Is it Seven or Eight?, April 14, 2020

I hope everyone is staying healthy and enjoying their Passover holiday!
There used to be a discussion in my family whether Passover is seven days or eight days? I always pushed for the shorter holiday -- enough matzah and bring on the pizza and pasta!
The Book of Exodus says the following: "This day shall be to you one of remembrance; you shall celebrate it as a festival throughout the days you shall eat unleavened bread... "
On the 15th day of the month of Nissan, the children of Israel left Egypt, where they had served as slaves for generations. Despite his original refusal and the 10 plagues, Pharoah finally relented and allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt for a three-day spiritual retreat in the desert.
When the Israelites failed to return, Pharaoh realized that they were gone for good, on their way to independence and freedom. Pharoah gathered his army and eventually caught up with the Israelites at the banks of the sea. The Israelites were trapped; there was nowhere to go but into the sea.
Then G-d commanded Moses (picture Charlton Heston) to raise his staff and the sea split, allowing the Israelites to cross on dry land. When the Egyptian army attempted to follow the Israelites across, the sea came crashing down on them.
This miracle took place in the wee hours of the morning of the seventh day of Passover.
If this happened on the 7th day, then why do some observe an eighth day?
Israel only celebrates Passover for seven days.
Reform Judaism, from its inception, never observed the added festival days. The Breslau rabbinical conference of 1846 resolved that "second-day festivals and the eighth day of the Passover holiday have no more validity for our time."
Of course, there is the simple answer where Conservative and Orthodox Jews "double" the first and last days because, long ago when the Jewish calendar was set month by month, uncertainty about the exact date of festivals outside of Israel arose. To be sure they "got it right," early Jews therefore celebrated two days of the festival (Sukkot, Passover).
Alan Cooper, the Elaine Ravich Professor of Jewish Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary wrote, “Beginning about 50 years ago, there was serious discussion in the Conservative Movement of the possible elimination of yom tov sheni (second day of festival), culminating with the publication in 1969 of three responsa approved by the Movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards. The most lenient of the three, written by Rabbis Philip Sigal and Abraham J. Ehrlich, ruled that the observance of yom tov sheni (except for Rosh Hashanah) should be regarded as a custom (minhag) rather than an obligation, with the particulars to be decided by the rabbi of each congregation.
Given permission to do away with the observance of the eighth day, why did so few Conservative congregations adopt the Sigal/Ehrlich proposal? Perhaps it was a combination of the (small c) conservative tendencies of many rabbis, force of habit, reluctance to forgo a time-honored practice, and unwillingness to seem "too Reform."
But for many, there is special meaning to the eighth day.
While the first seven days of Passover unfold in historical "real time" -- the flight from Egypt on day one through the drowning of the Egyptian army on day seven -- day eight brings us back to the present and reorients us towards the future. It becomes our opportunity to envision and yearn for a better, safer, and healthier world.
Let me conclude by sharing the following poem written by a community member’s friend. It is a Passover poem about employment given what we do and what’s going on right now.
On Pesach, as we reflect on the crushing labor of our ancestors, may we give thought to the many roles that labor plays in our own lives.
Employment can be empowering: an opportunity to make our mark, to enact change, to build a legacy. Employment can be oppressing, something we must do when we have no other way to survive.
Work can be uplifting, unlocking avenues for personal growth into our truest selves. Work can be demeaning, putting us at the mercy of those who refuse to acknowledge our humanity.
A job can provide a path to financial freedom and self-sufficiency. A job can keep us in poverty, with too-small paychecks exempting us from other sources of financial support.
In this moment, many are being asked to work, and in doing so are forced to endanger themselves and our dear communities. In this moment, many are being asked not to work, and in doing so are forced to forgo the benefits and blessings that come from working.
This year may we hold the idea of our employment loosely: May we decouple our labor from our identity, and dare to recognize the gulf between what we do and who we are. 
May we decouple our labor from our value, and dare to believe that we are enough just by existing. May we decouple our labor from our survival, and dare to imagine a world in which survival is guaranteed regardless of what a person is able to produce.
Next year, may the worlds we imagine come to pass.  
Enjoy the remainder of the Passover holiday, whether you conclude on the seventh or eighth day.
Note -- The Jewish Federation “office” will be closed on Wednesday and Thursday.


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