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   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?



Shea Aronovitch

(Via E-Mail)


ANSWER: Adar, the name for the twelfth 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). We read the four special Torah readings (Shekalim, Zachor, Parah and Parashat Hachodesh) as well as celebrate Purim during the second Adar (Orach Chayyim 685:1). R. Eliezer b. R. Yosi argues that we observe the mitzvot of Purim during the Adar closest to Shevat, while R. Shimon b. Gamliel argues for current practice.
   Rabbi Dov Aaron Brisman of Philadelphia ponders (Responsa Shalmei Chova, Yoreh De’ah 94) the proper leap-year observance of a yahrzeit for a man who died during a non-leap year on the second day of Rosh Chodesh, the first day of Adar. There is agreement that kaddish is recited on that date in both Adars, while when to fast is more controversial.
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   Rabbi Brisman focuses on the source of the uncertainty about which of the two Adars is the added one and what that means for performance of mitzvot. Taz (Orach Chayyim 568:sk3) explains that the two views are based on the dispute between R. Meir and R. Yehuda (Nedarim 63a). Any reference to “Adar” is to be understood as Adar Sheni (the second Adar) according to R. Meir, while R. Yehuda insists “Adar” implies Adar Rishon.

   Taz explains the Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 568: 7) ruling according to R. Meir because this is the stated view codified by Rambam (Hilchot Nedarim 10:6). However, “yesh omrim – there are those who say” that the halacha is otherwise, as cited by Rema (op. cit. O.C. 568:7), in accord with Rosh (that reference to Adar implies the first Adar). The latter view is confirmed in responsa Terumat Hadeshen (294). Therefore Taz rules that one who has a yahrzeit observance for someone who died during Adar of a common (non-leap) year should fast in the first Adar in accord with the rule ein ma’avirin al hamitzvot – we do not allow a mitzvah to be bypassed – which we noted last week.


   Two difficulties are addressed by Rabbi Brisman: First, this statement of Taz demands explanation, for if simply put “Adar” means the first Adar, why do we need to mention the reason of ein ma’avirin? In fact, this reason seems to imply that there is a halachic requirement to fast as well on the date of the death in the second Adar. Is not the first Adar the real time, the actual yahrzeit according to the “yesh omrim” as cited by Rema, without further proof necessary?
   Also, the dispute between R. Meir and R. Yehuda is in regard to the manner of everyday speech when a person mentions Adar and whether we understand his intention to mean the Adar closest to Shevat, or the second Adar, closest to Nissan.
   However, the situation under discussion here is about an actual time of a yahrzeit (which is a time when the mazal – a spiritual understanding of luck – is weakened) (Bach, Yoreh De’ah 402, citing Sefer Chassidim), and whether it is a mitzvah for the one observing the yahrzeit to fast since he, too, is subject to weakened mazal at the anniversary of his parent’s death. The implication is that this mention of Adar is not treated as in everyday speech, but rather is understood as referring to a very specific time.
   Rabbi Brisman observes that the Gemara’s conclusion (Nedarim 63a-b) further strengthens the view that Adar mentioned plainly means Adar Rishon of a leap year. Even R. Meir, who is of the view that a simple mention of Adar implies Adar Sheni, would agree that “Adar” means Adar Rishon in the case above.
   When one is unaware of or not paying attention to the fact that the current year is intercalated (declared a leap year), any reference to “Adar” is taken to mean the first Adar, especially in the example given where a parent died during Adar of a common year and the son accepted upon himself to fast on that date in Adar in subsequent years. When the son says he will fast during Adar, it is to be understood that he refers to Adar Rishon of a leap year.
   Rabbi Brisman offers a spirited insight in attempt to resolve these issues. Among others, he cites the dispute between Terumat Hadeshen and Maharil over the proper observances of yahrzeits during the two Adars of a leap year.
   Terumat Hadeshen would have the yahrzeits observed during the first Adar because of R.Shimon b. Gamliel’s statement (Megillah 6a) that the reason we observe Purim in the second Adar is because our sages wished to connect one redemption (that of Purim) to the other (of Passover). Therefore, if not for that reason, the first Adar would be the proper time for observance of Purim. Maharil disregards this explanation due to the view cited – that we do not delay a mitzvah.
   However, according to that view, we should ideally read the Megilla during the first Adar, which we do not do because we only observe it for one day (reading once by night, and again once by day as well as all the other Purim-related mitzvot). Yahrzeits, however, can be observed in both months – Adar I and Adar II.

(To be continued)


   Rabbi Yaakov Klass can be contacted at