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In response to a question whether or not one can perform melakhah as usual on Yom Tov Sheni Shel Galuyoth, Rav Ami responds (Pesahim 52a):

be-yishuv asur, ba-midbar mutar

…in the city it is forbidden, but in a desolate and uninhabited place it is permitted.

His statement seems to be recorded as the halakhah and no one appears to argue with him.

Does he actually mean what he seems to mean, and is it le-maaseh? Are we to actually understand him being matir work on the second day of a holiday as long as it doesn't produce shinuyei mahloqoth (see there)? If so what is the significance of it for our understanding of the nature of Yom Tov Sheni Shel Galuyoth? Does this statement indicate that Yom Tov Sheni has no actual sanctity when we are sure of the calendrical dates?

Please cite your sources. Thanks.

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The Art Scroll 51b2 and 52a1 explains that this is in a case in which the second day of Yom Tov was still a local custom. That is, it depended on where the messengers reached to determine which communities had a second day of Yom Tov. Because Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur caused the travel time to be curtailed in Tishrei, some communities had a second day of Yom Tov (Succos). However, they did not have a second day of Yom Tov in Nisan (Pesach). Other communities had a second day of Yom Tov in Nisan as well in order not to differentiate (see note 13 on 51b2). Note that the bold text in the translation is the Art Scroll method of showing which words are directly in the gemoro.

The Gemara poses a question on the subject of adhering to local custom:

Rav Safra said to R' Abba: In a case such as orselves who know of the establishment of the new month, it is clear that we should not perform melacha on the second Day of Yom Tov in any inhabited area we find ourselves, because a deviation from the local custom would precipitate a conflict. However, what is the law concerning performing melacha in the wilderness

[R' Abba] said to [Rav Safvra] in reply: Rav Ami said thus: In an inhabited area itself it is prohibited to perform melacha on the second day, but in the wilderness it is permitted

The notes on this matter go into more detail.

In modern days we could have a similar discussion of the boundaries of two days Yom Tov and the halachos of what to do for someone who is from Eretz Yisrael and spends Yom Tov just outside the boundary line.

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