Ask the Rabbi: An American in Israel

Ask the Rabbi An Americ

Q. Should an American visiting Israel observe the Diaspora's second festival day? With the developments of modern transportation, the sight of tourists in Israel marking a second day of the festivals has become a common, sometimes comedic, phenomenon. Witness, for example, the post-Simhat Torah festivities (hakafot shniyot) in Jerusalem's Liberty Bell Park, where foreigners dressed in suits dance with Torah scrolls while the natives play musical instruments and snap photographs. As we saw last week, the Talmud ordains that Diaspora Jews must "heed the customs of their ancestors" and observe a second day of the festival. Based on this denotation of the second day as a "custom" (Hilchot Yom Tov 6:14), many scholars asserted that holiday travelers should follow the established rules governing all visitors to places with differing practices. The Sages were wary of tourists quickly dropping their hometown customs, but also of their creating dissonance by introducing different practices into well-established communities. They asserted that a visitor must observe the stringencies of both his hometown customs and local practices (Pesahim 51b). When possible, he should observe his own customs privately, lest it cause rifts with the locals, but if that is not feasible, he should abstain from following his personal practices (MB 468:14). When, however, tourists travel to a place in which there is no established community ("midbar," meaning a desert, but also a place devoid of religion), they may unabashedly maintain their personal practices. Based on this logic, Rabbi Yosef Karo (16th century, Safed) contended that foreigners visiting Israel (Avkat Rochel 26), or Israelis travelling in the Diaspora (OC 496:3), must act stringently regarding the appropriate customs. As such, an Israeli visiting an established Jewish community must refrain from publicly performing any forbidden activities (melacha) and should dress appropriately for the holiday (MB 496:13). One exception might be a tropical island containing Pessah resort hotels, where no established communal practice exists. Accordingly, an Israeli should be allowed to perform melacha in private, and a minority of decisors did indeed rule this way (Turei Zahav 496:2). The majority of scholars, however, forbid it entirely, either because these activities were deemed impossible to hide, or because the entire Diaspora's universal acceptance of the second-day festival rendered it a "super-custom" from which one could not divert even slightly (Aruch Hashulhan 496:4). An Israeli should, however, privately recite prayers and, when appropriate, don tefillin. Similarly a foreigner visiting Israel should refrain from donning tefillin and performing any activity forbidden on festivals, while privately reciting an additional day of festival prayers (MB 496:13). The earliest sources, however, testify that foreigners regularly formed public minyanim (Kaf Hahaim 496:38), and this remains the contemporary practice, especially in hotels dedicated to serving foreigners. Determining the status of long-term travelers has proven difficult throughout the centuries. In earlier generations, Jews moving with their families, even if they intended to return shortly to their native land, lost their old "citizenship" since their new activities established a domicile for them (Responsa of the Radbaz No. 1073). Transportation improvements have made these determinations more complicated, with decisors debating the status of extended stays for diplomatic, professional and educational purposes. Rabbi Tzvi Ashkenazi (d. 1718) challenged this model, arguing that the paradigm of customs was inappropriate here since every stringency (e.g., not performing work) came with significant cost (e.g., not fulfilling the biblical commandment of tefillin), and possibly violated the Torah's prohibition of augmenting or detracting from the mitzva corpus (Hacham Tzvi 167). His claim that one's current location determines festival observances was later enhanced by Jerusalem's chief Rabbi Shmuel Salant (d. 1909), who noted that before the calendar was fixed, ancient Diaspora pilgrims visiting Jerusalem would follow local custom. As such, when the Talmud demands that Jews heed their ancient customs, this actually requires Diaspora Jews visiting Israel to observe only one day, and traveling Israelis to keep the second day in its entirety (Sefer Eretz Yisrael). Furthermore, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi and Rabbi Haim Soloveitchik of Brisk both claimed (the former for mystical reasons, the latter based on Talmudic analysis) that "sanctified time" could only apply for one day in Israel, precluding any second-day observances here (Shulhan Aruch Harav Tanina 1:8). Relying on these cogent arguments, some decisors have adopted Karo's paradigm, but used Ashkenazi's position to justify more lenient standards for determining who constitutes an Israeli, including those who own Israeli property here or spend every festival in the country. Others, like Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (and possibly Salant himself), argued that Diaspora visitors should maintain the stringencies of both positions, colloquially known as "keeping a day and a half." This increasingly popular position, in which one refrains from melacha but prays and dons tefillin like an Israeli, has added new dimensions to the varying ways in which Diaspora Jews practice while in the Holy Land. The author, editor of Tradition Online and the Text & Texture blog (, teaches in Yeshivat Hakotel.