Many questions arise regarding the Leap Year on the Hebrew calendar. Our Jewish calendar follows the lunar cycle, while our secular (Gregorian) calendar follows the solar cycle. In a 12-month year, the solar calendar has 365 and ½ days, while the lunar calendar has only 354 and 1/3 days (11 days shorter). How do make sure that we do not fall eleven days “behind” each year? Why is this is important? In the Torah, we are instructed to celebrate our Jewish holidays in specific seasons: Passover in the Spring, Shavuot in the Summer and Sukkot in the Fall. With that eleven day difference, we could wind up with Passover in the Summer – or a Yom Kippur snowday. There must be a way to fix this!
Indeed, there is. To ensure that our holidays always take place in their appropriate seasons, the Jewish calendar was adjusted – 1,800 years ago – to accommodate for this eleven day difference between the calendars. In the 4th Century C.E., Hillel II scheduled an extra month at the end of the Biblical Year. The Biblical Year begins in Spring with Nisan (Exod. 12:1-2) and ends with Adar. Hillel II, in conjunction with the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Supreme Court) chose to repeat the entire month of Adar (Adar I and Adar II) seven times over a 19-year period. Amazingly, this works out perfectly – and it was figured out 1,800 years ago.
Since the holiday of Purim takes place in the month of Adar, what are we t0 do in a leap year (such as the current year) when we have two months named “Adar” – Adar I and Adar II? The Talmud in Tractate Megilla (6b) records a disagreement concerning the question of when we read the Megilla (Scroll of Esther) in a Leap Year. In other words, when is Purim? One opinion argues for Purim in the first Adar, just after the month after Shvat. The contrary opinion links Purim with Pesach. This, indeed, is the practice today – it makes more sense to connect the celebration of redemption on Purim with the celebration of redemption on Passover by celebrating Purim on Adar II.
So, is Adar I bereft of holidays? Not quite. Though Purim is officially celebrated in Adar II, there is a mini version of Purim celebrated in the first month of Adar as well. We call it “Purim Katan” (Little Purim) and feasting and other Purim observances are encouraged. In preparation for our main Purim (March 23rd this year) and Purim Katan (February 23), here is a refresher of the four mitzvot (commandments), associated with Purim:
1. The Reading of the Book of Esther (Megillat Esther)- this year, March 23rd.
2. Enjoying a festive meal on the day of Purim (Seudat Purim)
3. Sending small gifts to family and friends (Mishloach Manot). See email from the JCCH to participate.
4. Sending gifts to the poor (Matanot l’Evyonim)
With blessings for a joyful, meaningful and happy Purim (or, two of them this year).