Israeli in Diaspora, Second Day Yom Tov

I live in Israel but will be in America for Shavuot this year. Would I be able to use my computer on the second day of Yom Tov – which for me is a regular day? It will be in a private room not visible from the outside.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

To answer, I need to provide a bit of background into the practice of keeping two days of Yom Tov. In Talmudic times, the practice of keeping two days Yom Tov was based on genuine doubt. It was impossible for messengers from Israel to reach the Diaspora and notify them when the new month began in time for the holidays. They would therefore have no choice but to keep two days.

Today, however, the calendar is set, and people know the dates of the holidays in America just as well as in Israel. If so, why in the Diaspora do Jews still keep two days? It is because of custom, continuing the custom of the earlier generations (Talmud Beitzah 4b).

The fact that observing two days has the status of a custom is significant. The Talmud provides the following basic rule about customs: If a person visits another city, he must observe the customs of the place he comes from and the customs of the place he is visiting (Mishna Pesachim 4:1). He must keep his hometown’s customs because those are his customs, binding upon him wherever he is (unless he permanently moves elsewhere). At the same time, he must observe the customs of the place he is visiting so as not to cause strife with the local residents.

Based on the above, if an American visits Israel say for Passover, he must keep two days Yom Tov, following his custom. (This is so even though 2000 years ago, a Babylonian visiting Israel would not have kept two days. In those days it was because of doubt – which wouldn’t exist for the visitor; today, however, it is because of custom.)

Conversely, if an Israeli visits America, he does not actually keep Yom Tov for two days since that is not his custom, but he may not do any form of labor because that deviates from the local custom.

In many areas of Jewish law, this rule applies only to publicly diverging from the local custom, which is liable to cause upset. If for example you wear Tefillin on Chol HaMo’ed and are visiting a place where no one else does, you could not put on your Tefillin in synagogue but you could so in private. Doing work on Yom Tov, however, is an exception to this. Since work is often visible to others, an Israeli may not do work on second day Yom Tov even in private. Even though many are not aware of this, this is the virtually universal consensus of rabbinic authorities.

There is one interesting exception to this. The principle that we must observe the local customs only applies if we are visiting another community. Let’s say an Israeli arrives by flight to the Diaspora on the second day of Yom Tov. While he is still at the airport, he has not yet reached a Jewish community. (This is assuming the airport is 2000 cubits beyond the edge of any city with a Jewish community.) Therefore, he can do work as usual since it is not Yom Tov for him. He would not, however, be able to take a taxi to the city he is visiting (unless it is a remote location with no Jews) because once he would enter the Jewish community he would not be permitted to be traveling in a taxi.

(Sources: Talmud Beitzah 4b, Mishna Pesachim 4:1, Shulchan Aruch O.C. 496:3, Mishna Berurah 9, 10, 13, Sha’ar HaTziyun 12.)

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