Give us back a second day
Wpainful as my husband is also selfemployed. During the chagim, we cannot generate any new business for the following months either. Every moment is spent serving current clients. Following a tense chagim, we spent this week catching up. Not that it’s any better for employees of non-Jewish firms, who have to justify their absence to sceptical bosses, lose annual leave, and handle a full month’s work in just three weeks. Over yomtov, there seemed to be one common, whispered fantasy in the shul pews: that some brave Orthodox rabbi would have the guts to cancel secondday yomtov, the additional day of festival kept only in the diaspora at the beginning and end of Succot, Pesach and on Shavuot. This would add a precious two days of normality back into our autumn calendar.
The case is clear. The ‘‘second day’’ was instituted in Temple times because — to simplify — there was potential confusion over the correct dates of the festivals in the Babylonian diaspora.
The rabbis hedged their bets, celebrating on two consecutive days. Nowadays, when our calendar is set, the original reason for the second day has disappeared.
Yes, there is tradition. And some people do enjoy the extended celebrations. But the financial toll seems untenable for the average worker in today’s high-pressure, “always-on” workplace, particularly when the cost of Jewish living is already punishing.
Over the long-term, I believe the second day is doomed.
First, people are voting with their feet. Second-day yomtov is considerably quieter in most United Synagogues than first day. Many absentees — traditional but not fully observant — are discreetly going back to work.
A large percentage of the more observant crowd has been to Israel over the chagim and, falling in with local tradition, happily kept just one day.
This was extremely rare just 15 years ago, showing just how fast halachic practice (and our ‘‘normative United Synagogue approach’’) can change, and highlighting the strangeness and burden of the entire diaspora tradition.
Due to a calendar quirk, for the next four years all the chagim fall on weekdays — as they have since 2010.
Professor Alan Brill has speculated that the Reform decision to cancel Second Day at the Breslau conference of 1846 was related to the fact they had undergone a similar weekday-heavy festival cycle.
So far, no Orthodox rabbi has dared follow suit — although there has been pressure to do so on this isle since 1868, when Numa Hartog publicly challenged Chief Rabbi Adler on the issue. Almost 150 years later, perhaps it is finally time to re-examine this unnecessary, and problematic, custom.
It’s time to re-examine this quite unnecessary custom