In Which the Army Makes an Unnecessary Accommodation

RAMAT GAN, ISRAEL - APRIL 14:  An orang-utan m...
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Last year before Pesach (Passover), I was chatting with an Orthodox American friend via the internet. “Do you make only one seder?” she asked.

The question surprised me.  I think she was confused because in the US, the Reform observe one day of Yom Tov while Orthodox and Conservative Jews (at least in theory) observe two. (See note below for a more detailed explanation.)

In Israel, practically the only people who observe two days of Yom Tov are tourists or those studying here for the year. And an increasing number observe the second day partially or ignore it completely, with rabbinic approval. I explained to my friend, “Even the Neturei Karta (the most extreme of the Orthodox groups) observe only one day of Yom Tov in Israel.”

My son is serving in a hesder unit, where he combines religious study with army service. Everyone in his unit is religiously observant. But the officers aren’t, which led to an amusing incident.

A large number of his fellow soldiers are American-born. They either made aliyah with their parents, like my son did as a baby, or serve as lone soldiers. When the soldiers were let out the day before the Passover seder, their officer instructed the unit to return to base Tuesday evening after the the first day of Yom Tov. But he gave a permit to the Americans—at least the ones who were obviously immigrants or lone soldiers, as my son wasn’t included—to come back Wednesday evening. The soldiers were mystified but in the army, you don’t ask questions.

The last day of Passover falls on Sunday evening/Monday, and since it is so soon after Shabbat soldiers receive leave for both together (or neither). When the officer released them Friday morning, one of the American soldiers asked whether they would be getting another permit to return a day late, on Tuesday. The officer didn’t understand the question. “You know why you got that permit, don’t you? Yom tov sheini shel galuyot.” *

The soldiers didn’t have the nerve to explain the officer’s mistake. But everyone in that unit, including lone soldiers, celebrated just one Seder and will be eating chametz this Tuesday like the rest of the country. Even the orangutans.

Note: Outside of Israel the days known as Yom Tov include the first two and last two days of the week-long holiday of Passover, two days of Shavuot (Pentecost) the first two days of the week-long holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles), and two days of Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah (Festival of the Rejoicing of the Torah) immediately following. In Israel we observe only one day of Yom Tov at a time, as described in the Torah.  So we have one Passover seder and one day less of Passover and Shavuot. Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah observances is combined into one day. Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), also a Yom Tov, is observed for two days by Orthodox Jews everywhere. The reason for the extra days has to do with possible confusion about their correct dates in ancient times.

There are two grades of observance during Pesach and Sukkot: The days of Yom Tov (lit. good day) at the beginning and end of the holiday involve  restrictions including driving and operating electrical applicances. The intermediate days (except for Shabbat) are more like weekdays except for a few minor restrictions and the central observance of the holiday (matzah on Pesach and eating in the sukkah on Sukkot).

*The second day of the festival, observed in the diaspora.


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  1. “And an increasing number observe the second day partially or ignore it completely, with rabbinic approval”

    when i was in yeshivah the rosh yeshivah said one or 2 days are both acceptable (but not a day and half). 14 out of the 15 americans held 1 day. when i tell people this they look at me like i’m crazy (or a heretic).

  2. was your son serving in eilat or another area concerning which there is a safek?

  3. interesting post, hannah. my parents have been in the states for a long, long time and indeed still just do one seder. our american friends: mystified! hooray for upcoming bread! 🙂

  4. I’m confused–the commander thought the 2 days were only necessary at the beginning but not for shvii/acharon?

    As for keeping 1/1.5/2 days–it really depends on whom you ask. I believe one and a half days is closely associated with poskim coming out of Gush Etzion…the one time we spent the second half of pesach in Israel that was what our rabbi (Gush/YU) told us to do. It’s actually kind of a rough go.

  5. LOZ: I’ve heard about some Modern Orthodox rabbis advising their congregants to keep one day.
    Kate: Yes. As to the second part of your post, could be. Although when I was here after high school I was told to keep 1.5, and I don’t think that there was Gush influence in that case.
    Someone told me that a guest who considered coming to her for the last day of Pesach wanted more than a kosher for Passover meal on the eighth day but also expected a Yom Tov atmosphere. Too much of an imposition, in my opinion. The meals are not really a big problem.

  6. Frankly I’m shocked their commander had ever heard of diaspora Jews keeping a second day. Most Israelis in my experience – even Orthodox ones – have never come across it and don’t know anything about it.