It's time to slim down Yomtov

The diaspora should fall in line with Israel when it comes to two day festivals, says Angela Epstein

September 14, 2017 14:54

You can see it in the expression on their faces. Hovering between haunted and hysterical it combines pain, panic and the grinding weariness of dread anticipation. As Coronation Street’s Bet Lynch once sagely remarked when asked how she managed to maintain a dazzling smile in the face of life’s hardship: “It’s not a smile, cocker, it’s the lid on a scream.”

But hey, that’s what three days Yomtov does to a girl (I’ve yet to spot a single Jewish bloke by the chill cabinet in the local deli, raking his hair in despair over three days of menu planning).

This year, 5778, our High Holy Days fall on a Thursday and Friday, which for the observant adds up — with Shabbat tagged on the end — to a three day whammy.

And what a whammy it is.

First there’s the preparation — stacking the larder and cramming the freezer with enough food to sustain body and repenting soul. Little wonder, as I battle pre-yomtov insomnia, I’ve tried counting chicken pulkes rather than sheep.

Then there’s shul. Hours of shul.

Personally, I actually like the Rosh Hashanah service. Its contemplative text, its soulful melody. But after one day I feel that to go back to shul the following day, rather like second night seder, diminishes the impact.

And though not wishing to conflate matters of the soul with matters of the stomach, let’s not forget the eating. That’s eating, eating and more eating as well as those long hours beached on the sofa managing the after effects of eating, eating and eating.

And if you have an, ahem, tricky relative staying with you for the duration… well let’s just say on a scale of sweetness, we’re not talking apple and honey here.

Of course in Israel it’s all very different. Save for Rosh Hashanah, where they observe two days, the other foot festivals only comprise one day. So once the New Year triple has been cleared, there’s no repeated three day lock-in at the beginning and end of Succot.

With this in mind it’s surely time for parity to exist. Let’s address the inequity of Jewish practice, so the diaspora can fall in line with the Holy Land and Jews everywhere unite in their observance of just one day of yomtov.

This isn’t about reforming religion. In fact as someone who identifies as Modern Orthodox, I don’t believe we should water down Judaism in terms of its physical practice.

After all, it’s the only way we can ensure our religion is gifted from generation to generation without disturbing its integrity.

It’s one reason why I struggle with the concept of Reform Judaism, since I believe the more you reform, the more you dilute. But that’s an argument for another day (hard hat at the ready!).

Swapping from two days to one is quite different since in Israel holy men — rabbis! — keep one day. If it’s good enough for them why can’t it be good enough for we Jews in the diaspora too?

The fundamental argument — that the diaspora observe two days, because of ancient confusions about the correct day to celebrate — no longer holds, thanks to global communications and a fixed calendar. I’m sure there are tracts of text which source greater reasons but to me, this is the most compelling.

Having any kind of inequity can surely only breed resentment and dissatisfaction.

I’ve witnessed it myself when holidaying in Israel during Succot or Pesach. While observant locals go about their business on the second days of Yomtov, religious holiday makers sweat in their Shabbat best . Little boys in crisp white shirts look longingly at the pool or creep into the shade for relief from the burning sun.

Do you really have to shell out for a nice pad in Poleg or do three stints a year at the David Intercontinental in order to qualify for the right to swap shul for a sunbed?

Judaism never offers easy options and for the most part, I embrace those restrictions with a sense of pride. Mixing meat and milk — wouldn’t dream of it. No phone for 25 hours on Shabbat — bring it on, it’s a blessed relief. It’s the toil and challenge of many of our laws which remind us of who we are and which consolidate our Jewish identity.

But with so much that divides rather than unites us, perhaps it is time to bring us all — at least for a few days a year, under one roof.

Let us stand in unity of prayer and observance. And if it means one less day of eating our body weight in kugel then surely it can only be a good thing too.

September 14, 2017 14:54

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