Divre Harav – February/16

Trivia Question: How many days of Hanukkah are there in 2017? You’ll find the answer by reading to the third paragraph of this article. No fair looking ahead!

I am writing this article for the February Voice early in January, shortly after winter arrived, measured by the onset of cold weather, ice, and snow. Around me, except for the evergreens, the trees are completely bare. No green (or even brown) is visible on the ground, only white. At the end of January we celebrated Tu Bishvat, the new year for trees. It is hard to imagine that elsewhere in the northern hemisphere, the sap is beginning to enliven the trees again and soon buds will begin to sprout.

The month of Adar begins this month, normally followed by the month of Nisan, in which we celebrate Passover. If we followed the normal pattern, we’d celebrate Purim on February 23 and Passover March 25. However, the Jewish calendar requires Passover to fall no sooner than a certain time before April 7, the pre-Gregorian calendar’s calculation of the spring equinox. In simpler terms, the calendar tries not to let Passover occur before the world begins to look spring-like! Therefore, every 2-3 years (according to a fixed pattern), a second month of Adar is added before Purim. So this year Purim will fall on March 24 and Passover will begin April 23 and end on April 30! Next Rosh Hashanah does not start until October 3, and Hanukkah begins December 24 and ends on New Year’s Day, 2017.

Now you know the correct answer to the trivia question, How many days of Hanukkah are there in 2017? You can amaze your friends, confound your enemies, and win countless bets because everyone who can count the branches of a Hanukkah menorah and subtract one for the shamash knows that there are eight, but you know the answer is nine: January 1, 2017 and December 12-20, 2017!

One more fun and confusing fact (because everything having to do with the Jewish calendar is confusing): I’ve already mentioned that there are two months of Adar. For the purpose of calculating Yahrtzeits and celebrating Purim, the added month of Adar is Adar I. If a person died in a non-leap-year Adar, his or her Yahrtzeit is observed in Adar II in a leap year, as is Purim.

Hebrew Words of the Month:

  • shana m’uberet: A leap year of 13 months. Literally, a pregnant year.
  • tekufah: equinox or solstice (Hebrew does not distinguish).
  • molad: the precise moment of the new moon. Literally, birth.
  • rishon: first, as in Adar Rishon, the first month of Adar.
  • sheni: second, as in Adar Sheni, the second month of Adar.
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