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It’s Over…or Is It???

Sunday, 27 April 2008

The Frummies survived another Pesach and are as pleased as corn-syrup-based punch!

“But wait!” you shout, “Today is the 8th day!”

Or is it??

If you observe 8 days of Pesach, then indeed today is the 8th day. But for those who observe 7 days, today is the day after the 7th day.

And no, that is not the same thing.

Why all the confusion? A simple question (“How long is Passover?”) should have a simple answer. But few things are that simple.

Let’s return to where it all started. As it says in the Good Book:

These are the set times of the Eternal, the sacred occasions, which you shall celebrate each at its appointed time: In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, there shall be a passover offereing to the Eternal, and on the fifteenth day of that month the Eternal’s Fest of Unleavened Bread. You shall eat unleavened break for seven days. The first day shall be for you a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations. Seven days you shall make offerings by fire to the Eternal. The seventh day shall be a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations. (Lev. 23:4 -8 )

Nowhere in the Torah does God mention 8 days. As far as Jewish law is concerned, Jews who are permanent residents of Israel, regardless of their affiliation, observe Pesach for seven days. This is true of even the most stringent.

So, if seven days was good enough for God, where does the idea of eight days arise?

In ancient times, our people were not working from a firmly fixed caledar. The beginning of each month was determined by witnesses actually sighting the first sliver of the new moon. Once the new month was declared, word had to get out to the entire country. As Israel is not a large place, communication could be handled simply by bonfires. After some tricksters built some ersatz bonfires, authorized runners were used to take news of the new month from town to town.

Once we were exiled from our Homeland, calendar issues got a little trickier given that we did not have access to today’s means of instantaneous communication. Getting the message to Jews living outside of Israel was difficult. The lunar cycle takes either 29 or 30 days to complete its cycle. In order to make certain that Diaspora Jews would be no more than one day off, the Rabbis decided to add an additional day to the holidays. This is a good example of how the Rabbis made Jewish life livable in the Diaspora so that we could remain true to our customs and beliefs.

With our modern technology and tremendous astronomical knowledge, we are now able to predict the moon’s cycles in advance. However, the custom of adding the extra day to the festivals (known as Yom Tov Sheni shel Galuyot) has become a powerful tradition.

The Reform Movement, during the nineteenth century, sought to emphasize the basics and eliminate redundancies in Jewish practice. This extra day of the holidays was a good example of such a redundancy. Since the Torah commands a seven day observance of Pesach, and we know which day is which, it made good sense to drop the added (and not Biblically-ordained) eighth day.

What about contemporary Reform practice? The official position of Reform is to observe Pesach for seven days, as the Torah dictates. Individual Reform Jews, if they are accustomed to observing eight days for this festival, are–of course–free to do so. This practice binds us closer to both the original Biblical practice as well as to ALL Jews living in Israel. (The one exception being Jews come from a 8-day tradition and then make aliyah.)

So fro Reform Jews around the world and the Jewish community in Israel, this past Friday evening was the Eve of the Seventh Day of Pesach. Just prior to Shabbos, yahrzeit candles were lit to remember loved ones no longer with us. The special service included not just the Shabbat liturgy but the sections for the concluding Festive Day of Pesach. We joyously sang Hallel–the psalms of praise and said Yizkor, remembering our dear ones. In our shul, all memorial lights are light when Yizkor is said and so the sanctuary was especially bright.

And one hour after sundown last night, Pesach 5768 came to an end. Even with the national matzah shortage, we ended up with some unopened boxes of matzah. Beernut had matzah for breakfast “’cause I really like it.”

But for the rest of you, take a look for some interesting ideas:

So for those of you still observing Pesach, “Moadim L’simcha!” And for the rest of us…the Countdown to Sinai has begun!!!

*thanks to DadGiraffe for providing the basis for this post.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Sunday, 27 April 2008 6:23 pm

    very well-put. i’m in constant explanation to people as to how many days long pesach is and when does it (ever) end!? i was planning to make matzah brie one more time for breakfast on saturday and it turned out that we were mostly out of matzah…but then at dinner tonight my MIL offered an unopened box of egg matzah, no less, so i think i promised to make the delish dish for brekkie tomorrow. oh well, it never really keeps from year to year….

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