These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Leap Year

Posted on April 12, 2016 by Becca Shrier

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In the Gregorian calendar, a leap year occurs every four years, adding one day to the month of February. In the Jewish calendar, a leap year occurs seven times in a 19-year cycle, creating an “extra” month – Adar Aleph. Occasionally, both leap years sync up – which they did this year, 2016. This poses an interesting conundrum; what if someone is born in the month of Adar in a non-leap year – does one observe the birthday in Adar Aleph or Adar Bet? Purim is on the 14th of Adar, and, in a leap year, Purim Katan (Little Purim) is observed in Adar Aleph and Purim is observed in Adar Bet. For me, this question isn’t purely theoretical and it isn’t a tool for halakhic debate. My mom passed away on the 14th of Adar (Purim) in 2001 – incidentally, not in a leap year. There are differing opinions on whether to observe a Yahrzeit (memorial anniversary) in Adar Aleph or Adar Bet – some even say to observe it in both.

Growing up, my mom owned a retail store that specialized in costumes and ski-wear. In the month of October, my mom would work long hours helping people create the perfect costume from an assortment of hidden gems throughout her store for Halloween. It seemed fitting, therefore, that my Mom would pass away on Purim – a holiday where Jews, young and old, dress up in costumes. Although Purim wasn’t a part of my life post-day school, I’m confident that my mom would fully embrace Purim if she were alive today. Purim brings me great joy and merriment and I can’t think of a better way to honor my mother than partaking in the mitzvot that remind us of the miracle of our survival. And yet, this year, her yahrzeit did not fall on Purim – it fell on Purim Katan.

Perhaps if my mom passed away on another day in Adar, this wouldn’t bother me so much, but she passed away on Purim – so it feels odd not to say Kaddish on Purim. As it happened, Pardes went on a tiyul on Purim Katan – the day I observed my mother’s yahrzeit. I felt compelled to both share words about my mother and learn more about the halakha and customs for Purim Katan. As it turns out, there are no obligations – we don’t read the megillah or engage in other mitzvot. “Neverthteless,” the Shulchan Aruch says, “a person should increase somewhat in festivity.” It cites the following verse from Proverbs for further explanation: “One who is of good heart is festive always.” My mother had a huge heart and would love any excuse to have a party and celebrate with friends and family.

The gift I’ve gained from my learning at Pardes is that I can now imbue meaning into a day that seemed merely to be an inconvenience. I will always rejoice on the “real” Purim, but during leap years, I’m just as happy to find festivity and joy on “Little Purim.”

Becca Shrier