Monday, January 27, 2020 -
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Leap . . . leap

Dear Tzviling,

I recently attended a class on the significance of Purim. I heard a fascinating thing. Namely, that the Jews knew ahead of time that the Haman would die on a Jewish holiday. This is incredible. How did the Jews know this? Was it prophecy? Talmudic wisdom?

— Farokh, Cedarhurst

Dear Farokh,

It’s actually quite obvious. You see, they knew that any day that Haman would die would be a Jewish holiday.

Dear Tzvling,

I notice that this year is a leap year in the Jewish calendar with an extra month in the year. Why an entire month? Could you clarify the reason for this, and how often this occurs.

— Brenda, Greeley

Dear Brenda,

Thank you for an excellent question.

Many people are confused about this especially when it comes to observing birthdays and other Jewish lifecycles events during a leap year.

The Torah instructs us to count our months based on the moon. The first month is Nisan the month of Passover.

The moon’s cycle is 29.5 days, making 354 days in the Jewish year (29.5 x 12). This is 11 days shorter than the solar year, with 365.5 days in the year.

That means that every Jewish year, the months move back about one-third of a month. In nine years the Jewish holidays would fall behind the solar seasons by about three months. Sometimes, Passover would be in the summer and sometimes in the winter.

Here is where it gets interesting.

Since the Torah tells us to observe the holiday of Passover in the spring, we must adjust the months in a manner which keeps the month of Nisan (the month of Passover) in the spring.

Voila! the Jewish leap year.

An extra month is added approximately once every three years, when the 11 day difference grows into a month. (To be exact, the extra month is added in the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years in every 19-year cycle).

This extra month is added after the month of Shevat and before the month of Adar (the month of Purim). We call this added month Adar I, and the Adar that has in it Purim Adar II.

This way, Nisan, the month of Passover, is pushed back into its rightful place in the order of the seasons. With Nisan in its proper place, all subsequent months and their festivals, Shavuot and Sukkot, fall into their proper places.

What about birthdays?

If a person was born in Adar, the birthday is celebrated in the same Adar in which Purim falls, meaning Adar II. However if someone was born in Adar I in a leap year, then  the birthday  is celebrated in Adar I.

Conversely, if someone was born in Adar II (in a leap year), he celebrates his birthday in regular years in the regular Adar.

Here is where it gets tricky.

If one person was born on the 20th of Adar I and his friend was born in the next month on the fifth of Adar II, if their Bar Mitzvah is in a regular year (with only one Adar), the younger boy (born in Adar II) will celebrate his Bar Bitzvah on the fifth of Adar before his older friend (born in Adar I) on the third of Adar.

Simple, no?

SEND your questions to to be answered with wit, wisdom and humor by identical twins Rabbis Yisroel Engel (Denver) and Shloime Engel (Montreal) who share their combined 100 years of experience.

Copyright © 2011 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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