Wednesday, April 20, 2016

First night, second night

In the Diaspora, it's typical that traditional Jews celebrate an additional day of each holy day (except Yom Kippur). The custom of Reform Jews is not to celebrate these additional days. Many Reconstructionist Jews also don't celebrate additional days, nor are they celebrated by most Israelis (except Rosh Hashanah).

At Passover, this means that liberal Jews feel obligated to participate in a seder only on one night. The Conservative movement in the United States holds that a seder is obligatory for both the first night and the second night. As a result, many Conservative congregations hold a community seder at the synagogue on the second night--originally, at least, to encourage second-night observance.

Some Reform congregations also hold a community seder on the second night, not because they believe that second-night observance is required, but as a community event. My unaffiliated congregation holds one on the second night, a custom inherited from its Reform predecessor, not its Conservative predecessor.

This year, one family that I invited to my home for the first night of Passover declined the invitation, saying that they had made a commitment to participate in a secular event that night. The family identifies as Reform, and feels obligated to attend only one seder. It's OK with them if that's on the second night.

So I wonder: is this another case in which a communal observance undermines home observance? There has been a general tendency in Reform to shift religious life from the home to the temple, to the point that for some of us, what used to be home observances can only be celebrated in the temple. Are some Conservative Jews, maybe not feeling a strong need to have a seder two nights in a row, skipping the first night in favor of the second?

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