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QUESTION: When does a mourner complete the year of mourning during a leap year?
Zev Stern
(Via e-mail)
      The Halacha: The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 391:2) states, “Following the death of a relative, one may participate in a formal feast (a seudat mishteh) once 30 days have passed. However, following one’s father or mother’s death, he may do so only after 12 months have passed. If it is a leap year, one is permitted [to participate] after 12 months [as well].”
   The Discussion: This rule of Rabbi Yosef Caro is based on a baraita in Mo’ed Katan (22b) and on Masechet Semachot (Ch. 9), where there clearly is no reference to “one year” but rather to “12 months” when discussing the mourning period for a parent.
   Yet there are other aspects related to mourning for a parent that may require a full year, meaning 13 months in a leap year, depending on  which month the parent died.
   Rabbi Dov Aron Brisman, Rav in Philadelphia and Segan Rosh Beit Din of Igud HaRabbonim, the Rabbinical Alliance of America, discusses this question in his Shalmei Chovah (Responsum 94). He was asked the following question:
   If one’s father died on Rosh Chodesh Adar [which is the first day of Adar and not the 30th day of Shevat in a non-leap year], when does one observe the Yahrtzeit in a leap year? Is it in Adar I or Adar II?
   Rabbi Brisman states that according to Chochmat Adam (Topic 171:11), the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Ch. 221) and the Kol Bo (Hilchot Aveilut), the widespread custom in Ashkenazic communities is to observe the Yahrtzeit in both months regarding the recital of Kaddish. However, fasting would be required only in Adar I.
   The basis for this ruling is the Magen Avraham (Orach Chayyim 568:20) and the Shach (Yoreh De’ah, end of 402). To enable us to understand the Magen Avraham and the Shach, Rabbi Brisman reviews the halacha as stated by the Mechaber (Rabbi Yosef Caro) and Rema (Orach Chayyim 568:7), from which they derive their ruling:
   “If one’s father or mother died in the month of Adar [in a non-leap year], one is to fast on that date in Adar II. Rema in his glosses disputes this and rules that one is to fast in Adar I. There are some who are more stringent and fast on that date both in Adar I and in Adar II. If the parent died in a leap year in Adar II, some say that one is to fast [on that date] in Adar II while others are accustomed to fast in Adar I.”
   “The Taz (ad loc.) explains that these differing views are based on the [original]  controversy between R. Meir and R. Yehuda (Nedarim 63a). R. Meir rules that when referring by name to the months themselves, one specifies ‘Adar I’ for the first month of Adar in an intercalated year and one simply states ‘Adar’ when referring to the second month of Adar. R. Yehuda’s opinion is the opposite: One simply writes ‘Adar’ when referring to the first month of Adar in such a year but specifies ‘Adar II’ when intending the second Adar.
   “The Mechaber thus rules according to R. Meir, for that is the way Rambam rules (Hilchot Nedarim 10:6).
   “However ‘others’, as Rema notes, opine  like the Rosh. Terumat HaDeshen (294) therefore  concludes that since we follow R. Yehuda, one is to fast in Adar I because of the principle (Yoma 33a), “Ein ma’avirin al hamitzvot – One must not forego the occasion to perform a mitzvah” (and we thus fast at the first opportunity, namely, in Adar I).”
   Rabbi Brisman now questions the position of Terumat HaDeshen: If we rule according to R. Yehuda – that the reference to ‘Adar’ means ‘Adar I’ –  why do we need the additional reason of “Ein ma’avirin…, which implies that according to Halacha there is also a reason to require fasting in Adar II? Isn’t the primary date for fasting in Adar I, according to the view of ‘others’ as cited by Rema?
   A further difficulty is that the controversy between R. Meir and R. Yehuda focuses on what people usually mean when they refer to ‘Adar’. Do they mean the month that immediately follows Shevat or do they refer to the month that precedes Nissan?
   Rabbi Brisman reasons: “In our situation it [the fasting] relates to the Yahrtzeit since [as the Kol Bo points out] the son’s/daughter’s fortune (mazal) is in distress on the date of the parent’s death, and as such the desire is to fast on the date   of the parent’s Yahrtzeit.”
   Rabbi Brisman also notes the dispute between Terumat HaDeshen and Maharil (cited by the Magen Avraham) as to which Adar is the proper Adar in which to observe the Yahrtzeit.
   Terumat HaDeshen considers Adar I to be the   proper month to observe the Yahrtzeit, pointing out that Purim is observed in Adar II (Megillah 6b) in order to connect the redemption of Purim to the Exodus, the redemption of Pesach. Were it not for that reason, we would observe Purim in Adar I, and we would similarly observe all other matters that occurred in the month of Adar during Adar I.
   Maharil argues that the Gemara’s explanation regarding the observance of Purim during Adar II is only in answer to Ein ma’avirin…, namely, that we do not delay the observance of any mitzvah.
   However, Maharil notes that since we derive from the verse (Esther 9:29), “Lekayyem et iggeret HaPurim hazot sheinit… – To confirm this second letter of Purim…” that Purim is celebrated in Adar II, we ignore the rule of Ein ma’avirin…” Thus, according to the Maharil, Adar II clearly seems to be the ‘real’ Adar.
   Rabbi Brisman suggests that, indeed, both Adar I and Adar II are endowed with the [zodiac] attributes of Adar (though we observe Purim and all matters related to it during Adar II) and thus each is considered the primary or main month of Adar. Thus, Terumat HaDeshen rules that generally Adar I is the ‘main Adar’, and the fact that we observe Purim in Adar II is a separate reason that overrides our usual rule of Ein ma’avirin, but for all other matters such as Yahrtzeit, the takes place during Adar I.
   Rema combines these views: Adar I is considered the ‘main Adar’ in regard to fasting, but the Kaddish is to be recited on the date of the Yahrtzeit during both Adar I and Adar II.
   We note that Rema also states “Yesh machmirim” – there are those who are more strict and fast on that date both in Adar I and Adar II.
   It is obvious from the above discussion that if one’s parent died in another month of the year, the Yahrtzeit, including fasting and Kaddish recital, will be observed only on that date in the following year, even though, during a leap year, it will be 13 months after the parent’s death.
   However, all other manifestations of mourning conclude at the end of 12 months.
   (Next week: Serving as chazzan on the Sabbath before the conclusion of 12 months).

   Raabi Yaakov Klass can be contacted at