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Dear Rabbi Klass,

I have numerous questions that relate to the Jewish leap year by way of the full month that we add to our lunar year every couple of years. Why is Adar the month picked for this addition? Why do we call it Adar Alef? Why is Purim celebrated in the second Adar? It’s also obvious that even though both are named Adar that only one of them must be the real Adar – which one?


Shea Aronovitch
Via e-mail


Answer: We will answer your questions, but not necessarily in the order that you have asked. First, we deal with the name Adar. The Gemara (Jerusalem Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 1:2) cites Rabbi Chanina, who states, “The names of the [Jewish] months were brought up with them [the exiles who returned to the Land of Israel] from Babylonia.” Indeed, these were not the original names, as we see in the various biblical verses that refer to them only in a numerical fashion (as previously discussed in this column regarding the name of the eighth month – Marcheshvan). The Gemara supports Rabbi Chanina’s statement by citing the following months and their scriptural sources (all post-exile), Nissan in Esther (3:7), Kislev in Nechemia (1:2), and Tevet in Esther (2:5).

Though not included in the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah, through a scriptural search, we find mention of the month of Shevat in Zechariah (1:7), Adar and Nissan in Esther (3:7), Sivan in Esther (8:9), and Elul in Nechemia (6:15), which are all post-exile references found only in the prophets and Hagiography.

However, we find no scriptural mention of Iyar, Tammuz, Av or Marcheshvan. Our tradition, based on the Gemara’s statement [“The names of the months were brought up with them…”], is that these names too were brought up from Babylonia. Indeed, when the exiles came to Babylonia they found a society that used a lunar calendar similar to ours and that they were quite knowledgeable about astronomy.

Eventually, the Babylonian names for the months were popularly adopted. These were the twelve that we currently use in the following order: Nissan, Iyar, Sivan, Tammuz, Av, Elul, Tishrei, Marcheshvan, Kislev, Tevet, Shevat, and Adar. This is quite possibly due to their [the Babylonians, unlike us] having no real need of a leap year. We, on the other hand, need the occasional leap year in order to maintain the seasonal integrity of our festivals. There was no extra Babylonian name to be used for the purpose of a “leap” month that needed to be added to the Jewish year, and certainly our Sages did not create another Babylonian name for that purpose.

As to which of the two Adars is considered the “leap” – or extra – month, it is actually the second, which we refer to as Adar Sheni (or Adar Bet), meaning the second Adar. This is because the Talmud (Baraita, Rosh Hashanah 7a) refers to Nissan (the first of the months and that which immediately follows Adar) as the Rosh Hashana of ibburin – intercalations. The Gemara concludes that normally (when ibbur was done only through testimony presented to Beit Din, before our fixed calendar was established), the leap month can only be added before Purim.

The Gemara cites this halacha (Pesachim 6a) to prove the point: “We inquire [study in depth] the laws of Pesach before Pesach for thirty days,” and explains that once the rabbis have already begun that study, [people] will come to violating the laws of chametz [on Pesach]. Rashi (ad loc, s.v. ‘ati l’zilzulei b’chametz’) explains that this refers to the practice of the rabbis to publicly lecture on the subject of the laws of Pesach for one entire month preceding the festival. Once this process has commenced, people will not accept the testimony of the messengers of Bet Din that an extra month has been added. In such a circumstance the result will be that they will end up eating chametz on what is actually the “real” Pesach.

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 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. “Kor’in beparashat Shekalim”) explains that this is done so that in the time 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 Igud Horabbonim – 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 of Adar II.

Rabbi Brisman cites Chochmat Adam (Topic 171:1), Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (221:3), and Kol Bo (on mourning), 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 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 De’ah 402:sk11).

Now, 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 repercussions as well as practical applications.

(To be continued)


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.