Leap Year Brings Purim Katan
Closing ThoughtsOpinion

Leap Year Brings Purim Katan

Purim Katan becomes necessary during leap years, when there are two Adars in the calendar rather than one, and 13 months rather than 12.

Rabbi Richard Baroff
Rabbi Richard Baroff

If you have a Jewish calendar, you might notice that on Feb. 23, we commemorate Purim Katan. You might wonder what this is, and how it is different from the regular Purim.

Purim Katan literally means “Little Purim” in the sense of a minor version of the holiday, or perhaps a “shadow Purim.” This shadow Purim takes place on 14 Adar this year. Most years regular Purim is celebrated on 14 Adar. This year, the Jewish year 5784, the full Purim falls on 14 Adar II, corresponding to the evening of Saturday, March 23 (Erev Purim) and Sunday, March 24. The Scroll of Esther (Megillat Esther) is usually chanted on the morning of Purim. Ta’anit Esther (the Fast of Esther) takes place this year 11 Adar II (March 21).

Nothing is really celebrated on Purim Katan. Some rabbis suggest that Jews should consider the main themes of the regular Purim: we thank G-d for redeeming us from the evil plans of tyrants, like the Persian Prime Minister Haman, who seek to destroy us. There is a daily prayer called Tahanun when we entreat our merciful G-d for forgiveness, which is not recited on joyful days (like Shabbat), and so is omitted on Purim Katan. Also fasting is not permitted, and there are some changes to how funerals are conducted. These changes reflect the fact that Purim Katan, like Purim itself, is a happy time.

Purim Katan becomes necessary during leap years, when there are two Adars in the calendar rather than one, and 13 months rather than 12. During a leap year some amount of time is inserted into the calendar to make the year longer for calendrical purposes. In the Jewish calendar, an extra month is added seven times every 19 years, so that over that nearly two-decade period of time, the lunar years and the solar years reconcile. The reconciling is necessary, because the Jewish calendar needs to be lunisolar: the months are determined by the phases of the moon, but the pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuoth, and Sukkoth) are fixed by the seasons in which they occur in Eretz Yisrael (The Land of Israel).

Therefore, an extra Adar is added seven times in the 19-year cycle.

It is not completely clear, according to rabbinic law, whether this extra Adar intercalated (inserted) is Adar I or Adar II. Adar I is also called Adar Rishon/the first Adar, and Adar II is known as Adar Sheni/second Adar (also VeAdar/and Adar). This system of bringing the lunar year and the solar year into sync was the invention of an ancient Athenian astronomer and mathematician named Meton.

The Metonic Cycle is not just used by Jews, but by other cultures whose calendars have both lunar and solar considerations.

During this year 5784, a year of peril for the Jewish people and for the State of Israel, we supplicate our Creator for strength and wisdom, and for divine guidance, to help us navigate this very dangerous time. Purim Katan gives us an extra special day exactly one month before the full Purim to reflect on our gratitude for divine deliverance in our past, and our need for spiritual direction and inspiration moving forward.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

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