In addition to standard Jewish holidays such as Passover and Rosh Hashanah, Chabad.org lists some newer “holidays,” such as the 19th of Kislev, as days that Tachanun (penitential prayer) is omitted among chassidim. How can we add holidays?

Reply

The concept of a community establishing a holiday on a day when G‑d brought about their salvation from an impending calamity isn’t new. In fact, you may be familiar with the holidays of Purim and Chanukah, when we celebrate our deliverance from the Persians and the Syrian-Greeks, respectively.

In addition, many communities throughout the ages instituted days of joy in commemoration of miracles that happened to them. It was common to use the name “Purim” in reference to these days: Purim Hebron, Purim Saragossa, Purim Tiberias, as well as other Purims.

Biblical Celebration?

In a fascinating responsum,1 Rabbi Moses Sofer (known as the Chatam Sofer, 1762–1839) explains that a careful analysis of the Talmud2 leads to the conclusion that, as with the holiday of Passover, we are enjoined to give thanks and celebrate the days that G‑d brings about our salvation. Thus, although we call Chanukah and Purim “rabbinic holidays,” this refers to how we are to celebrate these days (i.e., read the Megillah, give mishloach manot, etc., on Purim, and light the menorah on Chanukah). However, the fact that we are enjoined to mark these days as holidays is very likely biblical in origin.

With regard to the additional holidays that various communities instituted, Rabbi Moses ben Isaac Alashkar3 (1466–1542) explains that like other customs, the establishment of these holidays can be binding, and can obligate their descendants to celebrate those days as well.4

For example, during Mishnaic times, Rabbi Elazar ben Tzadok, who lived shortly after the destruction of the Temple, continued to celebrate his family holiday, which commemorated the day his family would donate wood to the Holy Temple.5

19th of Kislev

Since you brought up the 19th of Kislev, let’s elaborate upon that a bit.

On the 19th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev in the year 1798, the founder of Chabad Chassidism, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745–1812), was freed from his imprisonment in czarist Russia. While any miracle that brings about the salvation of a Jewish leader is viewed not just as a personal liberation but a communal one, the 19th of Kislev was a watershed moment in the history of Chassidism, heralding a new era in the revelation of the teachings of Chassidus, the “inner soul of Torah.”

Everything that occurs below is a reflection of what’s happening in the heavenly realms. Thus, the chassidic masters regarded the arrest of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi as a reflection of a heavenly indictment against his teaching and revealing the most intimate secrets of the Torah. His release signified his vindication in the heavenly court, and following his liberation, he disseminated the deep teachings of Chassidus on an even broader scale than before.

For more on the 19th of Kislev, see 19 Kislev: The "New Year" of Chassidism.