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Thought for the Day: Why Do We Have a Second Adar (Sometimes) Anyway?

Here is a very practical question: Which Adar is the "real" Adar and which one is just "the other one that we have sometimes"?  You are wondering, like... who cares?  Here's one example of someone who cares: Your son was born in Adar in a year when there was only one Adar, but he will turn 13 in a year with two Adars.  Practical difference: when are you going to spend money.  Suppose you are that boy: when do you put on t'fillin?  Suppose you are unfortunate enough to be among those of us whose father has left the world, and he left in Adar (again, in a year with only one Adar).  When is the yahrtzeit; when can you claim the amud from someone in the first year of aveilus for his parent?  First Adar? Second Adar?  Both?  Neither?

Before we go there, though, we need to understand why there are sometimes two Adars in the first place.  As we all know, all Jewish holy day events are referred to a day of lunar month.  In fact, the new moon itself is a holy day on our calendar.  Why doesn't everyone use a lunar calendar?  After all, it's very easy to see when the months start and end.  The problem is that seasons are determined by the earth's location in its orbit around the sun.  That is, you can make a pretty good guess about the weather by knowing when something occurs the solar calendar.  The solar year is 365 days and change (365 days 5 hours 48 minutes 46 seconds, to be precise -- more or less).  The lunar year is 354 days and change (29 days, 12 hours, and 793/1080 of an hour).  There, therefore, approximately 11 more days in the solar year than the lunar year.  So what?  Indeed, the Muslims and Christians both say exactly that, "so what?"  The Christian holidays are on a solar year, so the weather is predictable.  The Muslim holidays move through the seasons, but you always know how many full moons they are apart.

We Jews, however, have a communication from the Creator -- תורת חיים/Instructions for Living -- that tells us that Passover is in the spring.  That is, when the Torah commands us to keep Passover כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִךָ לְמוֹעֵד חֹדֶשׁ הָאָבִיב/as I commanded you in the appointed time, the month of spring (literal translation of אָבִיב) (Exodus 23:15); it is not just poetically calling the month we came out of Egypt the spring month; it is instead a directive to ensure that Passover remains in spring.  Since the 12 month lunar year is 11 days short of the solar year, Passover moves toward winter at a little over a week per year.  We put it back by adding a 13th lunar month every three years or so; actually we add a leap month seven times in a 19 year cycle: 19 × (365 − 354) ≈ 7 × 30.

That explains why we need an extra month.  Why is the extra month Adar?  Originally, Rosh Chodesh was always set by the Sanhedrin on the basis of eye witnesses.  The decision to add a month or not was also made by the Sanhedrin.  They wanted to keep Passover in the spring, so they'd need to wait to see how the weather looked.  In order to keep Passover as springy as possible, they'd wait as long as possible before making a decision.  The last month before Passover is -- Tada! Adar.

So now... which is the real Adar and which is the intercalated one?


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