In memory of my father and teacher
Rabbi Noah Golinkin z”l
who passed away on 25 Adar I 5763
“Sheli v’shelakhem shelo”
Question: When a person passed away in Adar, when is the yahrzeit observed in a leap year?
The secular calendar is a solar calendar which has 365 days, while the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar which has 353-355 days. In order to prevent the Jewish holidays from revolving around the year as in the Muslim calendar, Jews add a second Adar every few years. It is worth noting that the Jewish calendar bears many features in common with the Babylonian calendar, including the names of some of the Hebrew months and the 19 year cycle (see below). In the Babylonian calendar, they used to add a second Elul OR a second Adar. The Talmud states in Rosh Hashanah 32a that “since the days of Ezra we have never found Elul to be intercalated”. This may mean that we only add Adar II and not Elul II. See David Golinkin, Perek Yom Tov Shel Rosh Hashanah etc., Ph.D. dissertation, JTS, 1988, pp. 51-60; Ben Zion Wacholder and David Weisberg, Hebrew Union College Annual 42 (1971), pp. 227-242. In ancient times, the intercalation of the year was determined by the Sanhedrin in Eretz Yisrael. In the year 358 c.e., Hillel II instituted a fixed calendar in which Adar II was added in years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, 19 of the 19 year cycle.
II) A Brief Introduction to Yahrzeits and the Mourner’s Kaddish
There is a vast literature about the history of the kaddish (See the literature which I listed in The Status of Women in Jewish Law: Responsa, Jerusalem, 2001, p. 124, note 1 (Hebrew); David de Sola Pool, The Old Aramaic Prayer the Kaddish, New York, 1909; Leon Wieseltier, Kaddish, New York, 1998; Yehudit Weiss, Tarbitz 78/4 (2009), pp. 521-554 and the literature in note 28). Originally, young boys mourning their fathers would lead the services on the anniversary of their deaths. In the 11th century, the halakhic authorities of France began to mention a custom in which orphans recited the final kaddish after Aleinu, apparently instead of leading other parts of the service which they were not able to do. In time, this became the mourner’s kaddish for all mourners during the first 11-12 months after death and on the yahrzeit. The other feature of the yahrzeit is that the children would fast on that day. Our topic was widely discussed by Ashkenazic authorities because the yahrzeit was observed with fasting and kaddish in their countries and therefore they had to figure out what to do in a leap year when there are two Adars.
III) Four Approaches to Observing an Adar Yahrzeit in a Leap Year
Most halakhic authorities agree that if a person dies in Adar I, then one observes the yahrzeit in Adar in a regular year and in Adar I in a leap year. Similarly, if a person dies in Adar II, one observes the yahrzeit in Adar in a regular year and in Adar II in a leap year. The thorny question is what to do when a person dies in Adar. When should the relatives observe the yahrzeit in a leap year – in Adar I or Adar II or both? In other words, in a leap year, which Adar is the “real” Adar? It is evident from the words of Rabbi Ya’akov Molin (d. 1427) – “our rabbis in Austria, some say Adar I and some say Adar II” – that this question was debated in the 14th century or earlier. We shall present the reasoning behind four different opinions, followed in each case by an annotated list of rabbis who hold that opinion.
A) Observe the Yahrzeit in Adar I
list of rabbis who hold this opinion:
Rabbi Ya’akov Mollin (1360-1427), Responsa Maharil, ed. Satz, Jerusalem, 1980, No. 31:3, pp. 23-23, which is quoted in full by Rabbi Yosef ben Moshe, Leket Yosher, Yoreh Deah, Berlin, 1904, pp. 98-99 and in brief in Minhagei Maharil, ed. Shpitzer, Jerusalem, 1989, p. 270; and Responsa Maharil, ibid., No. 104-105:3, pp. 200, 202, which is quoted in Leket Yosher, p. 99.
Rabbi Yisrael Isserlein (1390-1460), Terumat Hadeshen, No. 294.
Rabbi Yisrael Bruna (1400-1480), Responsa Mahari Bruna, Stettin, 1860, No. 193 (but cf. his contradictory responsum listed below).
Rabbi Yehudah Mintz (1408-1508), Responsa Mahari Mintz, No. 9.
Rabbi Moshe Isserles (1525-1572), Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayyim427 that in shetarot (legal documents), Adar I in a leap year is called “Adar”; Orah Hayyim 568:7 (“and this is the custom”) andYoreh Deah 402:12 on our topic.
Rabbi Mordechai Yaffe (1535-1612), Levush Hahur 568:7 and especially 685:1.
Rabbi Moshe Matt (1551-1606), Mateh Moshe, parag. 766.
Rabbi Avraham Danzig (1748-1820), Hokhmat Adam 171:11.
Rabbi Rafael Aharon ben Shimon (1848-1928), Nehar Mitzrayim, Alexandria, 1908, p. 163.
Rabbi Ya’akov Hayyim Sofer (1870-1939), Kaf Hahayyim to Orah Hayyim 568, parag. 76: the Ashkenazim should follow Rabbi Moshe Isserles. This is quoted approvingly in the name of aharonim by Rabbi Amram Aburbia, Netivei Am, second edition, Petah Tikvah, 1969, p. 251.
Rabbi Yehiel Michel Tukechinsky (1872-1955), Gesher Hahayyim32:10, p. 345: “most observe the yahrzeit in Adar I”.
B) Observe the Yahrzeit in Adar II
A list of rabbis who hold this opinion:
Rabbi Zalman Cohen, the questioner in Responsa Maharil 104-105:3, p. 200.
Rabbi Yisrael Bruna (1400-1480), Responsa Mahari Bruna, Stettin, 1860, No. 192 (which contradicts his other responsum listed above).
Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488-1575), Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayyim568:7.
Rabbi Shlomo Luria (1510-1573), in his commentary to Tur Yoreh Deah 402, quoted by the Bah ibid. at the end of the paragraph: “there are those who disagree and say… Adar II”.
Rabbi Moshe Isserles (1525-1572), Shulhan Arukh Hayyim 55:10 regarding a Bar Mitzvah.
Rabbi Abraham Gombiner (1637-1683), Magen Avraham toShulhan Arukh Orah Hayyim 586, subparag. 5: local Purims to commemorate a local miracle in Adar should be observed in Adar II.
Rabbi Moshe Sofer (1762-1839), Responsa Hatam Sofer, Orah Hayyim, No. 163 (and cf. ibid., No. 14) re kaddish; for other issues, he rules Adar I or Adar II or both!
Rabbi Samuel Ehrenfeld (1835-1883), Responsa Hattan Sofer, No. 99, parag. 7 and also in Hattan Sofer on Orah Hayyim, Shaar Birkhot Hashahar, 19:7-10 agrees with his grandfather Rabbi Moshe Sofer re. kaddish.
Rabbi David Tzvi Hoffmann (1843-1921), Responsa Melamed L’ho’il, Part I, No. 113.
Rabbi Ya’akov Hayyim Sofer (1870-1939), Kaf Hahayyim to Orah Hayyim 568, parag. 76: the sefaradim should follow Rabbi Yosef Karo. This is quoted approvingly in the name of aharonim by Rabbi Amram Aburbia, Netivei Am, second edition, Petah Tikvah, 1969, p. 251.
Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg (1915-2006), Responsa Tzitz Eliezer, Vol. 22, No. 39 agrees with Rabbi Moshe Sofer.
Rabbi Gavriel Goldman, Mei’olam V’ad Olam, third edition, Jerusalem, 2010, p. 208: this is the custom of Oriental and Yemenite Jews.
C) Observe the Yahrzeit in Both Adars
Since there is a doubt, many Jews observe an Adar yahrzeit in both Adars.
A list of rabbis who hold or quote this opinion:
Rabbi Yaakov Weil (d. ca. 1456), Responsa Rabbi Ya’akov Weil,Dinim V’halakhot at the end, No. 5 (but the text seems to be corrupt).
Rabbi Shlomo Luria (1510-1573), in his commentary to Tur Yoreh Deah 402, quoted by the Bah ibid. at the end of the paragraph: “and they are accustomed to fast in both Adars”.
Rabbi Moshe Isserles (1525-1572), Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayyim568:7 quoting “some are strict” and Yoreh Deah 402:12 quoting “some disagree”.
Rabbi Avraham Danzig (1748-1820), Hokhmat Adam 171:11 quoting “some are strict”.
Rabbi David Tzvi Hoffmann (1843-1921), Responsa Melamed L’ho’il, part I, No. 113 says to fast in Adar II “except for a person who is able and wants to fast twice, in Adar I and II”.
Rabbi Shalom Shachna Chernik, Hayyim Uvracha L’mishmeret Shalom, Part II, Warsaw-Bilgorei, 1928-1930, pp. 42-43, parag. 21: the custom now is to do both.
Rabbi Yehiel Michel Tukechinsky (1872-1955), Gesher Hahayyim32:10, p. 345: “some are strict… to fast in both Adars”.
Rabbi Yekutiel Yehudah Greenwald (1889-1955), Kol Bo Al Aveilut, Jerusalem-New York, 1973, p. 395.
Rabbi Aaron Felder, Yesodei Smochos, revised edition, New York, 1976, pp. 134, 139 note 16.
D) Observe the Yarhrzeit the First Year in Adar I and in Later Years in Adar II
This lone opinion was quoted by Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488-1575) in the Bet Yosef to Tur Yoreh Deah, end of parag. 403, in the name of the Tashbatz (13th century) who was a pupil of Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg (it is not in our editions of the Tashbatz). Rabbi Yosef Karo suggests that his reason is that in the first year the mourner needs to count “twelve months” and not “one year”, since the judgment of the wicked in Geihinnom is “twelve months” (seeMishnah Eduyot 2:10). In subsequent years, it depends on the disagreement between Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Meir in Nedarimmentioned above and the Tashbatz ruled according to Rabbi Meir.
In conclusion, since the custom of yahrzeit and mourner’s kaddish arose hundreds of year after the Talmud, there is no clear consensus as to whether an Adar yahrzeit should be observed in Adar I or Adar II. Furthermore, there is not even a clear consensus among Ashkenazim or Sefaradim. Personally, I prefer the custom of Adar II. Since Purim is observed in Adar II, this is the month which most Jews today consider the “real” Adar. However, it is perfectly legitimate to observe a yahrzeit in Adar I following the many opinions and precedents found above. Finally, while I do not recommend observing a yahrzeit in both Adars, it is certainly understandable how this custom arose, given the lack of conclusive proof for the other two opinions.
David Golinkin is President of The Schechter Institutes, Inc. and President Emeritus of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. For twenty years he served as Chair of the Va’ad Halakhah (Law Committee) of the Rabbinical Assembly which gives halakhic guidance to the Masorti Movement in Israel. He is the founder and director of the Institute of Applied Halakhah at Schechter and also directs the Center for Women in Jewish Law. Rabbi Professor Golinkin made aliyah in 1972, earning a BA in Jewish History and two teaching certificates from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received an MA in Rabbinics and a PhD in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he was also ordained as Rabbi. For a complete bio click here.