Pesach and the Jewish Calendar

Guest Post from R’ Meir Deutsch (c) [lightly edited by me]

© מאיר דויטש ניסן ה’תשע”ו
את חג המצות תשמור […] למועד חודש האביב
The Hebrew calendar is based on a combination of the lunar and solar calendars, as written in Bereshit:

“יהי מאורות ברקיע השמיים להבדיל בין היום ובין הלילה, והיו לאותות ולמועדים ולימים ושנים.” 

Our calendar is based on the Babylonian one. The names of the months are very similar, and the Babylonian calendar has also a leap year with ADARO SHENI. The Hebrew Calendar, according to Rav Ada (lived in the third century in Pumbedita) has a cycle of 19 years to merge the lunar and solar years. In his calendar we have:

365 days

5 hours

55 minutes

25 seconds.

The length of a year as known today is: 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds, a difference of just 6 minutes and 39 seconds.

For order’s sake, I want to mention, that according to Shmuel  in Eruvin 56a the solar year is 365 days and 6 hours.

ואין בין תקופה לתקופה אלא תשעים ואחד יום ושבע שעות ומחצה.

In HALACHA Shmuel’s calendar was adopted. According to his calendar the ברכת החמה is fixed. Shmuel’s calendar is based on the Julian calendar. As the HALACHA is based on Shmuel’s calendar, the calendar of Rav Ada is not mentioned in the Talmud, but most of the calculations are based on his calendar.         

Today we are in the Jewish year 5776 = ה’תשע”ו, and it is a leap year. When do we add another Adar to our calendar to match the two calendars? According to the formula of the Hebrew calendar the leap years in the 19 year circle are גו”ח אדז”ט, meaning that the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years are leap years.

What do our sages say in that matter? The Talmud in Sanhedrin 12a says:

“תנו רבנן: אין מעברין את השנה לא בשביעית, ולא במוצאי שביעית.”

Don’t we have a problem this year with that? Last year we had a Shmitta year, if so, how come that the current year is a leap year? This problem can be solved by the Yerushalmi:

מסכת פאה פרק ה הלכה א: “ר’ יונתן ברי’ דר’ יצחק בר אחא שמע לה מן הדא אין מעברין את השנה לא בשביעית ולא במוצאי שביעית ואם עברוה הר”ז מעוברת.”

We mentioned earlier which years are leap years according to the formula. Does this formula match the learning of out sages?

Let us have a look at Sanhedrin 11b:

“ת”ר על שלושה דברים מעברין את השנה: על האביב, ועל פירות האילן, ועל התקופה”.

Why do we have to make a year a leap year?

We are ordered to celebrate Passover. We have a date on which we should celebrate it, but we have a condition for fixing the date – the season. The Torah, in Shmot (23, 16) says:

“את חג המצות תשמור […] למועד חודש האביב”

And in Devarim (16, 1) we find written:

“שמור את חודש האביב ועשית פסח לה’ א-לוהיך”

The dates are; for the Pesach sacrifice the 14th of the month (Nissan), and Chag Hamatzot the following day. These dates are according the lunar calendar, but the condition that it should be in the [first] month of spring is determined by the solar calendar. The Rambam writes on this matter:

(רמב”ם הלכות קידוש החודש פרק ד הלכה א): “ולולא הוספת החדש הזה היה הפסח בא פעמים בימות החמה ופעמים בימות הגשמים.”

We have four seasons, Autumn/fall, winter, spring and summer, we call them:

תקופת תשרי, תקופת טבת, תקופת ניסן ותקופת תמוז.

As we are dealing with seasons, they are fixed by the solar calendar.

Tkufat Nissan – 21st March (length of day and night equal)

Tkufat Tamuz – 21st June (the longest day)

Tkufat Tishrei   – 23rd September (length of day and night equal)

Tkufat Tevet – 21st December (the shortest day).

Rashi in Mesechet Rosh Hashana 21a explains the saying of Rav Huna:

“ואביב הוא יום תקופת ניסן, שניסן של חמה נכנס בו, שניסן קרוי אביב על שם בישול התבואה, ובישול התבואה אינו אלא לחשבונה של חמה, שהקיץ והחורף אחר חשבון החמה הם, […] ואילו היה תקופת ניסן ביום חמשה עשר – לא היינו צריכין לעבר את השנה, אלא נעבר אדר ונדחה את ניסן יום אחד, ותפול התקופה ביום ארבעה עשר, אבל כשהיא באה ביום ששה עשר בניסן – לא די לן בעיבורו של אדר, וצריכה השנה להתעבר […].”

And the Rambam writes on this matter:

(רמב”ם הלכות קידוש החודש פרק ד הלכה ב)

“על שלשה סימנין מעברין את השנה, על התקופה ועל האביב ועל פירות האילן, כיצד? בית דין מחשבין ויודעין אם תהיה תקופת ניסן בששה עשר בניסן או אחר זמן זה מעברין אותה השנה, ויעשו אותו ניסן אדר שני כדי שיהיה הפסח בזמן האביב [שהוא 30 יום הראשונים של תקופת ניסן], ועל סימן זה סומכין ומעברין ואין חוששין לסימן אחר.” 

Tkufat Nisan starts on 21st March must start by the 14th of Nisan. If it starts on the 15th we add one day to Adar, and if it starts on the 16th or later we make it a leap year and add the second Adar, otherwise Passover will not be celebrated in the spring, which is the first month of Tkufat Nisan.

Let us take for example this year – 5776. If we did not add the second Adar, the 14th of Nisan, would fall on the 24th of March, which is within the first month of Tkufat Nisan, and Passover would be celebrated in the month of spring. Did we have to add, according to Rashi, the Rambam or the Talmud, the second Adar to the calendar this year? Do we celebrate Passover this year in the first month of spring? 

חג מצות שמח.

Dealing with two Adars

I came across this beautiful piece of Torah from מורי ורבי, Rav Hershel Schachter שליט’’א, (c) TorahWeb 2008, and think it is well worth sharing.

Will the Real Adar Please Step Forward

If one dies during the month of Adar in a shanah peshuta (a non-leap year which has only one Adar), when do the children observe the yahrzeit during a shana meuberes (a Jewish leap year which consists of thirteen months, two of them called Adar)? Should the yahrzeit be kept during the first Adar or the second? The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 568:3) quotes a difference of opinion on this matter. The sephardim follow the view of the Mechaber (Rav Yosef Karo) that the yahrzeit should be observed in the second month of Adar, while the Ashkenazim follow the view of the Rama (Rav Moshe Isserles) that it should be kept in the first Adar.

The presentation of this dispute in the Shulchan Aruch runs as follows: (I) the whole idea of observing a yahrzeit is a matter of minhag (custom) (II) customs are binding (rabinically) because they are considered as if the individual had taken a neder l’dvar mitzvah (a vow regarding a mitzvah) (III) when it comes to nedarim the determination of what is and is not included depends on lashon beni adam (the common language usage in the place and time of the neder) (IV) the gemara in Nedarim (63a) quotes a dispute among the Tanaim whether in common usage it is the first or the second Adar which is referred to simply as “Adar” without specifying “first Adar” or “second Adar”. The Mechaber and the Rama are arguing about which view of the Tanaim is the accepted view, i.e. do people have in mind the first or second Adar when they refer to Adar during a leap year?

We are still left with a major problem. Given that all languages change over time, just because in the days of the Tanaim in Eretz Yisroel the common usage of the term “Adar” during a leap year may have meant one or the other of the two months, perhaps over the years the usage has changed. The Meiri in his commentary to Maseches Nedraim repeats many times that the interpretations of lashon bnei adam as given by the Mishna and the Gemara only applied at that time and in that part of the world. It is quite possible that the usage of terms has changed.

The Rama concludes that one should observe the yahrzeit in a leap year during both months of Adar. We would probably understand this to be based on the Talmudic dispute regarding what is indeed the lashon bnei adam, and because of the doubt we recommend that one be machmir. However, Rav Solovetichik was fond of pointing out the explanation given by the Vilner Gaon for this position. The Gaon said the yahrzeit should be observed in both months of Adar not because of a safek (a doubt) but rather b’Toras vaday (as a certainty).

The Tanaim (Megillah 6b)had a major dispute regarding the observance of Purim during a leap year. Should the Megillah be read on the fourteenth day of the first month of Adar or of the second month of Adar. In this context the Talmud does not refer to the aforementioned dispute between the Tanaim regarding a neder. The issue of what is included in a neder is a function of lashon bnei adam, but the reading of the Megillah is a function of which day is the real Purim, which in turn depends on which month is the real Adar. The Tanaim give seemingly tangential reasons for their views of when the Megillah should be read, and don’t tackle the crux of the issue: which day is the real Purim? Therefore it would appear that both Adars are really Adar, and the fourteenth of both months is really Purim. In fact, the fifteenth of each month is also considered a day of Purim and thus a regular year has two days of Purim and a leap year has four days of Purim.

The Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch point out that it is forbidden to fast or to deliver a eulogy on any of the days of Purim, whether one lives in Jerusalem or Tel-Aviv. We leave out tachanun in a leap year on all four days of Purim. The question of when one reads the megillah is not really a question of which day is the real day of Purim, but rather on which of the four days should one observe the mistvos of Purim. Pesach is a seven day yom tov in Eretz Yisroel but one can only observe the seder on the first night. Rosh Hashana is (biblically) a twenty four hour yom tov, but the mitzvah of shofar can only be fulfilled during the day. Similarly, all four days are really Purim but one can not read the Megillah on whichever day he chooses. One tana is of the opinion that we should not postpone reading the Megillah to the second month, since we are not allowed to forgo an opportunity to do a mitzvah – ein maavirin al hamitzvos. The second tana insisted that we read the megillah on the second Purim, which is closer to Pesach, to connect the geulos of Purim and Pesach.

And now the punch-line: the observance of the yahrzeit is not purely a matter of minhag. Rather the assumption is that since a person died on this day, perhaps this day is still a day of judgment (yom hadin) for the deceased (or perhaps for his entire family)[1], and as such ought to carry with it certain observances (fasting, reciting of kaddish, learning mishnayos, etc.) in order to mitigate the din. If we assume that both months of Adar are really Adar, then both possible days of the yahrzeit may be viewed as yemei hadin, and hence the yahrzeit ought to be observed in both Adars, not merely out of doubt (meisafek) but rather as a certainty (b’Toras vaday).

[1] See Chaim Uvracha Lmishmeres Shalom on the topic of yahrzeit, #15.