Extra Festival Days in the Diaspora

Israelis and liberal Jews observe fewer days for some holidays than traditional Diaspora Jews.

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The idea of exile no longer seems meaningful to many Diaspora Jews, and the United States especially was and is considered by many liberal Jews not to be a place of exile. They feel it is proper to continue the process of re-adapting the tradition to contemporary reality in societies where they are well integrated, and to synchronize the religious calendar of Diaspora and Israeli Jews in a time of nearly seamless communications.

But Orthodox and (most) Conservative congregations continue the traditional Diaspora practice, from a desire to honor the traditions and customs of the past and to maintain a historical continuity with previous Jewish communities throughout history.

Cross-Calendar Situations

The restoration of a Diaspora-Israeli split in festival practice results in interesting situations, especially as more people travel back and forth for various periods of time and with different intentions. If Diaspora Jews are only visiting Israel temporarily, should they observe the extra day or follow local Israeli practice? If Israeli Jews visit another country over the holidays, should they practice Israeli or Diaspora customs?

The Talmud advises following the calendar of the place you live, wherever you find yourself. Most (but not all) tourists and temporary Jewish residents of Israel follow Israeli practice as a matter of self-definition during their stay, although there are communities of visitors and newcomers in Israel that observe the longer festivals.  Israelis temporarily visiting other countries often continue to observe the Israeli custom. An Israeli settling in the Diaspora should adopt the customs of the Diaspora (Shulkhan Aruch, Orah Hayyim 496:3). Many tourists adhere to a rabbinic idea that the decisive factor is where gufo (literally "his body") is, which in this case refers not just to the individual, but to the "family body": If a whole family is together in Israel, they would observe one day, but if one family member is in Israel and the remainder of the family is in the U.S. than all would observe two days.

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Rabbi Daniel Kohn

Rabbi Daniel Kohn, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, was ordained from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1991. He is the author of several books on Jewish education and spirituality who currently writes and teaches throughout the San Francisco Bay area.