QUESTION: I have a few questions regarding the Jewish leap year. Why do we always add a second Adar as opposed to adding a second Tevet or Iyar for example? Why do we call it Adar Alef? Why is Purim celebrated in the second Adar? And which Adar is the real Adar?
ANSWER: Adar, the name for the 12th month, was adopted by the Jews from the Babylonian exile. While Jews add a month periodically to the lunar calendar after the twelfth month as per the beraita in Rosh Hashanah (7a) (see also Pesachim 6a), the Babylonians did not. The second of the two Adars is considered the “leap” – or extra – month, which we refer to as Adar Sheni (or Adar Bet).
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As we see it so far, the second Adar is the “leap” month. If so, why do we celebrate Purim in the second Adar? The Mechaber explains (Orach Chayyim 685:1), “If the rosh chodesh of Adar that is closest to Nissan [i.e. Adar II] falls on Shabbat, we read Parashat Shekalim [the first of the four special Torah readings – Shekalim, followed by Zachor, Parah, and finally Parashat Hachodesh].”
The Mishna Berura (ad loc., citing Rashi on Megilla 29a s.v. “Korin beparashat Shekalim” explains that this is done so that in the time of the existence of the Temple they would bring their shekalim in the month closest to rosh chodesh Nissan in order to be able to bring offerings from rosh chodesh and on from the new shekalim donations.
Also of interest is the dispute between R. Eliezer b. R. Yosi and Rabban Shimon b. Gamaliel (Megilla 6b) as to whether we perform the mitzvot of Purim – reading the Megilla and giving matanot la’evyonim – gifts to the poor – during the first Adar or the second. R. Eliezer b. R. Yosi is of the opinion that we observe the mitzvot of Purim during the Adar closest to Shevat, just as in all the other years, as the verse states (Esther 9:27), “Bechol shana veshana – each and every year,” and we have a rule of “Ein ma’avirin al hamitzvot – We do not allow a mitzvah to be bypassed,” meaning that we perform it as soon as possible.
Rabban Shimon b. Gamaliel derives from the same verse that just as Purim is in the Adar closest to Nissan in an ordinary year, so is it in a leap year, so that we may connect the redemption of Purim to the redemption from Egypt. Thus, according to Rabban Shimon b. Gamaliel, whose opinion we follow, Purim during a leap year is celebrated during the second Adar for a reason unrelated to whether that month is the added one.
Rabbi Dov Aaron Brisman (segan av beit din of the Iggud Horabbanim – Rabbinical Alliance of America, rav, Philadelphia) addresses this matter as well (Responsa Shalmei Chova, Yoreh De’ah 94). He was asked about the proper observance of a yahrzeit for a man who died on the second day of rosh chodesh, which is the first day of Adar. The death occurred during a non-leap year, and the deceased’s son wanted to know when to observe the yahrzeit during a leap year – rosh chodesh of Adar I or Adar II.
Rabbi Brisman cites Chochmat Adam (171:1), Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (221:3), and Kol Bo (on aveilut), all reflecting the Ashkenazi custom to recite kaddish on that day (in this case, the first of Adar) in both Adars of a leap year.
However, the fast of the ba’al yahrzeit – the one observing the yahrzeit – is only observed in the first Adar. This ruling is rooted in Rema (Orach Chayyim 568:7), Magen Avraham (op. cit. sk20), and Shach (Yoreh Deah 402:sk11).
Next, Rabbi Brisman cites the opposing view of the Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 568:7). If the death occurs in Adar during a regular year, the fast is observed on that day in the second Adar of a leap year. Rema posits otherwise – that the fast is observed during the first Adar – unless the deceased died during the second Adar of a leap year.
In that case, the fast is held during the second Adar of all subsequent leap years. If the death occurred during Adar of a regular year or the first Adar of a leap year, the custom is to fast during the first Adar of leap years. Rema also cites the more stringent view of Mahari Molin to fast on that date in both Adars of a leap year.
As you see, deciding which is the “real” Adar is not a simple matter and has practical repercussions.
(To be continued)
Rabbi Yaakov Klass can be contacted at email@example.com.