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Why do we add extra holiday-days outside of Israel?

by Rabbi Yossi Marcus

  

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Good question. For example, the Torah itself says that we should have seven days of Passover (and one Seder), so why do the people outside the Land of Israel have eight days of Passover (and two Seders)?

The answer is because the Jewish month follows the cycle of the moon: a 'new moon' means a new month. Ideally (and the way it was done for the first thousand years of Jewish history) to determine the new month witnesses came to the Sanhedrin and testified that they saw the 'new moon'. The Sanhedrin would then establish day so and so as Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the month.

Now, Jewish months can either be 29 or 30 days, depending on when the new moon of the next month is sighted. So if you were far away from Jerusalem, you would not know what day had been pronounced the first of the month. Consequently, you would not know which day the holidays started, and you might be one day off. So Jews outside of Israel celebrated two days of the festival instead of one, since one of the two days was certainly the right day.

Today, even though we have a set calendar (see When and why did the Jews switch to a perpetual calendar?) that tells us exactly when the holiday is, we still follow the old custom of our ancestors, who kept two days instead of one.1 That’s why we have eight days of Passover and two days of Shavuot etc.2 But in Israel where they never added an extra day, they don’t add it now either.3

From a Kabbalistic standpoint, it has been said that outside the Holyland we need an extra day of holiness to accomplish the spiritual objectives of the particular Holiday, whereas in the Holyland one day is enough.

Footnotes

  • 1. See first user comment below.
  • 2. In theory, Shavuot should be only one day even in the Diaspora, since it depends on the counting of the Omer, which begins on the second day of Pesach, and by this time the emissaries of the Sanhedrin would certainly have arrived at their destinations and would have confirmed the date of the new month. Nevertheless, the Sages ruled that since the other Festivals are celebrated for two days, no exception should be made for Shavuot.
  • 3. Aside for Rosh Hashanah, which is the first day of the month, and was/is celebrated as a two day Holiday even Israel.

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COMMENTS

Why is the extra day really needed today?

Posted by: Anonymous, Tel-Aviv, Israel on Mar 15, 2005

A simple question: why can no evolution/"modernization" in some of the mitzvot de'rabbanan be accepted like the extra day of a chag? Nowdays exist modern and efficient equipment in order to understand the beginning and the end of a month or when an chag exactly is to be kept.

Editor's Comment

As is the case in any legal system, laymen can't simply alter a law. In Judaism we need a proper Sanhedrin in order to enact changes in Halachah. No such Sanhedrin exists today. Furthermore, I don't know if any Sanhedrin would want to change that law, and here is why:

a. Millions of Jews, for hundreds of years, have celebrated this day as a holiday, and thereby imbued it with holiness. In Judaism we are constantly looking to increase holiness; not diminish it.

b. According to Kabbalah, the extra day is there not only for technical reasons. Rather, because of the decreased level of Divine revelation outside of Israel, it takes two days to absorb the holiday holiness.


Why is Rosh HaShanah two days even in Israel?

Posted by: Ariel, Canberra, ACT, Australia on Sep 15, 2005

And secondly, why is Yom Kippur only for 1 day in the Galut?

Editor's Comment

The Sages understood that it would be too difficult on the people to impose a two day fast.

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Holidays » Passover » About
Holidays » General Information » Holiday Information

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Passover
A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Sanhedrin
The Jewish Supreme Court. The court would convene in a designated chamber in the Holy Temple, and was comprised of 71 of the greatest scholars of the time. Continued after the destruction of the Temples, but was dissolved in the 5th century when due to Roman persecution the seat of Torah scholarship relocated from Israel to Babylon.
Rosh Chodesh
The "Head of the Month," Rosh Chodesh is observed the first day of every Jewish month. If the previous month had 30 days, then the last day of the previous month is also observed; hence a two-day Rosh Chodesh. Rosh Chodesh is a semi-holiday, marked by Torah-reading and special prayers.
Seder
Festive meal eaten on the first two nights of the holiday of Passover (In Israel, the Seder is observed only the first night of the holiday). Seder highlights include: reading the story of the Exodus, eating Matzah and bitter herbs, and drinking four cups of wine.
Kabbalistic
(adj.) Pertaining to Kabbalah—Jewish mysticism.
Shavuot
Early summer festival marking the day when the Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai in the year 2448 (1312 BCE).
Jerusalem
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.