New York - Halachic Musings: Yom Tov Sheini And Why Yom Kippur Doesn’t Have One

Published on: September 12th, 2013 at 01:20 PM

New York - Although my good friend Moshe moved from Eretz Yisrael to America several years ago, nevertheless, he (as do many others) enjoys returning for Yom Tov, especially Sukkos, Sukkos in Eretz Yisrael is a special treat, with sukkos everywhere one looks and usually just the right weather to be mekayem ‘teishvu k’eyn taduru’ properly. “There is nothing quite like celebrating Sukkos in Eretz Yisrael”, he is wont to say. Yet, living in Chutz La’aretz, he still cannot get over observing what should presumably be a one day Yom Tov for two days. With a record number of ‘Three Day Yom Tovs’ (Two days of Yom Tov immediately followed by Shabbos) in a row, this year his dilemma is easily understandable. Why should a Biblical holiday that is explicitly mentioned as a one day Yom Tov be celebrated for two?

Historical Halacha

To properly understand this, some Jewish History is in order, dating back several millennia. As long as the Sanhedrin in Eretz Yisrael established the New Month (Rosh Chodesh) based on eyewitnesses, far away places where Jews resided that did not receive messengers in time to tell them when the Rosh Chodesh was declared, would keep two days of Yom Tov instead of one. This was due to the uncertainty of which day Rosh Chodesh truly was and consequently when the Yomim Tovim actually fell out. This was done in order to ensure that no one should unwittingly transgress any Biblical prohibitions. [See Rambam Hilchos Kiddush HaChodesh (Ch. 3, 11 & Ch. 5, 4).]

Later, when much calendar confusion reigned due to the subversive efforts of the Kutim (as detailed in Mishnayos Rosh Hashana Ch. 2, Mishna 2), Chazal decreed that in Chutz La’aretz (the Diaspora), “Yom Tov Sheini”, or a two-day Yom Tov, instead of the Biblically mandated one day, must be observed. Rav Hai Gaon maintained that this Takana actually dates to the times of Yechezkel and Daniel, and possibly even Yehoshua bin Nun, while Rav Saadiah Gaon held it was halacha l’Moshe M’Sinai!

“Fine”, Moshe might respond, “but that was before we had a set calendar. Nowadays is there any reason to observe two days of Yom Tov?”

Not a recent difficulty, the Gemara itself (Beitzah 4b) actually asks this most common question regarding “Yom Tov Sheini”: ‘But now that we have a set calendar and we know in advance when Rosh Chodesh will be, why must we still observe a “two-day Yom Tov”?’ The Gemara answers that in the times of Rabbi Elazar ben Pedas a message was sent from the Rabbanim of Eretz Yisrael to the Diaspora: “Hizharu B’Minhag Avoseichem B’Yadeichem”, ‘You should still be vigilant with the custom of your forefathers that has been handed down to you (meaning that they must still keep “Yom Tov Sheini”) because there might be times when the local government will issue a decree and it will cause confusion”.

This is not the only time that such a communiqué was sent from Eretz Yisrael to Chutz La’aretz mandating them to keep ‘Yom Tov Sheini’. In fact, the Yerushalmi (Eruvin Ch. 3, end Halacha 9) records a similar occurrence, that after Chazal found out about an incident in Alexandria, Rabbi Yosi (bar Zavda) sent out a message that even though there was a set calendar (‘shekasvu lachem sidrei Moados’), still, “al tishnu Minhag Avoseichem”, “Do not deviate an iota from the custom set by your forefathers”, and observe ‘Yom Tov Sheini’. Chazal were extremely strict with this Takana and even put someone in Cherem (excommunication) for violating this decree (see Gemara Pesachim 52a).

The outcome of this has long since become a famous dichotomy: in Eretz Yisrael where there never was a safek yom or “day in doubt”, since messengers would always be able to reach every community throughout Eretz Yisrael in time for Yom Tov, only one day of Yom Tov is celebrated, exactly as it is written in the Torah, while in Chutz La’aretz each day of Yom Tov of the Shalosh Regalim – Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos, has long since become a “two-day Yom Tov”.

Yomim Noraim

“OK, but even in Eretz Yisrael, Rosh Hashana is observed by all as a Two Day Yom Tov. How can that be explained?”

Truthfully, this is based on a Machlokes Rishonim, how to understand Rava’s statement in Gemara Beitzah 5b regarding when witnesses for the New Moon would come to Beis Din late in the day, that the Sanhedrin would establish both days as Yom Tov.

This majority opinion of the Rishonim is codified as halacha in Shulchan Aruch, since it proves that already during the times of the Beis HaMikdash Rosh Hashana was sometimes observed as a two day Yom Tov. In fact, the two day Yom Tov of Rosh Hashana is mentioned in the Mishna (Menachos Ch. 11, 9) and was known to have already been observed in the times of Ezra HaSofer (see Nechemia Ch. 8, verse 13, and commentaries ad loc.). The Yerushalmi (end of the first Perek of Eruvin) effectively dates this Takana back to the times of the Neviim Rishonim! Therefore, there is quite a historical precedent to keep Rosh Hashana for two days, even in Eretz Yisrael.

One Long Day…

An interesting outcome of this is that since Rosh Hashana was established by Takana, and not due to safek Yom (as the rest of the ‘Yom Tov Sheinis’ originally were), the second day actually shares first day Yom Tov status (referred to as Kedusha achas hein or yoma arichta) and generally is excluded from the standard Yom Tov Sheini dispensations listed in Orach Chaim 496.

Two Day Fast?

“One last question: If it is accepted universally that Rosh Hashana is a two day Yom Tov, and the Shalosh Regalim as well in Chutz La’aretz, shouldn’t Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, deserve one as well?”

Although the Tur does state that ‘Chassidim and Anshei Ma’aseh’ would keep two days of Yom Kippur, nevertheless, the halachic consensus is that it is preferable not to; one of the main reasons being the sakana (danger) involved in undertaking a two day straight fast (based on the Yerushalmi in Maseches Challah Ch. 1). These poskim explain that nowadays the calendar is set and there truly is no more safek yom, yet the reason we are still stringent with ‘Yom Tov Sheini’ is solely due to Minhag Avoseinu and the Takana involved. However, historically, there never was a Takana or minhag regarding keeping a two day Yom Kippur due to the potential Sakana. Therefore, there would be no reason to observe a two day fast in our day and age.

Although there is a famous contemporary precedent of those keeping Yom Kippur for two days during World War II, when the Mir Yeshiva, thanks to the efforts (and visas) of Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, managed to escape the Nazis by fleeing eastward and were ‘shanghaied’ in Kobe, Japan (and later in Shanghai itself), this was due to the safek yom from the International Date Line, and not the standard safek yom referred to in this article.

However, and just in case one wants to include himself in the aforementioned Anshei Ma’aseh category, and observing two days of Yom Kippur sounds just fine to him, he should be forewarned that before he decides to take on such an undertaking without any other mitigating circumstance, he should realize that he would be halachically beholden to keep a two day Yom Kippur for the rest of his life! Not a simple feat!

In conclusion, we should realize that ‘Yom Tov Sheini’ is not simply a chumra, but rather halacha, established millennia ago by our great leaders. Although those living in Eretz Yisrael are largely exempt from its observance (aside for Rosh Hashana), the rest of us of us in Chutz La’aretz receive a special gift thrice annually: meriting tasting ‘Yom Tov Sheini’s extra kedusha.

For any questions, comments or for the full Mareh Mekomos/sources, please email the author:  .

Rabbi Yehuda Spitz serves as the Sho’el U’ Meishiv and Rosh Chabura of the Ohr Lagolah Halacha Kollel at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim.

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