Photo Credit: Saul Jay Singer

Purim remains one of the most celebrated and well-known Jewish holidays, but many people have never of heard of Purim Katan . The essence of this unusual observance may be found in tractate Megillah 6b, where the Mishna explains that when (as this year), there is a “pregnant year” – i.e., a leap year – an extra month, Adar Sheni (the “second Adar”), is added to the Jewish calendar and Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of this second month of Adar. This calendar adjustment, which takes place seven times every 19 years, leaves Adar Rishon (the first Adar) without a religious holiday observance during leap years, and Purim Katan is designed to fill the gap and reflect that the Adar Rishon retains some of its holiness.

Portrait of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

According to this Mishna, the only difference between the observance of Purim Katan and the observance of the “Great Purim” is that the Megillah (the Book of Esther) is not read on Purim Katan and the distribution of gifts to the poor is not mandated. If understood literally, that would mean that all the other commandments traditionally related to Purim, including holding a festive meal, exchanging offerings with friends, and increasing joy must be performed on Purim Katan as well,


However, that is not our practice today because the Talmudic statement regarding the equivalence of the “two Purims” is understood to mean that on Purim Katan Jews must focus on the internal and spiritual meaning of Purim, including the study of the laws of Purim, without having the duty to perform the commandments associated with Purim. However, as expressed in the first section of the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, Rav Moses Isserles, aka the Rema (the leading halachic authority for most Ashkenazic Jews today), writes:

Some are of the opinion that one is obligated to feast and rejoice on the 14th of Adar Rishon (known as Purim Katan ). This is not our custom. Nevertheless, one should eat somewhat more than usual, in order to fulfill his obligation according to those who are stringent. “And he who is of good heart, feasts constantly” (Citing Proverbs 15:15).

It is fascinating to note that while according to the Babylonian Talmud the year of the original Purim miracle in the year 356 BCE was not a leap year, the Jerusalem Talmud suggests that the actual Purim miracle happened on the 14th of Adar Sheni, the day which we celebrate as the Great Purim during a leap year.

Photo of the Rebbe at a Purim farbrengen.

At first blush, one might think that, in a leap year, the Great Purim should be celebrated in Adar Rishon because of the general rule that ain maavirin al hamitzvot (“One does not forgo the performance of the mitzvot” – i.e., when a person is presented with the opportunity to perform a mitzvah, he should do so immediately). Nonetheless, the Great Purim is celebrated in Adar Sheni because the rabbis reasoned that it was preferable to “connect redemption to redemption” and to celebrate two great geulot (redemptions) closer together in time: the reading of the Megillah on Purim and the observance of Passover.

However, there is a small Karaite Jewish community in Israel that rejects the authority of the Talmud and always celebrates Purim in Adar Rishon and, thus, celebrates the Great Purim on Purim Katan during leap years. Interpreting the Torah literally, they argue that the Megillah explicitly says to celebrate it in the twelfth month of the year – and so they do.

Some rabbanim through the centuries have encouraged Jews to mark Purim Katan specifically with a joyous feast. For example, Rav Yechiel ben Yosef of Paris would prepare a feast on Purim Katan and invite people to celebrate with him. (Rav Yechiel was a great medieval Tosafist and father of the renowned Tur who, at a time of mass burnings of the Talmud during the 13th century, taught it from memory to a group of 300 students, including Rav Meir of Rotenberg, and attempted to preserve the Talmud by recording its writings.)

Photo of the Rebbe distributing a dollar to a child dressed in a Purim costume.

One of the great supporters of Purim Katan observance was the Lubavitcher Rebbe. In a remarkable 25th of Adar (March 22) 1967 correspondence – less than three months before the Six-Day War – on his personal letterhead exhibited here, he writes to “Morenu Harav, Abba Shai Halevi,” who is “deeply involved in the needs of the community,” underscoring the importance of observing Purim Katan, particularly through the study of the laws of Purim:

I have previously received your correspondence.

The Rebbe’s letter on Purim Katan . The author invites anyone familiar with “Abba Shai Halevi,” the recipient of this historic letter, to contact him.

During these days, days that are between Purim Katan [and Purim Gadol [the “Great Purim”], a halachic pamphlet was brought to me featuring the holy writings of the Admor, may the memory of this righteous holy man be for a blessing and may his memory protect us from harm, who said about Purim Katan forty years ago, the words of one very wise, that V’Kibel HaYehudim [“and the Jews accepted that which they had begun to do,” a quote from the Megillah, 9:23].

And certainly, all those who receive this scholarly article [from the Admor] should study it in great detail and in a manner befitting the value of its contents, particularly taking in account the place and time in which it was said (as explained in the letter that was brought to me attached with the pamphlet).

And may it be Hashem’s will that the greatness of this study – will lead to action/observance, a great act, and many deeds, great in both quantity and quality, in all matters referenced and spoken in this article.

And as to what I have written, kal va’chomer [even more so] in this land [Russia] and this year [1927, forty years ago], a difficult land and a tough year, “they acted and did,” etc. – how much more so should one do and act in these lands and during these years [i.e., here and now, when the safety of Jews and Jewish practice is protected].

And in this matter, we have been promised by our Rabbis: “whoever comes to be purified [he is assisted by Hashem in this effort]” – and it is known that our Elderly Rav that “to be purified” – to purify others – he is assisted in that effort.

The Admor HaZaken, the “Old Rebbe” to whom the Rebbe refers in our correspondence is Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), the founder of Chabad, its first Rebbe, and the author of many religious works, most notably Shulchan Aruch HaRav and the Tanya.

Portrait of the Rebbe Rayatz.

Rav Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950), also known as the “Rayatz” and the “Frierdiker Rebbe” (the Previous Rebbe), his predecessor and his father-in-law. After many years of fighting to keep Orthodox Judaism alive from within the Soviet Union, engaging in daring underground activities to help Jews and to educate them, transforming Jewish life and observance there, he was forced to leave. The Rebbe Rayatz continued his struggle for Judaism and Jews first in Latvia, then in Poland, and finally from the United States, from where he continued his tireless efforts and built a massive global Jewish revival.

On Purim Katan in the year 5687 (1927) – the address to which the Rebbe refers in our correspondence (“forty years ago”) – the Rebbe Rayatz delivered V’Kibel HaYehudim, a massive Chassidic discourse, in the Marina Roscha Shul, the largest synagogue in Moscow. This farbrengen (gathering) was held before a huge crowd, all of whom knew that planted amongst them were secret agents of the dreaded NKVD. At a time when the Communist regime was in full swing and with the prosecution of Jews reaching unimagined heights, he fearlessly disregarded the inherent deadly danger in delivering such a speech – indeed, he had been warned repeatedly by the Soviet KGB to cease his activities promoting Jewish education and practice – the Rebbe Rayatz discussed the reaffirmation by the Jews at the time of Mordechai of receiving the Torah. He urged his audience to defy the contemporary Haman – i.e., the antisemitic Soviet regime – and to prepare themselves to literally sacrifice their lives to maintain underground Torah classes for “the last hope of Israel” – their own little children – because, as he explained, it was the Torah studies of the small Jewish children that led to the nullification of Haman’s decree and to his ultimate defeat. (When the Rebbe Rayatz was arrested and initially sentenced to death only four months later for the great “crime” of teaching Torah, his Soviet interrogators made specific reference to his Purim Katan address).

In a letter written nine years later in 1936, the Rebbe Rayatz described the events of that day:

On Purim Katan 5687 [1927], which fell on a Wednesday, I was in Moscow. The chassidim and the temimim (may they live and be well!) organized a farbrengen to be held in the Lubavitcher shul. That same morning, I was informed that investigations were being made concerning me at my lodgings in the Sibirski Hotel. A secret agent was already counting my steps. Early in the evening I received news from Leningrad that (May we never know of such news!) that a person close to me had been arrested. In fact, fears [among the chassidim] were being expressed concerning me. Nevertheless, I did not want to cancel the farbrengen.

The farbrengen was held at the appointed hour. I delivered the maamar which begins with the words, VeKibeil HaYehudim Eis Asher Heicheilu. The concept of self-sacrifice for the sake of the Torah and its mitzvos is mentioned there several times. I placed particular emphasis on those passages, ignoring the fact that the very walls had ears… Later, in the course of the farbrengen, I repeated those words with an emphasis intended to arouse the hearts [of my listeners to action], in keeping with the needs of those days…

The Rebbe would often publish an address from the Rebbe Rayatz for Yom Tov and in 1967, forty years after the Rebbe Rayatz delivered his historic Purim Katan address, he had it reprinted in a special kuntres (the pamphlet to which he refers in our correspondence) which he disseminated worldwide, accompanied by a a letter in which he urges everyone to study the address and apply its message to our lives today.

For a so-called “minor holiday,” Purim Katan was a frequent subject of the Rebbe’s discourses. For example, on Shushan Purim Katan 1984, he discussed how the joy of Purim Katan is so profound that we can’t even be told to be happy then because that would downgrade the joy. He emphasized that when joy is an obligation, it becomes diminished by the sense of duty and responsibility but, on the other hand, the joy becomes heightened when it is organic, innate, and completely from within. He also explained how rather than translating into action and a becoming a visceral experience, joy can remain static, and the joy of Purim Katan must facilitate feelings of joy and serenity that permeate our very being and existence.

In a speech he delivered on Purim Katan 1986, the Rebbe discusses the substance of our 1967 letter and the Rayatz’s emphasis on the importance of Purim Katan. It is worthwhile to cite this beautiful oratory at length:

… The day of Purim Katan (the 14th of Adar I) should be viewed as a precious guest. Frequent guests deserve polite attention and hospitality, but when a guest arrives, who has not come for a long time, then he deserves special attention. In the 19-year cycle of regular years and leap years we have 19 Purims, but only 7 Purim Katans. So, when Purim Katan comes, we truly have an infrequent and rare guest which deserves special attention.

How must we appreciate and savor every moment of this rare and precious day? We must truly utilize it for special activities… There is a strong connection between Purim and Purim Katan. As the Mishna teaches: “There is no difference between the first Adar and the second Adar save only in the reading of the Megillah and the distribution of gifts to the poor” (Megillah 6b). In all other matters it would appear that both Purims are the same, with Purim Katan retaining the quality of being first!

The theme of both is, of course, the Jewish victory over their enemies: “And it was turned about: the Jews gained the upper hand over their adversaries. [Citing Megillah 9:2] So much so, that: “Many from among the people of the land professed themselves as Jews” [Id. 8:17] While the others were overcome with the “fear of the Jews,” and deferred to the Jews (exalted them), because “the fear of Mordechai had fallen upon them” (Id. 9:3)… So Purim Katan carries this influence of evoking and eliciting the assistance and cooperation of the nations for the Jewish people…

As you educate the child so will he grow and develop and so will he teach his children, and they, their children, forever. Thus, it is this dedication to educating the young generation which represented the essence of the reaffirmation in the time of Mordechai – with an eternal force – so that “the remembrance shall not perish from their descendants” (Id. 9:28). The “children and sucklings” referred to in the maamar are infants and nursing babes (as is evident from the commentaries). Yet, the dedicated educational foundation given to such young children, e.g., when their mothers sing to them lullabies about the greatness of Torah, will set the foundation for their proper upbringing and foil and destroy the enemy.

The Previous Rebbe stressed the importance of Jewish education at that time and did not show any fear of the enemy that hovered over him, emphasizing that the work would bring the results of destroying the enemy. In fact, he explained, that those who were previously foes would be converted to become allies and assist in the holy work. Consequently, all of Torah would be reaffirmed in the broadest possible way.

With this in mind, we may derive the lesson and theme of Purim Katan . If there should arise “a foe and avenger” against Yiddishkeit, Torah, and mitzvos, not only must we not lose hope, but we must also increase our activities in all areas of Yiddishkeit. Start with establishing the “invincible might” (through raising babes and sucklings to all aspects of Torah) which will automatically “put an end to (and destroy) the foe and avenger.” And, in fact, just as “Many from among the people of the land professed themselves Jews,” during the redemption of Purim, similarly, the foe will be transformed, and assist you in spreading Torah…

This will lead to the ultimate redemption. First, we will reach the redemption of Purim, when Mordechai became great and the condition of the Jews improved, to the point that soon after the miracle of Purim the work on the Beis HaMikdash was started again (in the days of King Darius). Then we will bring close the redemption of Purim and Pesach to the ultimate redemption.

May all these forces be utilized in the proper manner, to become a partner with the Holy One, Blessed be He, and to reach the level of “ad d’lo yoda,” beyond understanding and measure, which is the theme of Purim, but which will be even stronger on Purim Katan, because of its rarity. May this all bring to action, from now into the future, from the redemption of Purim Katan to the true and ultimate redemption, through Dovid, King Mashiach, speedily and truly in our times.

2. “Purim Katan” is also called the “fourteenth of Adar I” in the Gemara. Therefore, when we choose to use the term “Purim Katan,” we are emphasizing that it has an aspect in which it is “smaller” than Purim. On the one hand we say it is “smaller,” which would seem to indicate that it is less important than Purim. On the other hand, the Gemara says: “There is no difference between the first Adar and the second Adar (meaning Purim and Purim Katan) save only in the reading of the Megillah and the distribution of gifts to the poor.” This would seem to indicate that in all other matters the two Purims are equal. Add to this the fact that we call it the “fourteenth of the first Adar” which would seem to say that it is “first” in importance.

Interestingly, Purim has in common with Pesach that they both have a “small” partner. Purim has Purim Katan and Pesach has Pesach Sheni (Katan). Except, that in the case of Purim, the small Purim is first (more important)…

Since everything was created for the glory of G-d, it follows that everything in existence can contribute something which another creature cannot give. Now if G-d’s honor and glory is enhanced by the contribution of a particular creature, certainly man must be ready to gain from everyone and everything. If so, Purim Katan, although it may be “small,” certainly has something important to contribute.

By coming first, Purim Katan opens the gate and makes it easier to follow through with the Divine service of Purim later on. It also provides the opportunity for Purim to introduce new aspects, subsequent to, and in addition to, the theme of Purim Katan. In a sense, it serves as a training day for Purim.

Now, by giving encouragement and enthusiasm a month ahead, on Purim Katan, all the themes of Purim will be richer and stronger. And, although this could be done in a normal year as well, we see that there is a distinct advantage when the motivation is clothed in a Purim format, on Purim Katan.

This provides an additional reason for this farbrengen, to encourage and inspire everyone to make the proper preparations to carry out “Mivtzah Purim,” to educate and inform the Jewish people of the mitzvos of Purim – so that they will perform them. By starting on Purim Katan, we will neutralize any problems and instill more power and enthusiasm for the mitzvos of Purim…

Wishing everyone a joyous Purim Katan and with prayers that all our modern Hamans will be defeated and that all our hostages will be returned home safely to celebrate the Great Purim with their families with joy.


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Saul Jay Singer serves as senior legal ethics counsel with the District of Columbia Bar and is a collector of extraordinary original Judaica documents and letters. He welcomes comments at at [email protected].