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WASHINGTON – A day after the House defeat of a financial bailout plan that sent Wall Street into a frantic downward spiral, the Capitol was largely deserted Tuesday as Congress marked the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana.
Congressional leaders were still actively talking, trying to develop an alternate plan that Congress will approve. But the House was in recess both Tuesday and Wednesday, and the Senate will have no votes until after sundown Wednesday, the end of the holiday according to Orthodox and Conservative synagogues. The holiday started Monday evening.
Taking off on Rosh Hashana and, a week later, the Jewish day of atonement, Yom Kippur, is a fairly recent practice.
The first Jews weren’t elected to the House and Senate until the 1840s, and through most of the 19th century, Congress only met from December through the spring. Because lawmakers could not easily return home in those days, they often met on Christmas Day, according to Senate historian Donald Ritchie.
Even after the schedule changed in the 1930s, Congress generally worked from January through the middle of the year, not conflicting with the Jewish holidays.
Congress started meeting year-round in the 1960s after jet transportation enabled West Coast members to return home more easily. Shortly thereafter, fixed recesses, scheduled around religious and national holidays, became more routine. Ritchie said that in his three decades of work in Congress, leaders have often threatened to require members to work on Christmas or other major holidays during crunch times, but it hasn’t happened.
According to the Office of the House Historian, the last time the House met on Rosh Hashana, to take care of some minor chores, was in 1997.
The House convened on Dec. 24 in 1963, but adjourned by nine in the morning. The chamber last met on Easter Sunday in 1906 to hold a memorial for a recently deceased member and was in session on Palm Sunday in 2005 to vote on the Terri Schiavo case.
There are currently 13 Jewish lawmakers in the 100-member Senate and 29 Jews in the 435-member House.
Associated Press – September 30, 2008
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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