– Author: Rav Joel Kenigsberg

One of the striking features of the Jewish calendar is the unique interplay it preserves between both the lunar and solar cycles. Unlike other systems which are based on either the moon’s orbit around the Earth or Earth’s orbit around the sun, the Torah defines its calendar using both. Rosh Chodesh (the beginning of each month) is established based on the sighting of the new moon,[1] yet the Torah describes the timing of the Festivals as a function not just of date but of seasons[2] – something determined by the solar calendar. In order to maintain the proper synthesis between the two systems,[3] there exists a complex system of ibur shana (colloquially translated as “leap year”) whereby an additional month (Adar Sheini) is added to the calendar seven times over nineteen years.

This mechanism can cause interesting and often paradoxical situations. For example, the Mahari Mintz[4] posed the enigmatic question of how Reuven could be born before Shimon, yet Shimon would have his Bar Mitzvah first. The answer to the riddle is that the two boys were born in Adar Rishon and Adar Sheini, respectively, of a shana me’uberet, yet their Bar Mitzvah falls out in a shana peshuta (when there is only one month of Adar). Thus, if Reuven’s birthday was towards the end of the month of Adar and Shimon’s was towards the beginning, Shimon would reach Bar Mitzvah age first, even though he had been born in the subsequent month to Reuven!

However, beyond the quirks of such particular cases, the question can be asked how we are to relate to the additional month in the calendar and what the relationship is between the two months of Adar. Which is considered the “real” Adar, so to speak? This question has ramifications for several different areas of halacha that we will consider in this essay, after which we will focus specifically on the question of when a yahrtzeit should be observed in a shana me’uberet for one who passed away in the month of Adar of a shana peshuta.

Which is the “Real” Adar?

The Mishna in Masechet Nedarim[5] discusses the case of one who made an oath not to drink wine until the month of Adar. The Mishna says that in a shana me’uberet the oath would remain valid only until the beginning of the first month of Adar (Adar Rishon).

The Gemara then suggests that a dispute among the Tanna’im regarding the dating of documents supports the notion that the Mishna follows the opinion of R. Yehuda.[6]

דתניא: אדר הראשון – כותב אדר הראשון, אדר שני – כותב אדר סתם, דברי ר”מ; ר’ יהודה אומר: אדר הראשון – כותב סתם, אדר שני – כותב תיניין!

As it is taught in a baraita: In the first month of Adar, [when dating a document], one writes [that the document was composed] in the first Adar. During the second Adar, one writes [the name of the month] of Adar without specification; this is the statement of Rabbi Meir. Rabbi Yehuda says [the reverse]: During the first Adar one writes [the name of the month] without specification, and in the second Adar he writes [that the document was composed] in the second [Adar].

According to R. Meir, if one simply writes “Adar” on a document in a shana me’uberet, it implies that it is referring to the second month of Adar. According to R. Yehuda, the opposite is true.

From the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch and the Rema in several different places we can infer that the accepted halachic opinion is that of R. Yehuda that “Adar” simply stated refers to the first month of Adar:

  • Regarding documents: In Choshen Mishpat,[7] the Shulchan Aruch states that if a document of debt states “Adar” this refers to the first month of Adar. The Rema echoes this idea in Orach Chaim.[8]
  • Regarding gittin (bill of divorce): The Shulchan Aruch[9] states that when writing a get in Adar of a shana me’uberet one should specify whether it is the first or second month of Adar. However, the Rema adds that if one did not specify, in Adar Rishon the get would still be valid, while in Adar Sheini it would not.
  • Regarding vows: If one made an oath not to drink wine until Rosh Chodesh Adar, this would apply only until Rosh Chodesh of the first month of Adar.[10]

Ostensibly one could argue that the dispute among the Tanna’im is precisely as to which of the two months of Adar is considered primary and which is merely an addition. Accordingly, the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch and Rema, following R. Yehuda, would be that Adar Rishon is considered the “real” Adar.

However, although the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch seems clear cut, the question is in fact subject to a machloket Rishonim. The Ran writes explicitly that we follow R. Yehuda’s opinion according to the general Talmudic principle that in a dispute between R. Meir and R. Yehuda the halacha follows the latter.[11] This view (that “Adar” written without further elaboration refers to the first month of Adar) is espoused by many other Rishonim including the Rosh, Ramban, Raavad and Rabbeinu Yerucham.

The Rambam,[12] by contrast, follows the ruling of R. Meir, as do Tosafot,[13] who explicitly state that “the additional month is Adar Rishon and not Adar Sheini.” As further proof of this claim, Tosafot make note that Purim is observed in a shana me’uberet in the second month of Adar. Further analysis of this last claim may help shed light on our question as to which month of Adar is considered primary.

Purim in a Shana Me’uberet

Regarding Purim in a shana me’uberet, the Gemara[14] presents a dispute as to when the mitzvot of the day should be observed.

רבי אליעזר ברבי יוסי סבר: בכל שנה ושנה, מה כל שנה ושנה אדר הסמוך לשבט – אף כאן אדר הסמוך לשבט, ורבן שמעון בן גמליאל סבר: בכל שנה ושנה, מה כל שנה ושנה אדר הסמוך לניסן – אף כאן אדר הסמוך לניסן. בשלמא רבי אליעזר ברבי יוסי – מסתבר טעמא, דאין מעבירין על המצות, אלא רבן שמעון בן גמליאל מאי טעמא? – אמר רבי טבי: טעמא דרבי שמעון בן גמליאל מסמך גאולה לגאולה עדיף.

Rabbi Eliezer, son of Rabbi Yosei, maintains: “In each and every year” [teaches that Purim must be celebrated the same way each year, even if it is intercalated]: Just as each and every year [Purim is celebrated during] Adar that is adjacent to Shevat, so too here [in an intercalated year Purim is celebrated] during Adar that is adjacent to Shevat. And Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel maintains: “In each and every year” [teaches that] just as each and every year [Purim is celebrated] in Adar that is adjacent to Nisan, so too here, [in an intercalated year, Purim is celebrated during] Adar that is adjacent to Nisan. [The Gemara asks:] Granted, according to Rabbi Eliezer, son of Rabbi Yosei, the reason for his opinion is logical, [based on the principle] that one does not forego performance of the mitzvot; [rather, when presented with the opportunity to perform a mitzva, one should do so immediately.] However, with regard to Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, what is the reason [for his opinion]? Rabbi Tavi said: The reason for the opinion of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel is that juxtaposing [the celebration] of one redemption, [Purim,] to [the celebration] of another redemption, [Passover,] is preferable.

The Shulchan Aruch[15] follows the second opinion that Purim is observed in the second month of Adar and this is the accepted practice according to all authorities. This observance would seem to imply, as Tosafot suggested, that Adar Sheini is indeed the “real” month of Adar. However, as seen above, the Shulchan Aruch implied just the opposite in relation to the halachot of oaths and documents. How are we to reconcile this seeming contradiction?

Two explanations could be suggested:

  • We could suggest that the first Adar is the “real” one, but regarding Purim there is a somewhat technical reason why the celebration is postponed until Adar Sheini – “in order to juxtapose the celebration of one redemption to another.”[16] The opposing opinion also invoked a seemingly tangential principle of “ein maavirin al hamitzvot,” but the discussion in the Gemara was never (explicitly) based on the question of which month of Adar is considered primary.
  • Alternatively, we could revisit our original assumption. The halachot that were brought above do not necessarily provide an indication regarding the nature of the “real” month of Adar. Since they derive from the areas of shtarot (documents) and nedarim (vows), these halachot are governed by the principle of ,הלך אחר לשון בני אדם “one should follow the language of people.”[17] Thus, when one writes “Adar” on a document or mentions the month by name in an oath, the pertinent question is which month he had in mind. Which month is primary and which is an addition may well be irrelevant. R. Meir and R. Yehuda could be arguing not about which is the “real” Adar but about what people have in mind when they colloquially refer to the name of the month.[18]

Applying the Distinction to a Yahrtzeit

Based on the above explanation we can suggest that the date of a yahrtzeit might depend upon which category of halacha the observance of a yahrtzeit falls. If it belongs in the realm of nedarim, then the crucial question becomes what is considered the “language of people,” while if we are trying to discern when the “real” date of the yahrtzeit should occur, then perhaps it depends upon which month is the “real” Adar.

This suggestion may help explain a dispute between the Shulchan Aruch and Rema about the issue. Although the date of observance of the yahrtzeit is not dealt with explicitly by the Shulchan Aruch in the laws of mourning, in the laws of fasting[19] we do find the case addressed, in the context of the custom to fast on the yahrtzeit of one’s parent.

כשאירע יום שמת אביו או אמו באדר, והשנה מעוברת, יתענה באדר ב’. הגה: ויש אומרים דיתענה בראשון (מהרי”ל ומהר”י מינץ), אם לא שמת בשנת העיבור באדר שני דאז נוהגים להתענות בשני (ת”ה סימן רצ”ה); וכן המנהג להתענות בראשון, מיהו יש מחמירין להתענות בשניהם (פסקי מהר”י בשם מהר”י מולין).

If the day that his father or mother died falls in Adar and the year is a leap year, he should fast in the second Adar. Rema: There are those who say that he should fast in the first [Adar] (Maharil and Mahari Mintz) unless [the parent] died in a leap year in the second Adar, in which case the practice is to fast in the second Adar (Terumat HaDeshen siman 295). It is the practice to fast in the first [Adar]. However, there are those who are stringent and fast in both (the rulings of Mahari in the name of Mahari Molin).

In this halacha, the Shulchan Aruch writes that one whose father or mother died in Adar of a shana peshuta should fast in Adar Sheini of a shana me’uberet. The Rema brings the opinion that one should fast in Adar Rishon, and then mentions the stringent opinion to observe the yahrtzeit in both months. In the laws of mourning in Yoreh De’ah,[20] the Rema writes that the opinion to fast in the first month of Adar is “the primary opinion.”

The Rema’s ruling is based on the Terumat HaDeshen,[21] who explains that just like regarding other vows we assume “Adar” to be referring to Adar Rishon, this is the case here as well. Since the custom to fast on a yahrtzeit is similar to an oath, it should follow the same rules.

The Rema’s ruling is logical based on this understanding, but the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch needs to be understood. If the Shulchan Aruch ruled regarding vows that one follows the first Adar, why does he state that a yahrtzeit should be observed in Adar Sheini? Perhaps this ruling can be understood in light of the words of the Chatam Sofer:[22]

אבל לענין אמירת קדיש ביום יא”צ שהוא מפני דין הנשמה, שלמעלה בודאי הוא באדר שני כלשון תורה דדין שלמעלה בודאי הוא נגרר אחר לשון תורה.

Regarding saying Kaddish on a yahrtzeit, this is because of the judgment the soul faces in the Heavenly realm, which is certainly in Adar Sheini, following the language of the Torah, since the judgment in Heaven certainly follows the language of the Torah.

According to this understanding, the yahrtzeit is defined not by the rules of nedarim, but rather by the objective reality of which day is considered the actual anniversary of the person’s passing, or phrased differently, which is the “real” month of Adar. The Shulchan Aruch’s ruling is well understood if the second month is primary.

We can now understand the third and most stringent opinion – to observe the yahrtzeit twice. Although Tosafot and others opined that the second month of Adar is primary, this was never explicitly stated in the Gemara. Thus, in order to ensure that the yahrtzeit is observed on the correct day, it is observed twice.

Two Yahrtzeits as a Matter of Certainty

The Gra takes this opinion one step further. He writes[23] that the yahrtzeit should be observed twice not as a matter of doubt, but rather as a matter of certainty – “me’ikar hadin.”

The reasoning would be as follows: perhaps there is no one “real” Adar, but rather both months have the status of Adar. Thus, the discussion of when to observe Purim was based on external reasons, because in truth Purim could have been observed in either month. Therefore, when asking in which month of Adar the neshama faces the judgment that occurs on a yahrtzeit, the answer is both. Both months have the status of the “real” Adar and every shana me’uberet the yahrtzeit occurs twice.

We conclude with the words of the Mishna Berura[24] as to how this is to be practically observed:

מיהו יש מחמירין להתענות בשניהם – עיין במ”א שמסיק דאם קבל עליו בנדר להתענות יום שמת בו אביו או רבו מחוייב להתענות בשניהם דכן הוא העיקר לדינא [וכ”כ הגר”א] אכן אם לא קבל עליו בפירוש רק מצד מנהגא שמנהג להתענות יום שמת בו אביו ואמו אינו צריך להתנהג לעולם אלא כמו שנהג בפעם ראשונה כשמתרמי לו השנה מעוברת דמעיקרא אדעתא דהכי קבל עליה אכן בפעם ראשונה גופא אם בא לימלך כיצד לעשות הנכון לומר לו שיתענה בשניהם (אכן אם קשה לו להתענות בשניהם נראה שטוב יותר שיברור לו אדר ראשון דכן הוא המנהג) אכן האבלים אין צריכין ליתן לו קדיש אלא פעם אחד.

However, there are those who are stringent and fast in both – See the Magen Avraham who concludes that if one accepted a vow upon himself to fast on the day that one’s father or teacher died, one is obligated to fast on both days, as that is the accepted halacha (and this is what the Gra writes as well). But if he did not explicitly accept upon himself to do so, but merely did so as part of the custom of people to fast on the day that one’s father or mother died, then one need only conduct himself however he practiced the first year that it fell out on a leap year, as he accepted it initially based on that understanding. But if he consults on the first year as to what to do, it is appropriate to tell him to fast on both (but if it is hard for him to fast on both, it seems that it is better for him to choose Adar Rishon, as that is the custom), but the mourner need only let him recite kaddish once.

[1] Rosh Chodesh was originally declared by the Sanhedrin each month based on a combination of eyewitness testimony of the new moon and astronomical calculations. Nowadays we operate based upon a fixed calendar. For further elaboration see Rambam, Hilchot Kiddush HaChodesh.

[2] See Devarim 16:1, שמור את חודש האביב and Gemara, Rosh Hashana 21a, שמור אביב של תקופה, שיהא בחודש ניסן.

[3] A solar year comprises approximately 365 days while a lunar year comprises on average 354 days, leaving a discrepancy of 11 days between them.

[4] Shut Mahari Mintz, siman 9

[5] 63a

[6] The Gemara rejects the proof and allows for the possibility that the Mishnah follows R. Meir’s opinion and concerns one who was unaware that the year in question was a shana me’uberet. Nonetheless, the argument between R. Meir and R. Yehuda regarding documents remains.

[7] Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 43:28

[8] Rema, Orach Chaim 427:1

[9] Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha’Ezer 126:7

[10] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 220:8. However, if the oath was not to drink until the end of Adar then this would include Adar Sheini as well.

[11] Eiruvin 46b

[12] Rambam, Hilchot Nedarim 10:6

[13] Nedarim 63b s.v. “vehatanya

[14] Megilla 6b

[15] See Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 697.

[16] This may also be the reason why the fourteenth of Adar Rishon is still celebrated as Purim Katan. See Shulchan Aruch listed in the previous footnote.

[17] Nedarim 49a

[18] Unlike in the Bavli where the question is not addressed explicitly, the Yerushalmi does ask the question of which month is primary and which one is an addition. See Yerushalmi, Megilla 7a.

[19] Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 568:7

[20] Rema, Yoreh De’ah 402:12

[21] Terumat HaDeshen 294

[22] Shut Chatam Sofer, Orach Chaim 1:163

[23] Orach Chaim 568:7

[24] Orach Chaim  568:42

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