Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 14 September 2013 / 10 Tishri 5774

Rosh Hashana: The Universal Two-Day Yom Tov

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
(and Why Yom Kippur is not)
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

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. “There is nothing quite like celebrating Yom Tov in Eretz Yisrael”, he is wont to say. Yet, living in Chutz La’aretz, he still cannot get over observing what should ostensibly 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, Jews in far away places, 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[1]. 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[2]. 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”[3].

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 records a similar occurrence[4], 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 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[5], 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. The Rifmaintains that this means that even Bnei Eretz Yisrael are mandated to observe Rosh Hashana (which coincides with Rosh Chodesh, as it is the first of the month of Tishrei) as a two-day Yom Tov in those cases. However, Rabbeinu Efraim and the Ba’al HaMaor vehemently disagree, discounting this logic, and maintaining that Rosh Hashana was always observed as one day in Eretz Yisrael. Yet, most other Rishonim, including the Ramban and Rosh ardently defend the Rif’s conclusion, and maintain that even in Eretz Yisrael Rosh Hashana was observed as a two-day Yom Tov. This is also the conclusion of the Rashba (albeit for different reasons than the Rif), Rambam, and Sefer HaChinuch.

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[6].

One Long Day…

However, there are practical Halachic differences between a standard ‘Yom Tov Sheini’ and the second day of Rosh Hashana, though. Rabbi Yechiel Michel Tukachinsky in his classic Ir HaKodesh V’HaMikdash elucidates this issue at length. He clarifies that although certainly in the city of Yerushalayim it would have been known when the Sanhedrin would have established the New Month and Year, he concludes that the two- day Yom Tov regarding Rosh Hashana that applies universally was not due to the safek Yom, but rather was an actual Takanas Sanhedrin from when the Bais HaMikdash was still standing [as explained by the Rambam and Sefer HaChinuch; as mentioned previously, the Yerushalmi dates this Takana to the times of the Neviim Rishonim], and is therefore as binding as if it were given at Har Sinai, and even in Yerushalayim[7]. 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[8].

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)[9]. 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[10], 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[11]! 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 of us living in Eretz Yisrael are largely exempt from its observance, we fortunately merit tasting its extra kedusha at least once a year: on Rosh Hashana!



[1]See Rambam Hilchos Kiddush HaChodesh (Ch.3, 11 & Ch.5, 4).

[2]See Gemaras Beitzah 4b and Rosh Hashana 21a (and commentaries), Yerushalmi Rosh Hashana (Ch. 2, Halacha 1), Shu”t HaGaonim Lik (1, which cites Rav Hai Gaon and other Gaonim explaining that this Takana actually dates to the times of Yechezkel and Daniel, and possibly even Yehoshua bin Nun, [Rav Saadiah Gaon held it was halacha l’Moshe M’Sinai!]; referenced in Sha’ar HaTziyun 496, 1), Rambam (Hilchos Kiddush HaChodesh Ch. 5, 6), Sefer HaChinuch (Parshas Emor, Mitzva 301; and Minchas Chinuch ad loc.), Tur and Shulchan Aruch and main commentaries to Orach Chaim 496, Magen V’Tzina (pg. 7b), Kuzari HaSheini (Matteh Dan, pp. 83 & 241), Mahari”tz Chiyus (Darchei Hora’ah ppg. 7 - 8), Tiferes Yisrael (Mishnayos Ediyos Ch. 1, Mishna 6, 35), Rav Yisrael Moshe Chazzan’s ‘Kedushas Yom Tov’, Shu”t Yad Eliezer (131), Shu”t Shaar Asher (Orach Chaim 8), Sdei Chemed (vol. 6, Ma’areches Yom Tov 2, 8), Chazon Ish (Moed, Hilchos Yom Tov, Orach Chaim 130), Rav Yechiel Michel Tukachinsky’s Ir HaKodesh V’HaMikdash (Vol. 3, Chapters 18 & 19), and the forward to Rabbi Yerachmiel Dovid Fried’s classic sefer Yom Tov Sheini K’Hilchaso at length. See also Meshech Chochma (Parshas Bo, Beginning of Ch. 12, s.v. uvazeh) who offers a compelling reason why ‘Yom Tov Sheini’ still applies nowadays - ‘gezeira shema yivneh Bais HaMikdash’.

[3]Rashi (ad loc. s.v. d’gazri) clarifies that this is referring to calendar confusion. He explains that the government will decree against learning Torah and the ‘sod haIbur’ (the principle of the intercalation of the New Month) will be forgotten, and if they revert to keeping one day of Yom Tov, they might establish a ‘Chasar’ month as a ‘Malei’ or vice versa, and Klal Yisrael will possibly (Chas V’Shalom) end up eating Chametz on Pesach. Although the Gemara does not specify which Amora sent this message, nor to which community in Chutz La’aretz it was sent, nevertheless, the Gemara’s unique choice of phraseology “shalchu mesum”, clues us in that it denotes a message sent by Rabbi Elazar ben Pedas, as explained in Gemara Sanhedrin (17b) and Rashi’s commentary to Gemara Shabbos (19b s.v. R’ Elazar). See Ir HaKodesh V’HaMikdash (Vol. 3, Chapter 19, 1). [Interestingly, the Meiri (Beis HaBechira on Sanhedrin ad loc.) has a different Girsa in the Gemara; he quotes the expression “shalchu mesum” as indicating a missive from Rabbi Yirmiya!]

[4]Yerushalmi (Eruvin Ch. 3, end Halacha 9; see also Korban HaEida ad loc.).

[5]See Rava’s statement (Beitzah 5b) regarding the aftermath of Rav Yochanon ben Zakkai’s Takana that testimony of the New Moon was accepted all day, that when Eidim would come later in the day, “min haMincha u’lemaaleh”, the Sanhedrin would establish both days as Yom Tov. The Rif(Beitzah 3a in his folios) is medayek from this that even Bnei Eretz Yisrael are mandated to observe Rosh Hashana as a two day Yom Tov. However, Rabbeinu Efraim (cited by the Ran ad loc. s.v. v’kasav) and the Ba’al HaMaor (Meor HaKattan ad loc. 2b s.v. v’haRif) vehemently disagree, discounting this logic, and maintaining that Rosh Hashana was always observed as one day in Eretz Yisrael. Yet, the Ramban (Milchemos Hashem ad loc. 2b s.v v’od v’harav) and Rosh (Beitzah Ch. 1, 4) ardently defend the Rif’s conclusion, and maintain that even in Eretz Yisrael Rosh Hashana is observed as a two day Yom Tov. This is also the conclusion of the Rashba (Beitzah 5b; albeit for different reasons than the Rif), Rambam (Hilchos Kiddush HaChodesh Ch. 5, 12 and Hilchos Yom Tov Ch. 1, 1 & 24) and Sefer HaChinuch (Parshas Emor, Mitzva 301, end 2).

[6]This majority opinion of the Rishonim (see last footnote) is codified as halacha in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 601, 2), since even during the times of the Beis HaMikdash Rosh Hashana was sometimes observed as a two day Yom Tov [see Beis Yosef (ad loc. s.v. v’kasav), Magen Avraham (ad loc. 1), Chayei Adam (vol. 2, 139, 14), Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chaim 600, 1 & 2), and Mishna Berura (601, 3)]. 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, 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!

[7]See Rabbi Yechiel Michel Tukachinsky’s Ir HaKodesh V’HaMikdash (Vol. 3, Chapter 18, 5, ppg. 236 - 238) who deals with this issue at length. Although certainly in the city of Yerushalayim it would have been known when the Sanhedrin would have established the New Month and Year, he concludes that the two day Yom Tov regarding Rosh Hashana that applies universally was not due to the safek Yom, but rather was an actual Takanas Sanhedrin from when the Bais HaMikdash was still standing [see also Rambam (Hilchos Kiddush HaChodesh Ch. 5, 12 and Hilchos Yom Tov Ch. 1, 24) and Sefer HaChinuch (Parshas Emor, Mitzva 301, end 2); as mentioned previously, the Yerushalmi (end of the first Perek of Eruvin) dates this Takana to the times of the Neviim Rishonim], and is therefore as binding as if it was given at Har Sinai, and even in Yerushalayim.

[8]See Rambam (Hilchos Yom Tov Ch. 1, 24), Tur (Orach Chaim 503, 1 and 600, 1), Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 513, 5 and 515, 1), Chayei Adam (vol. 2, 139, 14), Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (99, 2, inthe parenthesis), Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chaim 600; at length), and Kaf Hachaim (Orach Chaim 503, 10 and 600, 1). For more on the status and parameters of Rosh Hashana as a two day Yom Tov see Minchas Chinuch (Parshas Emor, Mitzva 301, 5 s.v. chutz), Shu”t Sho’el U’Meishiv (Mahadura Tinyana vol. 2, 85), Chazon Ish (Moed - Orach Chaim 130 & 131), Shalom Yehuda (Vol. 1, Moed, 1), Ir HaKodesh V’HaMikdash (Vol. 3, Chapter 18), Kaf Hachaim (Orach Chaim 601, 5; who cites several Kabbalistic reasons) and Yom Tov Sheini K’Hilchaso (Miluim 6).

[9]Tur (Orach Chaim 624). The poskim who rule that it is preferable to keep only one day of Yom Kippur include the Ohr Zarua (vol. 2, 281), Bais Yosef (Orach Chaim 624), Rema (ad loc. 5), Bach (ad loc.), Magen Avraham (ad loc. end 7), Biur HaGr”a (ad loc. s.v. v’ain linhog), Chasam Sofer (Haghos ad loc.), Chayei Adam (vol. 2, 145, 43), Hisorerus Teshuva (Shu”t vol. 1, 190), Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chaim 624, 5), and Mishna Berura (ad loc. 17).

[10]See the Star-K’s excellent sikum of the potential issues, shittos, and boundaries of the International date line here: ‘A Traveler’s Guide To The International Dateline’ by Rabbi Dovid Heber: http://www.star-k.org/kashrus/kk-trav-dateline.htm.

[11]See Orach Chaim 624; Tur and Shulchan Aruch and related commentaries ad loc.


Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.


L'iluy Nishmas the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga, Rav Yaakov Yeshaya ben R' Boruch Yehuda, and l'zchus for Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam and her children for a yeshua teikef u'miyad!

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