Adjusting Adar Sheni

b57f4da4-9ded-475d-a2e6-5057714fefe1On my next birthday I am turning 57. You might ask, “What’s the big deal about 57?” Well, 57 is 3 x 19, and 19 is an important number in the Jewish calendar. Our calendar runs on a 19 year cycle. This year the Hebrew date of my birth, the 13th of Iyyar, corresponds to my secular birthday, May 21st, just as it did when I was born.
The Jewish calendar is based on the moon. 12 months, or lunar cycles, adds up to 354 days. Pesach this year begins on Friday, April 22. Next year, the first day of Pesach will be eleven days earlier, and in two years Pesach will begin in late March. Left unchecked, Pesach would eventually occur in February.

So the Jewish calendar is adjusted, 7 times in a 19 year cycle, by adding a 13th month, called Adar Sheni. With these additional days, at the end of 19 years the number of days in the Jewish and secular calendars are exactly the same! And then the cycle begins again. By the way, this current year 5776 is year 19 of the cycle, and today is the last day of Adar Sheni.All of this assumes that we want the Jewish and secular calendars to be in sync. While many like to ask the question, “Is Yom Tov early or late this year?” I ask the question, “Why do we need two calendars – one Jewish and one secular?”

As we learn from the four pillars of our school, Jewish people live in tension between two worlds – as members of a unique community and as citizens of the world. Celebrating two calendars – Shabbat and Jewish holidays together with such days as the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving – we continually seek to find a delicate balance in our appreciation of two calendars.

This balance was expressed centuries ago by our sage Hillel, who taught: If I am not for myself, who am I. And if I am only for myself, what am I? Thinking of Hillel’s words as a collective Jewish community, we can learn these lessons: On one hand we must take care of ourselves, i.e. strengthen the Jewish community. On the other hand, we must concern ourselves with the world around us.

Rabbi Elliot Pachter

Director of Student Services