Adar Aleph, Adar Bet, and Adar Stam By Ephraim Helfgot (’20)


One unique feature of the lunisolar calendar system is the intercalation of a full leap month, rather than the leap day of fully solar calendars or the seasonal drift of fully lunar calendars. In the Jewish calendar specifically, Adar is repeated every second or third year, at a rate of seven leap years per nineteen years total. But unlike the relatively simple problem of when to celebrate a February 29th birthday, serious halachic implications arise from the doubling of the month of Adar, both in monetary areas and in ritual ones. Which month is the true Adar, and how much does that matter?

The locus classicus for the discussion of Adar Aleph versus Adar Sheini is found in Megillah 6b, in the first of the famed ‘Ein Bein’ Mishnayot. The Mishnah states, “Ein Bein Adar HaRishon Le’Adar HaSheini Ela Keriyat HaMegillah UMatanot La’Evyonim,” “There is no difference between the first Adar and the second Adar, except for the reading of the Megillah and [the giving of] gifts to the indigent” (ibid.). The Tanna’im dispute whether the Megillah must be reread in Adar Bet if it was read in Adar Aleph, but none argue that Adar Aleph should be the sole temporal domain of Mikra Megillah. As the Stam Mishnah answers the point of contention in the affirmative, the Rambam (Hilchot Megillah 1:12), the Tur (Orach Chaim 688), and the Beit Yoseif (ibid.) all rule that Adar Bet is a sine qua non for Megillah.

But this is not conclusive proof for Adar Bet as Adar Stam. The rationale provided by Rabbi Tavi to explain Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel’s opinion on the matter (Megillah 6b), which is accepted as halachically binding (Beit Yoseif Orach Chaim 688, see Bedek HaBayit ad loc.), is, “Mismach Ge’ulah LeGe’ulah Adif,” “Juxtaposing redemption to redemption is preferred”, which implies that the timing of Mikra Megillah is based on factors external to the debate over the true Adar. While it can be argued that Adar is intrinsically defined by Mikra Megillah, on the basis of the Yerushalmi (Megillah 1:1), which states, “Kol HaChodesh Kasheir LiKriyat HaMegillah,” “The entire month is fit for the reading of the Megillah,” this is certainly not a self-evident conclusion. As such, the status of Adar Aleph vis-a-vis Adar Bet is still unclear.

The Gemara in Masechet Nedarim addresses the double Adar dilemma in its discussion of a case in which one stipulated that a vow would last until Adar. The following Machloket Tanna’im is cited: “Adar HaRishon Koteiv Adar HaRishon Adar HaSheini Koteiv Adar Stam Divrei Rabbi Meir Rabbi Yehudah Omeir Adar HaRishon Koteiv Adar Stam Adar HaSheini Koteiv Tinyan,” “The first Adar-- he writes [in a legal document as] ‘First Adar’, the second Adar-- he writes ‘Adar’ plain, according to Rabbi Meir; Rabbi Yehudah says, the first Adar-- he writes ‘Adar’ plain, the second Adar-- he writes ‘second’” (Nedarim 63a).

This Machloket Tanna’im should be subject to Rabbi Yochanan’s rules of Pesak, one of which states: “Rabbi Meir VeRabbi Yehudah Halacha KeRabbi Yehudah,” “[In an argument between] Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehudah, the Halacha accords with Rabbi Yehudah” (Eiruvin 46b). Indeed, Rabbeinu Nissim Geroni rules, “Naktinan DeStama De’Adar Rishon Mashma,” “We hold that plain Adar means the first [Adar of a leap year]” (Ran Nedarim 63b s.v. ULe’Inyan Halacha). But the Rambam disagrees, ruling instead, “Ve’Im Yada SheHaShana Me’Uberet VeNadar Ad Rosh Adar Assur Ad Rosh Adar Sheini,” “And if he knew that the year was a leap year, and took a vow [for the time period] until the start of Adar, he is forbidden [to violate the terms of the vow] until the start of the second Adar” (Hilchot Nedarim 10:6). Ra’avad (ibid.), echoing Ran, takes issue with Rambam on the grounds of the primacy of Rabbi Yehudah’s opinion; Tosafot (Nedarim 63a s.v. Rabbi Yehudah Omeir et al.), Ramban (Hilchot Nedarim LeRamban 20b), Ritva (ibid. s.v. VeKayma Lan et al.), and Rosh (Piskei HaRosh Nedarim 8:2) all subscribe to the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah as well.

Hard-pressed to defend Rambam, the Kesef Mishneh (ibid.) writes that Rambam must have interpreted the flow of the Gemara (Nedarim 63a-b) as dispositive in Rabbi Meir’s favor. The Mishnah (whose text is itself a matter of dispute) is first posited to accord solely with Rabbi Yehudah; Abayei provides an elucidation of the Mishnah according to Rabbi Meir, explaining that Adar, if mentioned in a vow, only refers to Adar Aleph when the one who took the vow did not know that the year was to be a leap year. A Beraita is then adduced to support this reading of the Mishnah. The Kesef Mishnah reasons that, according to the Rambam, the plain Mishnah is in accordance with Rabbi Meir, and as such his opinion trumps Rabbi Yehudah’s position, mentioned in a Beraita but unenumerated in the Mishnah.

The battle lines drawn across the Rishonim are clear: a vast majority concord with Rabbi Yehudah, while Rambam, explained but not endorsed by the Kesef Mishneh, stands as somewhat of a Da’at Yachid-- though what a Yachid!-- in support of Rabbi Meir.

The Shulchan Aruch addresses the topic of Adar Stam in four locations, and arrives at a split decision of sorts. The Mechabeir quotes Rambam verbatim in his discussion of Nedarim, without any dissension from Rama (Yoreh Dei’ah 220:8); he sides with Rambam again on the issue of a Yahrtzeit for a parent who died in Adar during a non-leap year, ruling that it should be commemorated in Adar Bet of a leap year, while the Rama disagrees (Orach Chaim 568:7); he cites Rabbi Yehudah’s diametrically opposed opinion in the context of Shetarot (Choshen Mishpat 43:28); and finally, the Mechabeir is silent upon the issue as it relates to Gittin (although Rama writes that a Get dated to Adar, with no specification of which Adar, is only valid if it was signed in Adar Rishon; the Mechabeir seems to believe that a Get marked with plain Adar, issued during a leap year, is invalid; Even Ha’Ezer 126:7). A further perplexity is the Mechabeir’s insistence, in the selfsame Se’if of Choshen Mishpat in which he accords with Rabbi Yehudah, that the halachah is identical in cases of Shetarot and Nedarim, where he cites Rabbi Meir’s opinion alone.

How is one to hack through this thicket? An attractive possibility, prima facie, is to regard the Mechabeir’s true position as one of Safeik, which would necessitate stringent rulings on Torah-level prohibitions and lenient rulings on Rabbinic matters. The Rambam’s opinion in Nedarim is a Chumrah, as it requires one who took a Neder until a certain date in Adar to wait an extra month; the writing of “Adar Aleph” or “Adar Bet” specifically on a Get, which the Mechabeir seems to require, is another Chumrah. The Mechabeir’s position with regard to Shetarot-- that Adar Stam is considered to be Adar Rishon-- is another Chumrah, as documents are valid when post-dated but not when pre-dated (Choshen Mishpat 43:7,12), and to regard a simple “Adar” as equivalent Adar Aleph would lead more documents to be disqualified as Shetarot Mukdamim. But with regard to the issue of Yahrtzeit, in which deciding between Adar Rishon and Adar Bet would not render a Chumrah or a Kulah, the Mechabeir reveals his true colors: without the crutch of Safeik De’Oraita LeChumrah, he chooses Adar Bet.

A problem arises with this approach from the issue of Shetar Mukdam. While the Mechabeir’s position is a Chumrah, the invalidation of a Shetar Mukdam is a Rabbinic penalty (Choshen Mishpat 43:7), which should be subject to the rule of Safeik DeRabbanan LeKula. Yet this challenge can be deflected, as all monetary cases touch on De’Oraita matters; for example, one who took an object which he had acquired through a Shetar Mukdam would violate the De’Oraita prohibition of Geneivah (or Gezeilah, depending on the circumstances). Accordingly, it is a viable solution to state that the Mechabeir rules that Adar Aleph and Adar Bet qua Adar Stam is a case Safeik, with a slight preference for Adar Bet should the rules of Safeik De’Oraita and Safeik DeRabbanan not apply. Rama, meanwhile, holds a preference for Adar Aleph, and to a stronger degree than the Mechabeir does Adar Bet (as Rama regards a Get, dated “Adar” in Adar Aleph, to be Kasheir BeDi’eved).

But this analysis is based on one interpretation of the Mechabeir’s words on the issue of Nedarim. It is also possible to read the Mechabeir’s presentation of Rambam as that of a dissenting view, rather than an accepted view on a slightly altered case (now reading the start of Yoreh Dei’ah 220:8 as referring to a case in which the party knew that the year was to be intercalated, rather than our previous assumption that this referred to one who did not know).The Vilna Ga’on (Hagahot HaGra Yoreh Dei’ah 220:8 et al.), indeed, writes that the true opinion of the Mechabeir is in accordance with Rabbi Yehudah and his myriad supporters among the Rishonim.

This interpretation of the Mechabeir lends itself to a different solution. In matters of human statement-- Nedarim, Shetarot, Gittin, and the like-- the Mechabeir (and Rama) rule in favor of Rabbi Yehudah, defining Adar Stam as Adar Aleph (the case of Gittin, as it touches on issues of Ervah and Mamzeirut, being subject to higher scrutiny). But in matters of ritual law, the Mechabeir regards Adar Bet as Adar Stam, while Rama holds consistent on Adar Aleph. There is a logical basis for the Mechabeir’s distinction: humans experience life chronologically, and thus regard Adar as the month after Shevat, while the halachic calendar, anchored by Nissan, regards Adar as the month before Nissan.

This view of the calenderic system is happily compatible with the Megillah-centric halachot, which, as noted above, apply in the month of Adar juxtaposed to Nissan. Rashi (Megillah 29a s.v. MiSheNichnas Adar) explains the requirement to increase one happiness in the month of Adar with the rationale that, “Yemei Nisim Hayu LeYisrael Purim VePesach,” “They were days of miracles for Israel, Purim and Pesach”, thus providing yet another example of the Purim-Pesach, Adar (Bet)-Nissan linkage upon which the Mechabeir’s position is based. Rama, meanwhile, can protest that this idea of Purim-Pesach juxtaposition should only apply to matters directly motivated by Ge’ulah or Nisim; it is for this reason that he views Yahrtzeit as squarely within the realm of Adar Aleph.

This second interpretation of Yoreh Dei’ah 220:8 yields a pleasing logical explanation of the Shulchan Aruch’s seeming scatterplot of positions. The Mechabeir differentiates between areas of human-initiated documents and statements, which operate on a chronological scheduling of months, and ritual, divinely-initiated matters, which are tied to Nissan and Pesach as the temporal lodestars of the halachic system. Rama, whose construction of the latter category is stricter, regards Adar Aleph as the legitimate Adar in all cases which cannot be subsumed under the aegis of Mismach Ge’ulah LeGe’ulah. The positions of the Mechabeir and Rama, nuanced, complex, and eminently logical, now stand in sharp relief.

As we pass the midpoint of Adar Bet, we depart the domain of Purim for that of Pesach; “Sho’alin VeDorshin BeHilchot HaPesach Kodem HaPesach Shloshim Yom,” “We [begin to] inquire and expound upon the laws of Pesach thirty days before Pesach” (Pesachim 6a), corresponding to the 15th of Adar. May we truly experience Mismach Ge’ulah LeGe’ulah, in the halachic as well as the ultimate sense of the term Ge’ulah, and may God fulfill our earnest prayer: LeShanah HaBa’ah BeYerushalayim HaBenuyah.

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