Does Congress always take off for the Jewish holidays?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Sept. 30 2008 6:17 PM

Does Congress Always Take Off for Rosh Hashanah?

Yes, but members do have to work on Sukkot.

The House of Representatives is taking two days off this week for Rosh Hashanah in the midst of an unresolved financial crisis. Meanwhile, the Senate is still in session. Do members of the House take off for every religious holiday?

No. Representatives get a break for Easter, Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Christmas Day. The Senate operates according to a very similar schedule, except it remains in session for Yom Kippur and, at least in 2008, for Rosh Hashanah.

Advertisement

The holiday schedule can vary from year to year. Leaders from both parties set up a tentative list of days off every January, before Congress convenes. Lawmakers can adjust the schedule as needed and suspend holidays in case of an emergency. The tentative 2008 schedule for the Senate, for example, listed two days off for Rosh Hashanah. The chamber remained in session anyway, although no votes were scheduled to take place between Monday morning and Wednesday afternoon.

In the early days of Congress, when it was more difficult to travel long distances home, sessions lasted only from December to early spring—so the Jewish High Holidays were de facto days off. Members often met on religious holidays that fell within the session, including Christmas Day. (Religious services for members and their staffs were sometimes held inside the Capitol building.) Congress typically recessed for Easter, but on some occasions, such as during World War II, the holiday break was delayed or canceled.

It wasn't until 1958 that members began traveling home on the weekends and a yearlong session evolved. Since then, the party leaders have regularly scheduled days off for Christian and Jewish holidays, although there is no official law that requires them.

Bonus Explainer: How many members of Congress are Jewish? Twenty-nine in the House and 13 in the Senate. There are also two Muslim and two Buddhist lawmakers, all serving in the House, and 16 Mormons.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanksSen. Dick Durbin's office and Don Ritchie of the Senate Historical Office.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Culturebox
Oct. 22 2014 11:54 PM The Actual World “Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.