question whether communities in the Southern Negev, including Eilat, should observe two days of Yom Tov. Eilat is further than a ten day journey from Jerusalem, and messengers were most likely not sent to Eilat, even according to the Ritva. Furthermore, it is questionable whether Eilat was conquered during the initial conquest of the Land of Israel and whether it should be viewed as part of “Israel” for this matter.


R. Yechiel Michel Tukachinsky (1874–1955), Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Etz Chayyim in Jerusalem and author of many books relating the halakhic observance in the Land and State of Israel, addressed this issue (Sefer Eretz Yisrael 7:4-5).  He describes how he sent this question to eighteen prominent rabbis in Israel. He writes that the majority responded that in Eilat, one may observe only one day (the others didn’t even respond!). He cites the former Chief Rabbis of Israel, R. Yitzchak Herzog and R. Benzion Uziel, as well as the Chazon Ish, who rules leniently. R. Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer 3:23) also deals extensively with this issue, and rules that one may observe only one day of Yom Tov in Eilat. Others (see Sefer Yom Tov Sheni Ke-Hilkahto, p. 172, who cites R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and R. Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv), however, believe that one it is truly a doubt whether one may observe one day of Yom Tov in Eilat, and therefore one should be stringent on the second day and refrain from melakhot.  The custom is in accordance with the lenient position. 


Next week we will discuss the common question of one who travels from the Diaspora to Israel, or the opposite, for Yom Tov.