Project Genesis

The Calendar and Holidays (incl. Sabbath)

The Jewish Calendar

The 8 days of Passover

Why is passover celebrated for 8 days?

I’m sure you’ve noticed that the Torah itself mandates only seven days for Passover (perhaps allowing for a whole cycle of this-worldly affairs found in a week to be affected by the heightened spiritual lessons of the holiday). The eighth day (for those living outside of Israel) is, in part, a product of a geographic condition that existed during the Second Temple period.

Throughout the Second Temple era (from approximately 352 BCE - 68 CE (Common Era), the majority of Jews lived in Persia (Babylonia; modern Iraq).

However, the calendar was set monthly in Israel (based on sightings of each new moon). All of our festivals depended on the decisions made in Israel, but not everyone who lived far away was able to find out about important dates in time for their observance (even though most communities had individuals who could calculate it based on given algorithms and a hugely accurate figure for the mean lunar cycle). Therefore, since there could only be a maximum discrepancy of one day per month, and in order to ensure proper observance even during periods of extreme political unrest when careful calculations would be difficult, we add one day to each festival, just in case.

Since the Fifth Century, a permanent calendar (based on accurate algorithms which diverge from NASA calculations only after four decimal places) has been set independent of visual sightings.

With best regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton
Ottawa, Canada

5 Follow-ups »

  1. Shalom,

    Since the calculated calendar, as you mentioned, is so accurate, what is the necessity of observing 2 days of Pesach? Isn’t it reduntant to have two seders now that the reason for the additional seder is no longer valid?

    While the algorithm to calculate the calendar certainly exists, the Rabbis were concerned that an extended period of violent social upheaval (of which there have been plenty in our history) might make accurate calculations difficult, causing general confusion. For this reason, even in times of peace, we make it a practice to stick to the “doubt-driven” calendar.

    Besides this, one can only speculate that there might have been other, far more wide-reaching considerations behind this decree.

    Comment by ATR — April 2, 2006 @ 12:23 am

  2. So, by the same token we should celebrate Yom Kippur for two days. Why don’t we?

    In general, the rabbis were very targeted in their decrees; taking into account a vast range of possible consequences of their actions. There are many passages in the Talmud which observe that the rabbis never intended their decree to apply in such a case. For obvious reasons, it would seem that, in this case, too, the rabbis never intended this particular ruling to require two days of fasting.

    Comment by ATR — April 6, 2006 @ 6:55 pm

  3. Where does it specifically state that Passover is to be observed for seven days? Is it in the Bible somewhere? (I do understand why the holiday is eight days outside of Israel, so do not need that to be addressed.) Please restate the verbiage regarding this? Thank you.

    Off the top of my head I can think of three sources in the Bible:
    Shemos (Exodus) 12:19
    Vayikra (Levitikus) 23:4-8
    Bamidbar (Numbers) 28:16-25

    There may be more.

    Hope you had a good holiday,
    Rabbi Avi Meth

    Comment by ATR — April 23, 2006 @ 12:03 pm

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