Today is the first day of Rosh Chodesh Adar, the beginning of the month of Adar. Adar is the happiest (and luckiest) month in the Jewish calendar, and inspired the famous Talmudic dictum, Mishenichnas Adar marbim b’simcha. Whoever enters Adar increases their level of joy. The basic reason that Adar is considered so awesome has to do with Purim occurring in the month of Adar, because Purim is generally thought of as a lucky and joyous time for Jews. It’s the Jewish equivalent of the secular “holiday season” (except we get hamantaschen instead of fruitcake) in that it’s supposed to be a time of joy and charity and good tidings. Traditionally, Av is a crappy month for the Jews what with all of the temple destruction and the expulsion from Spain and so on. And Adar is supposed to be Av’s opposite. The Talmud says, 'Just as joy is reduced from the start of Av, likewise, is joy increased at the start of Adar.' Rav Papa said: 'Therefore, a Jew engaged in litigation with a non-Jew, should avoid him during Av, which is a time of ill omen for him; and should make himself available during Adar, which is a fortunate time for him' (Ta'anit 29).’ So Adar is not just a good time of year for three cornered cookies and little kids dressed up as kings and queens, it’s also a good time for Jews in the judicial system. Pretty bizarre. Also, Adar is how the Jewish calendar grounds itself, so that the months of the year don’t rotate around the seasons the way they do in the Muslim calendar. Some years (like this one) there’s Adar I and Adar II. The most succinct explanation for all this I’ve ever seen is over at jewfaq.com:
The problem with strictly lunar calendars is that there are approximately 12.4 lunar months in every solar year, so a 12-month lunar calendar loses about 11 days every year and a 13-month lunar gains about 19 days every year. The months on such a calendar "drift" relative to the solar year. On a 12 lunar month calendar, the month of Nissan, which is supposed to occur in the Spring, would occur 11 days earlier each year, eventually occurring in the Winter, the Fall, the Summer, and then the Spring again. To compensate for this drift, an extra month was occasionally added. The month of Nissan would occur 11 days earlier for two or three years, and then would jump forward 29 or 30 days, balancing out the drift. In ancient times, this month was also added by observation: the Sanhedrin observed the conditions of the weather, the crops and the livestock, and if these were not sufficiently advanced to be considered "spring," then the Sanhedrin inserted an additional month into the calendar to make sure that Pesach (Passover) would occur in the spring (it is, after all, referred to in the Torah as Chag he-Aviv, the Festival of Spring!). A year with 13 months is referred to in Hebrew as Shanah Me'uberet (pronounced shah-NAH meh-oo-BEH-reht), literally: a pregnant year. In English, we commonly call it a leap year. The additional month is known as Adar I, Adar Rishon or Adar Alef. It is inserted before the regular month of Adar (known in such years as Adar II, Adar Sheini or Adar Beit). Note that Adar II is the "real" Adar, the one in which Purim is celebrated, the one in which yahrzeits for Adar are observed, the one in which a 13-year-old born in Adar becomes a Bar Mitzvah. Adar I is the "extra" Adar. In the fourth century, Hillel II established a fixed calendar based on mathematical and astronomical calculations. This calendar, still in use, standardized the length of months and the addition of months over the course of a 19 year cycle, so that the lunar calendar realigns with the solar years. Adar I is added in the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years of the cycle. The current cycle began in Jewish year 5758 (the year that began October 2, 1997).
Since Adar I begins today, we’ve got a ways to go before Purim, which falls on March 21, but if you’ve got a parking ticket you want to argue, now’s the time…
Previously: How To Host Havdalah