Adar Alef and the Holiday of Purim

  • Rav Yair Kahn

In the final halakha in Orach Chaim (697), the Mechaber rules as follows: "One does not recite tachanun on the fourteenth and fifteenth of the first Adar... and eulogies and fasts are forbidden, however nothing else (which is normally done in Adar) is customary. There are some who even allow eulogies and fasts." The Rema adds: "The accepted custom is in accordance with the first opinion. There are those who obligate feasting and merriment on the fourteenth of the first Adar, however that is not our custom. Nevertheless, one should embellish his meal a bit in order to fulfill those opinions...." This halakha raises certain questions: Why should there be any significance to the fourteenth of the first Adar, since Purim is clearly in the second? What is the basis for the difference of opinion regarding the prohibition of fasts and eulogies, on the one hand, and the requirement of festivities, on the other? Phrased differently, if there is some significance to the fourteenth of Adar Alef, what is the criterion by which we apply certain laws, while discarding others? By tracing this halakha back to its source, we will hopefully shed light on the nature of this halakha, and clarify the various issues surrounding it.


The Mishna at the beginning of Megilla (6b) deals with the issue of Adar Alef. "If the megilla was read in the first Adar, and the year was subsequently established as a leap year (by adding a second Adar), the megilla must be read again in the second Adar. The only distinctions between the first and second Adar are megilla reading and matanot le-evyonim (gifts to the poor)." The gemara then quotes a three-way Tanaitic debate mentioned in the Tosefta. According to the Tana Kama, all mitzvot which apply to the second Adar, apply to the first, including the four parashot (shekalim, zakhor, para and chodesh), but with the exception of megilla reading. R. Eliezer the son of R. Yossi argues that all mitzvot that apply to the second, including megilla, apply to the first as well. Therefore, the megilla would be read in both months. R. Yossi maintains that mitzvot which apply to the second do not apply to the first at all. The gemara explains that R. Yossi disagrees with the Tana Kama, claiming that even the four parashot cannot be read in the first Adar.


I. Defining Adar Alef


In order to understand the rationale of these opinions, there are a number of issues that should be researched. The most basic question, is the definition of Adar Alef. According to R. Eliezer, there is no real distinction between the first and second Adar. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that both are defined as Adar. Consequently, the obligations of Purim can be fulfilled on either month. R. Yossi, however, argues that no mitzvot of Adar can be fulfilled on the first Adar including the four parashot. This opinion seems to reject the identification of Adar Alef with Adar. Consequently, a leap year is a thirteen-month year in which only the final month - Adar Bet - is defined as Adar. The term Adar Alef is used only as a convenient title, but does not indicate anything about the inherent definition or nature of the month.


The Tana Kama seems to agree with R. Eliezer's identification of Adar Alef as Adar, and therefore allows the four parashot to be read on the first Adar. However, he argues that Purim is not defined only by the date - fourteenth of Adar. It is also a function of its proximity to Pesach (see the ensuing gemara). Therefore, laws of Adar apply to Adar Alef, while Purim-related laws do not.


However, the Tosefta concludes that everyone agrees that eulogies and fasts are forbidden on the fourteenth of Adar Alef. This would seemingly lead us to the conclusion that even R. Yossi agrees that Adar Alef is considered Adar. Nevertheless, he maintains that the four parashot are connected with Purim and Pesach, not with Adar. Consequently, they can be read only on Adar Bet.


We noted that the Mechaber quotes opinions which permit eulogies and fasts on the fourteenth of Adar Alef. This seems to explicitly contradict the Tosefta. One such opinion is the Rosh. He argues that the Mishna and Tosefta are discussing a situation where the decision to convert the year into a shana me'uberet (leap year) was taken after Adar Alef had begun. Only then do the Tanaim agree that Adar Alef is considered Adar. However, after the Tanaitic period, a rigid multi-year system was developed. Therefore, we know in advance which year will be me'uberet. In such a situation, the Rosh claims, Adar Alef is considered "Shevat" and not Adar. Consequently, no laws of Adar are applicable, and eulogies and fasts are permitted.


There is a parallel argument regarding the proper yahrzeit during a shana me'uberet, for a relative who passed away during Adar of a regular year. The Mechaber (O.C 568:7) rules that if one has a yahrzeit during Adar, he should commemorate it in Adar Bet. The Rema quotes opinions which argue that the date in Adar Alef should be commemorated. The Gra maintains that the date in both Adar Alef and Bet should be commemorated. The Magen Avraham discusses the opposite situation, where a relative passed away on Adar Alef of a shana me'uberet. He quotes an opinion which maintains that the date in both Shevat and Adar of a regular year should be commemorated. These issues relate directly to our question as to whether Adar Alef is considered an Adar, a Shevat Bet, or perhaps an undefined month. (See also the sugya in Nedarim 63a-b. However, the issue of nedarim and documents can be dealt with on a different basis.)


These divergent approaches lead to opposite conclusions regarding the 14th of Adar I. As we have seen, according to the Rosh, it is considered an ordinary day, no different from the 14th of Shevat. However, if we assume that it is considered actually defined as the 14th of Adar, we may conclude that it is in fact Purim to a certain extent. However, for some side reason, the megilla is not read on "Purim Katan." (See Ktav Sofer al HaTorah.)


II. Calendar-Related Laws


The Mordechai offers a different argument why there should be no prohibition against eulogies and fasts nowadays. According to him, the source for the prohibition is that these dates are included in Megillat Ta'anit (a Tanaitic work listing all dates commemorated as fasts or festive days during the second temple). Fasts and eulogies were prohibited on dates which were celebrated as festive. The gemara (Rosh Hashana 19b) rules that after the destruction of the second temple, "batla megillat hata'anit" - the dates mentioned in Megillat Ta'anit are no longer commemorated, and therefore fasts and eulogies are now permitted. At first glance the opinion of the Mordechai seems problematic. How can he claim that the only source banning eulogies and fasts is Megillat Ta'anit? There is no doubt that the Mordechai would agree that on Purim itself eulogies and fasts are forbidden even nowadays, although Megillat Ta'anit is no longer relevant.


It is clear that the Mordechai's comments are limited to Adar Alef. Only then Megillat Ta'anit serves as the sole source for the prohibition against eulogies and fasts. On Purim itself eulogies and fasts are forbidden because it is Purim. On the fourteenth of Adar Alef they are banned because of the date, which in Megillat Ta'anit is associated with certain laws. It is therefore only on Adar Alef that the prohibition is no longer relevant, since the laws of Megillat Ta'anit are no longer applicable.


This comment by the Mordechai casts light on our entire sugya. If we accept the identification of Adar Alef with Adar, then all laws which are a function of the date (the fourteenth of Adar) apply. However, all laws associated with Purim, are delayed to Adar Bet. The prohibition against eulogies and fasts as a calendar-related law, is based on Megillat Ta'anit. Consequently, the Tosefta that it is applicable to the fourteenth of Adar Alef which is officially considered the fourteenth of Adar. However, megilla reading and matanot le-evyonim, are Purim-related, and therefore are applied only during Adar Bet. We now have a workable criterion with which to analyze our sugya.


Most Poskim argue with the Mordechai, and rule that eulogies and fasts are forbidden on the fourteenth of Adar Alef. They may accept the basic distinction between calendar-related laws and Purim-related laws. Nevertheless, they argue that the prohibition against eulogies and fasts is binding as a calendar related law even nowadays. Even though most dates mentioned in Megillat Ta'anit are no longer commemorated, Purim and Chanuka were never canceled (Rosh Hashana 19b). Therefore, Megillat Ta'anit remains in effect regarding the fourteenth of Adar. Consequently, eulogies and fasts are forbidden even during Adar Alef.


III. The Fourteenth of Adar as a Holiday


Moreover, it is possible to accept the Mordechai's claim that the prohibition banning fasts and eulogies based on Megillat Ta'anit was totally canceled even with respect to Purim, but nevertheless conclude that the prohibition banning eulogies and fasts is still calendar-oriented. After all, there are Rishonim who claim that one is obligated to feast on the fourteenth of Adar Alef, even though this obligation is unrelated to Megillat Ta'anit (see Ran). Apparently, it is possible to split the laws of Purim itself into calendar-related laws and laws specific to the celebration of the historical redemption. While megilla reading and matanot le-evyonim are specific to the actual celebration of Purim, the ban against eulogies and fasts, and the obligation of festivities may be a function of the date.


To clarify this point, let us distinguish between generic laws which relate to any holiday, and specific mitzvot which are unique to Purim. With respect to any holiday there is a requirement of simcha which expresses itself in the obligation of festivities and the ban against eulogies and fasts. However, beyond those generic laws, there are halakhot which are singular to specific days. Only on Pesach is there an obligation to eat matza, and only on Sukkot must we dwell in sukkot. Similarly, the halakhot of megilla, matanot le-evyonim, and mishloach manot are unique to Purim.


We can consequently suggest, that since Adar Alef is defined as Adar, from a formal calendar perspective the fourteenth of Adar Alef is considered a holiday. Therefore, all laws pertaining to holidays in general apply. Eulogies and fasts are forbidden, and festivities are demanded. However, those laws unique to Purim cannot be fulfilled until the actual celebration of the redemption of Purim during Adar Bet. The opinion of the Abudraham is revealing in this regard. He claims that the minhag which bans women from working on Purim applies to Adar Alef as well. According to our approach, this is reasonable. The gemara (Megilla 5b) derives the ban against work from the categorization of Purim as a Yom Tov. Therefore, the Abudraham maintains that the minhag accepting this ban (albeit only with respect to women), treats it as a law which relates to the general holiday aspect of Purim. It is ipso facto applicable to Adar Alef as well.


Based on this analysis, I would suggest that a parallel distinction applies within the obligation to feast. The laws of "ad de-lo yada," are unique to the Purim seuda, and are therefore irrelevant on Adar Alef. Only the laws of simcha which apply to holidays in general are applicable to Adar Alef. Therefore, the Rema suffices with the suggestion that one should embellish his seuda a bit.


We claimed that the fourteenth of Adar Alef may be considered a holiday based on the date. What about the fifteenth of Adar Alef? Rashi and the Rambam are explicit that the prohibition against eulogies and fasts applies on both dates. This is certainly true if Megillat Ta'anit retains its relevance regarding Purim, since the gemara (Megilla 5b) is explicit that both days are included in the ban of Megillat Ta'anit. However, if we argue that Megillat Ta'anit is no longer relevant, and eulogies and fasts are forbidden because the fourteenth of Adar is considered a holiday, then we might argue that the fifteenth is excluded from this category since it is only celebrated in walled cities. The basic date that is relevant is the fourteenth (see Hasagot HaRa'avad al Ba'al Ha-maor, Megilla 19a). In fact, the Shibolei Haleket quotes such an opinion. [However, the Ran seems to hold that the fifteenth is also considered a holiday.]


Rabbeinu Peretz (in his comments on the Semak) has a composite approach. Although eulogies and fasts are prohibited on both the fourteenth and fifteenth, the requirement of feasting is limited to the fourteenth. Based on the above, the explanation is simple. Eulogies and fasts are forbidden on both dates based on Megillat Ta'anit. However, the requirement of feasting is a law general to all holidays. Only the fourteenth of Adar Alef, not the fifteenth, is designated as a holiday. In the Shulchan Arukh as well, we find that eulogies and fasts are banned on both the fourteenth and fifteenth, while only the fourteenth is mentioned regarding the requirement of feasting.




The first issue that has to be resolved with regard to Adar Alef, is whether the term "Adar" is merely being utilized as a convenient title or it actually is considered as the month of Adar. The Rosh maintains that nowadays, since the leap years are known in advance, Adar Alef is not considered as the month of Adar. However, most Rishonim argue that it is.


Although we accept that Adar Alef is defined as Adar, nevertheless Purim is celebrated only on Adar Bet. We proceeded to analyze what laws would be relevant to the calendar date "the fourteenth of Adar" even though it is not a commemoration of the historic redemption which occurred on Purim. We showed that the prohibitions regarding Adar Alef based on Megillat Ta'anit should apply. We further argued that there may be a possibility of applying general holiday laws, while discarding laws which are singular to Purim.




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