The Best (and only) Purim Party in Town

See why Purim is the Festival of Lights.

Prepping for Purim, the Festival of Lights.

I won $10 yesterday at the Karaite Jews of America’s Purim party. My dad said that he thought it was one of the congregation’s biggest turnouts in years.

I think that God was rewarding me and the KJA for celebrating Purim at the appropriate time, in the 12th month. My dad laughs when I say things like this.

Setting aside my tongue-in-cheekedness, I do think it is awesome that the Karaite Jews of America celebrated Purim now (during the 12th month, when the Book of Esther tells us the events occurred) as opposed to next month (which would coincide with the Rabbanite Purim).

For more info on why the Karaite Jews of America’s Purim party was yesterday, I’ve copied below the statement sent by the KJA to its list-serv regarding the timing of Purim 2014. (DISCLOSURE: I helped draft the statement, and I believe it captures most of the nuances.  A Blue Thread is not affiliated with the Karaite Jews of America, and the views of A Blue Thread are not those of the KJA . . . yada yada yada.)

*   *   *

Dear Members of the KJA,

As Karaites, we are used to having our holidays fall on different days from our Rabbinic brethren.  Usually, our holidays only differ by a few days, due to the fact that the Karaite/Biblical Calendar sets its holidays based on the sighting of the new moon (whereas the Rabbinic Calendar is a “fixed” calendar that is intended to approximate the new moon sightings).

This year (as in some other years), Karaites will celebrate Purim a full month before our Rabbinic brethren. We are celebrating Purim in February and the Rabbanites are celebrating Purim in March.

The Book of Esther specifically tells us that events of Purim occurred in the Twelfth Month, which was referred to as the month of Adar.  (Esther 9:1)  And as Karaites, we have proudly maintained the tradition of celebrating Purim in the 12th Month, in the month of Adar.  This year, Karaites and Rabbanites are actually in agreement that the date the Karaites are celebrating Purim will be in the twelfth month since the biblical new year.  (The biblical new year is in the spring and is the month in which Passover occurs.)

The reason that the Rabbanites are celebrating Purim a month after the Karaites is related to a nuance with respect to the Rabbinic calendar.  I need to back up a little bit to explain this concept.  The Tanakh does not “fix” the total number of months in a year.  There are either 12 months or 13 months, depending on the agricultural conditions in Israel.  During the Twelfth Month, the Jews would inspect the ripeness of the barley crops in the Land of Israel.  If the crops did not yet reach a certain stage of ripeness, we would add an extra biblical month (i.e., a thirteenth month) to the end of the calendar.  People call this extra month a leap month.  And Karaites of the middle ages (and even some today) proudly searched the Land of Israel to see if the barley had reached an appropriate stage of ripeness.

The concept of a leap month might seem odd to the western mind.  A leap month is somewhat analogous to the leap year in the Gregorian Calendar, which adds an extra day (“February 29th”) every four years in order to keep the secular calendar in line with the agricultural seasons.

Now, back to the Rabbinic Calendar:  The Rabbanites long ago stopped looking for the ripening barley to determine when one year ends and the next year begins.  So, in order to keep the Rabbinic Calendar in line with the agricultural seasons, the Rabbis add 7 leap months (i.e., 7 years that have an extra month) throughout their 19 year calendar cycle.  This year, according to the Rabbinic Calendar, is a leap year, which means that it has an extra biblical month (i.e., this year the Rabbinic Calendar has thirteen months).  Recall that in the Book of Esther, the Twelfth Month was referred to as the month of Adar.  In years in which there is a leap month, the Rabbinic Calendar has an Adar I and an Adar II.  To complicate matters a little further, the Rabbinic tradition is actually to add their leap month before the twelfth month.  As a result, Adar I in the Rabbinic tradition is considered the “leap month” and Adar II is considered the “normal” Adar.

The Karaite tradition has always been to celebrate Purim in the Twelfth Month on the date the Tanakh tells us the events happened – even if according the agricultural cycle there will be an extra (i.e., thirteenth) month added at the end.  In the Rabbinic tradition, in years where they have an extra biblical month, they always celebrate Purim in the last month of the year.  That is, during leap years, the Rabbanites celebrate Purim during Adar II.


Filed under Holidays, Karaite Jews of America, Purim

11 Responses to The Best (and only) Purim Party in Town

  1. Gabriel Moskovitz

    How do Karaites celebrate Purim? Do you read the Megilla? Do you give each other presents of food? Do you give the poor presents or food or money? I am fascinated by Karaite tradition and would like to compare/contrast with Rabbinite practice.

  2. David Elkodsi

    Hi Shawn,
    dealing with the leap year gets even more interesting with respect to yahrzeits. If the person passed away in a non-leap year, how should the yahrzeit be observed in a leap year? Depending on who you ask, you can get 3 different answers: Adar (I), Adar II, or both! Most rabbis say Adar II, since that is when Purim is observed, but some say Adar (I), since you don’t put off the mitzvah of the observance. Some, notably more orthodox I think, say both, so that way you’re covered either way. Growing up in a mixed marriage (ashkenaz-karaite), it was always confusing, and even more so now that it effects me with my mother’s (z”l, ashkenaz) yahrzeit.

  3. Zvi

    Shawn, I love how the candles are crammed into a small area. To this end I propose to you folks at the KJA to create a seven branched Menorah mould to conform to more ancient Jewish symbols.

  4. As I perceive it, based upon the Torah instructions that Jerusalem is to be the only mountain to worship upon, the aviv searches that find aviv only in the Jordan valley or in the Negev desert, and not in the Jerusalem vicinity, leads to a premature announcement of the first month. Accordingly, for the last few years I have been reckoning my months beginning one month later than most Karaites.

    You see, to me, each and all of the Torah feasts, all of which are to be celebrated in Jerusalem, are designed with an eye towards correct Scriptural time keeping. Thus, one main reason for Jerusalem being assigned as the one and only place for worship, is the necessity to define one place only in order to arrive at a correct and unified Scriptural calendar…

    • Where does it say that Jerusalem is the one and only place of worship? It might be the only place to offer sacrifices, but I am unfamiliar with any verse saying it was the one and only place of worship.

  5. The Reasoning use by our Rabbinic brethren to observe Purim during the second month of Adar (Adar Sheni) is based upon a number of faulty premises, the first being that when Talmudic rabbi’s disagree “both these and those are the words of the living God.” (Babylonian Talmud Erubin 13b).

    According to the Yerushalmi Talmud the Purim story itself occurred on a ‘leap year!” in spite of the clear statement to the contrary in Megillat Esther. In fact Rabbinites themselves debate this issue: 4. WHICH ADAR IS EXTRA? What is the status of the two months of Adar? Which one is the “real” Adar, and which one is extra? I’ll leave this for you to ponder. See Talmud Yerushalmi Megilla 7a. For a recent contribution, see Rav David Kav, “Haggeder hahilkhati shel shnei haAdarim” in Yod’ei Binah vol. 2 (Drazin Institute for Kiddush Hachodesh Studies, Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, Nisan 5764), pp. 60-63. (See,

    However, even if it were proven beyond any doubt whatsoever that the events of Purim occurred during Adar Sheni (II), all Torah observant Jews should observe Purim in Adar I. It is a Rabbinic intentional distortion of the meaning of our Holy Torah that has led them astray. We both agree on the Masoretic Text of Devarim 16:1:
    א שָׁמוֹר, אֶת-חֹדֶשׁ הָאָבִיב, וְעָשִׂיתָ פֶּסַח, לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ: כִּי בְּחֹדֶשׁ הָאָבִיב, הוֹצִיאֲךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ מִמִּצְרַיִם–לָיְלָה.
    The Mechon-Mamre translation renders this verse:
    1 Observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover unto the LORD thy God; for in the month of Abib the LORD thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night.
    However, our Orthodox Artscroll brethren render this verse:
    1. “Guard the month of the spring, and make [then] the Passover offering; for in the month of the Springtime the LORD thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night.”

    The concept of “a month of Springtime” is a clear Orthodox Rabbinic distortion of the plain meaning of the term Abib – אָבִיב”
    What is the Abib and why is it important?
    Abib occurs during the ripening process of barley. Shemot (Exodus) 9:31 states the following:
    וְהַפִּשְׁתָּה וְהַשְּׂעֹרָה, נֻכָּתָה: כִּי הַשְּׂעֹרָה אָבִיב, וְהַפִּשְׁתָּה גִּבְעֹל. לא
    “And the flax and the barley were smitten, because the barley was Abib and the flax was Giv’ol. And the wheat and the spelt were not smitten because they were dark (Afilot).”
    Clearly the Abib was not the month of Spring.
    The necessity of finding the Abib is a key feature in a later commandment which requires us immediately after Passover (once again we differ with our Rabbinnic brethren as to the timing of this observance) to commence counting the Omer. This observance is known as יוֹם הֲנָפַת הָעֹמֶר Yom Hanafat Ha’omer (Day of the Waving of the Sheaf of Barley). When the Temple stood this day marked the official commencement of the grain harvest (Dt 16:7) and sheaves of barley were cut and brought to the Temple as a wave-offering (Lev 23:9-14). Without the existence of the Abib, there would be no Sheaves of Barley to waive on Yom Hanafat Ha’Omer.
    Now as to why Purim can never be observed during a leap year. That is because an Abib searching Jew can never know on the 13th day of the 12th month (Purim) whether there will be insufficient quantities of Abib on the 25th or 26th day of the month such that an Adar Sheni will be declared. If we ‘guess’ wrong there would be no Purim. Hey, I just thought of a kids movie ===”The Talmudist who stole Purim…” take that Dr. Seuss and keep your Grinch!

  6. Dave S.

    If the abib grains are not ripe in the second Adar month, do Karaites still have Pesach on the 15th of Nisan anyway? What if someone finds the abib grains become ripe only in Nisan itself?

    • Hi Dave, excellent question. I do not know any historical incidents in which something like this has occurred. I will inquire to see if anyone has offered a philosophical answer. To be clear, Abib is a stage of ripeness. It is the penultimate stage of ripeness. Barley is a grain, and the general belief is that it is the grain whose ripeness sets the calendar. (I leave for another day what to do if another grain happens to ripen faster than barley, but for now it seems that barley ripens first.)

    • There is no restriction against observance of two Adar Sheni years in a row. Similarly, in the very unlikely event there was no Abib at the conclusion of an Adar Sheni we would most likely declare an Adar שלישי because the bible is clear that we are to observe the Pesach during the month of the Abib. In the unlikely event it was impossible for Abib to grow, I am sure our sages will find a solution.

  7. Dave

    Are there any traditional Karaites today who can identify the names of the traditional Karaite scholars at the time of the Mishna, Talmud, and before? In other words, whereas the Rabbinic tradition identifies Hillel, Shammai, and their students, as well as those who preceded Hillel and Shammai (known as the “zugot” of the Sanhedrins), why do Karaites never identify those who they deem to be the authentic Jewish scholars of that period?

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