The End of the “Three-Day Yom Tov”

It is official: the phrase “three-day Yom Tov” has been banned from these parts, never to be uttered again. The reason is simple. There is no such thing.

There can be a one day Yom Tov (Shavuot in Israel), a two day Yom Tov (Rosh Hashana everywhere or Shavuot in the exile), a seven day Yom Tov (Pesach in Israel), and eight day Yom Tov (Succot/Shmini Atzeret in Israel or Pesach in the exile) and even a nine day Yom Tov (Succot/Shmini Atzeret in the exile). But there cannot be a three day Yom Tov, even though many use the term to describe the recent celebration of Rosh Hashana followed by Shabbat and the upcoming (in the exile) celebrations of Succot and Shemini Atzeret on Thursday and Friday followed by Shabbat.

Years ago, we banned from use the Purim expression “sending Mishloach Manot.” Obviously, one cannot “send the sending of manot;” just send them and be done with it. What we send are “manot,” period.

So there is no “three day Yom Tov” but rather two days of Yom Tov followed by Shabbat. Lest you think I am overly persnickety (just overly; a little persnicketiness would do everyone some good), please note that the difference is more than semantics.

The expression “three day Yom Tov” conjures up thoughts of drudgery that doesn’t seem to end – cleaning, cooking, eating, cooking, eating, cleaning, and then more eating – with many hours of shul attendance sprinkled in to get us out of the dining room. Some dread three whole days without their electronic devices – no phone, no internet, no texting, and no news updates. That is actually a good way to break the Smartphone addiction that has left many people – especially young people – almost incapable of carrying on a conversation with a live human being right next to them, a human being with whom the interlocutor has to make eye contact and enunciate words in full sentences, wait for a response and answer again.

Nonetheless, since there cannot be a “three day Yom Tov,” what should we call the celebrations of two-day holidays followed by Shabbat?

Rav Eliezer Melamed hinted at the answer which, if understood properly, can revolutionize our lives:

shelosha yamim shel kedusha,” or in our parlance, “three days of holiness,” or even just “three holy days.” (Note: not three holidays; it doesn’t sound the same nor convey the same meaning.) Three Holy Days. Say it again: “Three Holy Days.” It has a nice ring to it. Rolls off the tongue.

The notion of “Three Holy Days” is a far cry from the implications of the “three day…(banned phrase).” In the first instance, “Three Holy Days” reminds us that these days are not identical in their obligations and observances but are all defined by varying degrees of holiness.  Yom Tov and Shabbat are not the same and the distinctions should be noted. Secondly, “Three Holy Days” communicates a love of mitzvot and a desire to rejoice in our service of G-d, as if the purpose of these days is not just to eat and eat (and cook, serve and clean) but to internalize the profound ideas of Torah and Jewish nationhood that have sustained us for thirty-seven centuries. A “three day Yom Tov” (I can’t believe I just wrote that) is feared, a source of anxiety and trepidation, but “Three Holy Days” should be anticipated by all serious Jews with excitement and merriment. Who would not want to be immersed in Torah, Mitzvot and G-d’s presence for three full days, if not more? Who would eschew three consecutive days doing nothing but indulging our souls? Even the meals of the “Three Holy Days” have tremendous spiritual significance.

“Three Holy Days” marks this period of time, and which we will enjoy again this coming Shavuot, as opportunities to saturate our souls with the experiences that develop them and therefore our entire lives. There is little that we do during the working days of the week that has as considerable an influence on our souls as does our proper observance and celebration of the “Three Holy Days.” Our children and grandchildren will be shaped and inspired by what they see, hear, feel and experience far more than anything that happens outside this time.

If they perceive that the “Three Holy Days” are a burden, and involve chores and preparations that weigh down and even dispirit the adults in their lives – if, indeed, they are educated with the banned expression “Three Day-you-know-what” – then they will absorb this lesson quite well and chafe under the loss of work time and regret the hours they could have otherwise spent sharing the inanities of their daily lives on social media.

But if they learn the lofty phrase “Three Holy Days” they will understand the great blessings that we enjoy, of finding our true happiness in Mitzvot and divine service, and they will seek to surround themselves with holiness, holy things and holy moments. There is no better time for this than Succot, during which we enter into a mitzvah with our entire bodies and bask in the divine presence.

So long live the “Three Holy Days” – and Chag Sameach to all!




8 responses to “The End of the “Three-Day Yom Tov”

  1. It’s good that you ended your article with “and Chag Sameach to all!”. If you would have ended it with a “Gut Yontiv”, that would carry the same redundancy as “sending Mishloach Manot”.

  2. Phillip Slepian

    I cannot argue with anything the Rabbi says here. However, as a modern person, I have to admit that going to shul by the third Holy Day presents a challenge if one is disturbed by the aroma of men who have not bathed in three days. While, with care, washing on Yom Tov is permitted according to many authorities, many other authorities forbid washing on Yom Tov because we might violate certain prohibitions associated with washing the body. This is like saying some of the meat you buy might not be truly kosher, so you must never consume any meat. What is an istinis to do?

  3. There are things worse than Jews saying “three day Yom Tov” — for example: Jews reading the anti-Israel anti-Jewish New York Times.

    I would love to see Rabbi Pruzansky give that wicked newspaper the public attack that it deserves – followed by an appeal in which he requests that all who care about Israel stop buying The New York Times, permanently.

    How to Convict the New York Times
    of Unfair Bias Against Israel:

    New York Times Erases Israel from Map:

    Buying or reading anti-Israel, anti-Jewish, anti-Judaism newspapers, like The New York Times, is worse than reading pornography. I never get tired of attacking The New York Times because The New York Times never gets tired of attacking the Jewish State and the Jewish People and the Jewish Faith.

    Why Israel’s 1967 Borders are Undefendable:

    Ancient Roman historians
    connected Jews with the Land of Israel

  4. Esther Secemski

    Thanks for the inspiring blog. I now have a new, improved outlook on the upcoming Holy Days.

  5. I think some of the angst over “Three Day Yom Tov” is also related to the nature of work in the post-industrial era. It’s not just that some miss their social media fix, but also many dread the backlog of hundreds of emails and voicemails and other work that has piled up upon return to ones job after 3 days away. How many people, taking a real vacation from work, actually resist checking or responding to messages while supposedly taking a break from work that is to recharge us mentally and physically, for one or two weeks? In our times, the work responsibilities of salaried (non-hourly) employees and business owners don’t stop when the office lights are shut off.

    • Indeed. That’s the beauty of Yom Tov. It reminds us that we don’t live to work, we work to live, really live.
      – RSP