Halakhic Issues Raised by the Leap Year Part 2

  • Rav Binyamin Tabory

Translated and adapted by Rav Eliezer Kwass



            A similar set of problems (stemming from the addition of an extra month in a leap year) arises with regard to the laws of mourning.  The determination of when a year of mourning (for parents) ends is unaffected by how we view the two months of Adar.  Mourning for parents, in principle, lasts twelve months, not a year.  The two Adars must count as two months, no matter what.  [See the Rosh, Mo'ed Katan 3:50, and the Shulchan Arukh YD 391.]


            However, determining the yahrzeit (yearly commemoration of a relative's passing away) requires fixing a date, a day within a particular month every year.  If someone passed away in Adar, it is crucial to know in which Adar to commemorate the yahrzeit.  The authorities differ about how to deal with this dilemma.


            The Shulchan Arukh (OC 568:7) rules that the yahrzeit takes place in the second Adar, whereas the Rema, based on the Maharil, argues that the yahrzeit should take place in Adar I.  The Gra, in his commentary to the Shulchan Arukh, takes a stringent approach and rules that one should observe a yahrzeit in both Adars.  In order to understand the basis of their dispute it is necessary to better understand what determines when the yearly yahrzeit commemoration takes place.


            Four approaches present themselves:


            1. The yahrzeit is fixed on the date that the twelve months of mourning end.  The Chatam Sofer (Responsa OC 14) rejects this possibility, since the yahrzeit of someone who died in Shevat of a leap year would then always be commemorated in Tevet.  The Chatam Sofer explains that the discussion among the poskim was limited to the question of the two Adars in a leap year. 

            2. The yahrzeit might be determined by the day of passing away.  Since during leap years Adar II is always considered in place of the normal Adar, the yahrzeit should be commemorated in Adar II. 

            3. The yahrzeit is determined by the day of passing away, but the date when the twelve-month mourning period ends is commemorated as the yahrzeit.  Because the mourning ends in Adar I, the yahrzeit is commemorated in Adar I.  Many acharonim understood these last two options as the rationale behind the two approaches that the poskim raise.

            4. A fourth approach, taken by the Gra, fits in with the simple meaning of what a yahrzeit is.  The concept behind the yahrzeit is that on a certain DATE in the calendar one keeps certain customs.  In order to determine when an Adar yahrzeit takes place, one must determine when Adar is.  Based on a passage in Massekhet Megilla it seems that both Adar I and Adar II are legitimately considered Adar.  If one would ask when Adar 7 fals out, the correct calendar answer is twice - once the 7th of Adar I and once the 7th of Adar II.  The gemara needs a special derivation from the expression "in every year" to teach us that Purim is unique and to limit the Purim celebration to only one of the Adars.  Nevertheless, the gemara assumes that both Adars are considered legitimately as Adar.  The Gra (OC 368) therefore holds that an Adar yahrzeit should be commemorated twice in a leap year, once in Adar I and once in Adar II. 

            The Chatam Sofer's question (see 1 above) is now easily solved.  The yahrzeit of someone who passes away in Shevat of a leap year will obviously occur in Shevat every year.  That is the calendar date to be commemorated.  Likewise, the yahrzeit of one who passes away in Adar will also always fall out in Adar - and both Adars are considered Adar on the calendar.  [There is still room to differentiate between different types of yahrzeit customs; see the Mishna Berura, OC 368.]

            5. This question might be dependent on the nature of yahrzeits in general.  See below in the context of the Chatam Sofer's approach to days commemorating miracles.




            We briefly mention five additional halakhic issues that  arise in leap years.


            A. The mitzva that a man make his wife happy in the FIRST YEAR OF MARRIAGE, based on the verse, "He should be free to stay at home for one year" (Devarim 24:5).  [In his commentary to this verse, the Netziv views this as a mitzva incumbent on army officers not to draft newlywed men, not as a mitzva on the husband himself.]  How long does this mitzva last in a leap year - twelve months or thirteen?  The Aderet, Rav Eliahu David Rabinowitz Teumim (quoted in the appendix to the Minchat Chinukh), raised this question.


            B. Some are accustomed to treat the SEVENTH OF ADAR, the yahrzeit of Moshe Rabbeinu, as a minor festival. Chevra kadishot, Jewish burial societies, have their annual dinner after the seventh of Adar.  Some have a custom to fast on this day.  Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yechaveh Da'at 1:3) discusses this issue and rules that it should be commemorated in Adar II.  The Magen Avraham (OC 380:18) and other acharonim rule that it should be observed in Adar I.  [It is not clear whether the year Moshe passed away was a leap year or not.]


            C. Celebrating the day of a PERSONAL MIRACLE -- When should this celebration, tantamount to a mini-Purim, take place in a leap year?  The Mishna Berura (OC 687:8) rules that it should take place in Adar II.


            Rav Shaul Frimer (Or Hamizrach #110-111, p. 322) points out that in the source of this ruling, the Chatam Sofer (Responsa OC #163) distinguishes between different types of customs.  If the day of the miracle is commemorated as a fast day, it should be observed in Adar II, based on the talmudic guideline to push off fast days to a later date (for example, if the normal date comes out on Shabbat). If, on the other hand, the day of the miracle is celebrated as a holiday, then


"HE NEED ONLY TROUBLE HIMSELF (emphasis mine - B.T.) once (Adar II is preferred in this over Adar I because it brings his personal celebration and redemption to the other holiday of redemption, Pesach).  Matters that do not involve trouble, such as refraining from something, must be observed in both Adars."


D. STAKING A CLAIM ON LAND (chezkat shalosh shanim) AFTER THREE YEARS OF OCCUPATION - The Ritva (Bava Batra 28a) rules: 


"The three years of chazaka do not follow the calendar date, from Tishrei to Tishrei.  Rather, one begins to count twelve months from the moment he takes hold of the land, and continues to count until thirty-six months elapse."


[The Pitchei Teshuva CM 141 relates to this issue and leaves it unresolved.]


            E. PARASHAT ZAKHOR - Parashat Zakhor, read the Shabbat before Purim, is, according to many poskim, a biblical mitzva.  They understand that the commands to "remember" and "not forget" Amalek require us to read the portion in the Torah about Amalek once a year.  What defines a year with regards to this mitzva?  If a year is defined as being twelve months long, then our custom to read Parashat Zakhor on the Shabbat before Purim is problematic, since more than twelve months may elapse between readings.  Since the goal of the mitzva of Parashat Zakhor is to remind us about Amalek, twelve months is particularly appropriate.  In the laws of mourning, it is considered the time after which one begins to forget one's loss.  It is fitting that a yearly reminder should come up at twelve-month intervals. 


            Within our system of reading the Torah, we can solve the problem by intending to fulfill the mitzva of Zakhor on the  Shabbat when the portion of Ki Teitzei is read (roughly six months after Shabbat Zakhor).  However, what would those who followed the old custom of spreading the Torah reading over three years do?  The Chatam Sofer (Even Haezer #119) raises an unconventional possibility that in a leap year the amount of time for forgetting is thirteen months!  [See Mo'adim U-zemanim 2:166 for a discussion of this issue.]




            How to treat the leap year in a particular realm of halakha is dependent on what the crucial units of time in that realm are.  When a number of MONTHS must be counted --  twelve months of mourning or, according to the Ritva, the thirty-six months of chazaka - it is irrelevant whether the year is a leap year or not.  One simply counts the months no matter what their names are. 


            On the other hand, when a YEAR must be counted, the leap month is included.  The year within which a seller has a chance to buy back the property he sold in a walled city includes the leap month.  A child reaches the age of bar mitzva when he has COMPLETED thirteen YEARS, and must therefore include the leap month of his thirteenth year, according to most poskim.


            Sometimes, as in a yahrzeit, a DATE is commemorated.  One must determine when dates that come out in Adar fall out in a leap year.  According to the Gra, since both Adars are really considered Adar as far as the date on the calendar is considered (Purim has been specially excluded to take place only once), one observes an Adar yahrzeit in both Adars.  When writing the date in a legal document one must take care to differentiate between Adar I and Adar II (see Nedarim 63a and compare to Yerushalmi Megilla 1:5). 


            In some realms a year is defined SUBJECTIVELY.  Whether a vow that lasts a year includes the leap month or not depends on what people intend when they refer to a year.  Even though both dates are considered Adar, only one of them is relevant.  According to the Chatam Sofer, the Adar in which one celebrates a personal Purim is dependent on how one understands the nature of the day.  The same might be true of the seventh of Adar and yahrzeit.


            Our original discussion, as to whether there is a mitzva of joy and a prohibition against fasting and eulogies on Purim Katan (the fourteenth of Adar I), takes on a new light now.  When the verse limits Purim to one date, Adar II and not Adar I, it would seem that the fourteenth of Adar I should be viewed as a totally non-Purim day.


            The Rosh in fact holds that there is no obligation of happiness in Adar I.  His comment that Adar I is like Shevat does not necessarily mean that he argues with the approach we have been following, viewing both Adars as truly Adar.  He might only be calling it Shevat with regard to Purim, once the verse has taught us when to celebrate Purim. 


            Tosafot distinguish between Megillat Esther, excluded from Adar I by the verse, and the prohibition against fasting, stemming from Megillat Ta'anit, and dependent on the date.  (See Rav Kahn's shiur on Adar Alef.)  Therefore the Megilla is read and the mitzva to be joyous applies only in Adar II and it is still prohibited to fast on the fourteenth of Adar I.  The Ran also seems to believe that the date "the fourteenth of Adar" appears twice on the calendar, and likewise distinguishes between Megilla on the one hand, which we read only once, and Se'udat Purim and the prohibition against fasting on the other, which are linked to the date.  Since the date occurs twice, these mitzvot apply twice.


            In a discussion on this topic with Rav Yair Kahn, he pointed out that Rav Aharon Turtchin in his Kuntres Chanuka U-megilla explains the Ran differently.  He sees the mitzva of Se'udat Purim, the feast of Purim, as also dependent on Megillat Ta'anit (instead of the date 14 Adar, as we presented it) and that is why it applies in Adar I too.  Whether one says "Al Hanisim" in the Se'udat Purim Katan might be a practical difference between the two approaches. 


            The Shulchan Arukh quotes the Tosafot and then adds the Rosh's opinion.  The Rema adds that the custom is to follow the Tosafot (prohibiting fasting on 14 Adar I but not obligating a feast) and, as an additional opinion (yeish omrim), quotes those who obligate feasting on Purim Katan also.  In the last subsection of Orach Chayim he concludes with, 

"Nevertheless one should somehow add to one's meal in order to follow the stringent opinions, 'and the good heart has constant festivity.'"