By Max Fruchter
“Where are you for Sukkot?”
“Oh wow, that’s exciting!”
“Will you be celebrating with family?”
“Are you keeping one day or two?”
Now here is where the pattern breaks and the answer is more of a discussion than an answer.
Over recent years, the decision for American students studying in Israel for the year of whether to hold one or two days of yom tov has become an increasingly hot topic of discussion. Americans who celebrate chag in Israel are oftentimes bombarded with different opinions as to what they should be doing. Renowned rebbeim will be quoted as holding that if one has the intention of making aliyah at some point in the near future, one may keep one day. Others argue that two days should be kept and will do their best to convince you of such a belief, saying that until one actually makes aliyah, one is still American and must therefore keep two days of Sukkot as all Americans do.
Many Americans who celebrate in Israel determine the number of days they hold based on where they are for Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. This group maintains that at the heart of “one or two days” are the Shalosh Regalim—three festivals in which our ancestors, before the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, made pilgrimage to in Jerusalem. Emphasizing this idea as the essence of this debate, they view consistency in where one is during Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot as the determining factor for one or two days. If one celebrates all three Shalosh Regalim in Israel, then one is considered Israeli with respect to these chagim and would therefore keep one day. The same group of people would tell you that if you come to Israel only for Pesach or Shavuot, then no reasoning could override the inconsistency in where you are for all the Shalosh Regalim, and two days must be kept.
Whether through biblical citations or subjective views, those who strongly believe in the keeping of one day or two will voice their opinions and will do their best to persuade others into practicing these beliefs.
The fact that many Americans stay in hotels for Sukkot further complicates the disparate practices of keeping one or two days. Guests in hotels must anticipate the confusion accompanied with davening—which shul is designated for those celebrating a second day of yom tov and which shul for those observing a day of chol. Additionally, the matter of electronic usage becomes a complicated topic—a previously designated Shabbos elevator may return to its normal status after the first day of yom tov, since the hotel staff imagines the majority of guests will only be keeping one day. These seemingly simple aspects of hotel life for a Jew celebrating Sukkot in Israel become complicated when accounting for the difficulties presented by keeping one or two days.
As a student of a yeshiva in Israel, I am caught at a crossroads. On the one hand, it seems only logical to adopt the customs of those who reside in Israel and celebrate one day of yom tov, since I, myself, am a current resident of Israel (the term “resident” being defined loosely). On the other hand, holding two days may be the more appropriate choice given my consistent holding of two days every year prior to this one. The question now becomes, is it better to maintain my custom of two days in a country where the majority celebrates one day, or is it better to create a discrepancy in my celebration of Sukkot?
Fortunately, I have numerous reputable Jewish figures to whom I can turn in search of an answer to this complex dilemma. The head rabbi of my yeshiva, a rabbi of a nearby shul, and many others have shared their thoughts. The consensus is in favor of keeping two days, although halachic accommodations may be made where one plans on celebrating Sukkot with family who live in Israel. In addition, all are in agreement that there is no incorrect way of celebrating Sukkot. The controversy of holding one or two days can only affect how far you succeed in consecrating the holiday, not whether you fulfilled the obligation of observing Sukkot.
After questioning, consulting, and deliberating between the different options, the answer seemed blatantly clear. Surpassing all advice and subsequent reasoning proffered by different Jewish figures is the most significant and meaningful opinion of all—that of family.
After discussing the matter with my parents, we came to the conclusion that since I have never celebrated Sukkot in Israel before, I am not an Israeli citizen, and I have never celebrated Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot in Israel, it is neither the best nor the most logical decision for me to keep one day of yom tov. Unquestionably, the decision to observe one or two days is a complicated one and deserves much inquiry. That being said, until the rabbanim unanimously institute a clear and uniform course of action to follow in this respect, it is up to each student and family to find the appropriate halachic direction. v