Image: An early harbinger of spring, a crocus blooms in the snow. Photo by Justyna Markiewicz.
The month of Adar Alef, 5776 began at sundown on February 8, 2016.
5776 is a leap year in the nineteen-year Jewish cycle. This cycle keeps our lunar monthly calendar aligned with the solar seasons, so we have two Adars, Alef and Bet. That way Passover remains in the spring, the High Holy Days remain in the fall, but we still have a lunar calendar. Clever, no?
Some things to know:
Holidays such as Purim are observed in Adar Bet, next month.
Yahrzeits are observed in Adar Bet, unless the death occurred in Adar Alef in a leap year.
Purim Katan [“little Purim’] is listed on some Jewish calendars for Adar. It is usually not observed in any organized way.
We continue with this curious Jewish year of 5774: first we had Chanukah/Thanksgiving, now we have Purim Katan/Valentine’s Day, and next month we’ll have Purim/St. Patrick’s Day. Passover will arrive without a pairing, unless you count Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, which would make for a very odd couple, he having been a slaveowner and all that.
Purim Katan (Little Purim) is the holiday that isn’t, a day when we have Purim without the observances, as the Velveteen Rabbi explains in her excellent post for the day. (If you are not acquainted with Rabbi Rachel Barenblat’s writing, you are in for a treat.)
Valentine’s Day was originally Lupercalia and not the least bit Jewish, but then, it wasn’t exactly about love, either: more of a combination fertility festival and bacchanal. It has become a marketing bacchanal in our day, with the media blaring nonstop about great deals on roses, candy, diamonds, and other love tokens.
My inner Zionist reminds me that i could skip all this nonsense if I’d just make aliyah already. In Israel, one celebrates only Jewish holidays. But here in Galutwe will continue to tumble between two calendars.
5774 is a leap year. The good news is that we have two months of Adar, two months of rejoicing! But does that mean that we also celebrate Purim twice?
The simple answer: no. If you look closely at your Jewish calendar, the first month of Adar (Adar Alef or Adar Rishon) lists the 14th of Adar I as “Purim Katan” or “Little Purim.” This acknowledges the date, 14 Adar, but we do not celebrate Purim on that date: no megillah reading, no mishloach manot, and no festive meal.
You may wonder why the first month of Adar gets such a shabby treatment. Purim is fun! Why put it off? First, tradition: we know from the Mishnah (Megilah6b) that we’ve been reading the megillah in the second month of Adar since at least 200 CE. Secondly, the Gemara tells us that Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel taught that we read the megillah in the second month of Adar so that we are celebrating the redemption of Purim closer to the redemption of Passover.
This reminds us that Purim is not just about costumes and skits and merriment: it is also a festival of redemption, “warming us up” for the great redemption of Passover.
And as for Purim Katan: we are still forbidden to mourn or to fast on 14 Adar I. In a leap year, then, we have a warm up to the warm up, a double opportunity to be extremely well prepared for the spiritual growth of Passover.