Rabbi's Update 1/28/2022

Dear Friends:

If it seems to you that the High Holidays are very “early” in a certain year, it’s a good bet that the subsequent Purim and Passover will be “late”. I put the words “early” and “late” in quotation marks because all Jewish holidays always fall precisely when they are supposed to according to the Hebrew calendar. But because the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars differ in some significant respects, there is a month’s difference between the earliest date that Rosh Hashanah can fall on the Gregorian calendar (Sept. 5) and the latest (Oct. 5) while it is, of course, always on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishri.

The biggest difference between the two calendars is that the Hebrew calendar is lunar while the Gregorian calendar is solar. Twelve lunar months yield 354 days while twelve solar months yield 365 days. This would not necessarily be a problem except that the Torah is quite clear that Sukkot needs to be in the fall and Pesach in the spring. If there were not some mechanism of correction to take into account the eleven day difference, Sukkot would soon fall in the summer and Pesach in the winter.

In biblical times, when most Jews lived in the Land of Israel and were engaged in agriculture, nature would tell our ancestors whether or not to add an additional month to the calendar. Eventually the calendar was fixed according to certain rules by Hillel the Younger, who lived from 320 to 385 CE. The system that he determined is the one we still follow and it is extremely accurate. There is a nineteen year calendrical cycle and an extra month is added in the third, sixth, eighth, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years of the cycle.

The “extra” month is Adar I and with this year being a leap year, Adar I begins this coming Monday night. Because Adar I is an “extra” month, Purim falls during Adar II and thus there is essentially an “extra” month this year between the High Holidays in the fall and Pesach in the spring. And whereas Rosh Hashanah this year began on the evening of Sept. 6, in 2022 it begins on the night of Sept. 25.

The leap year causes some confusion and controversy around the question of Adar yahrzeits. If someone dies in a leap year in Adar I or Adar II, their yahrzeit falls in the actual month when it’s another leap year. But if someone dies in either Adar during a leap year, their yahrzeit is observed in the only Adar which exists in a non-leap year. If two people die in the next few weeks, one at the end of Adar I and the other at the beginning of Adar II, next year the yahrzeit of the second person who died would be a few weeks earlier than the first person who died.

There is an active disagreement about when to observe the yahrzeits of people who died in Adar during a non-leap year. My own approach is that since the second Adar is the “real” one, the yahrzeit should be observed in Adar II. But there are those who hold that since observance of a yahrzeit is a mitzvah and we should not delay performing a mitzvah, it’s proper to observe the yahrzeit during Adar I. If you have a family tradition or a strong preference one way or the other you should do what makes sense to you; others observe the yahrzeit in both Adars to remove any doubt.

At any rate, since the Sages teach us that mi-shenichnas Adar, marbin b’simcha -- when Adar comes, joy is increased -- and this year we have two months of Adar, may we all see a double portion of the joy we so desperately need.

As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at rabbi@kehilatshalom.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. Although I am working primarily from home, I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Charles L. Arian

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