Well, the Almond Trees Are… Not Blooming.

Dear Josep,

So, today was Tu B’shvat, that obscure little not-really-holiday that is the New Year for Trees. And despite the popular Tu B’shvat song I mentioned last year… the almond trees are not, in fact, in bloom. Actually, it’s supposed to snow in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas (possibly here) as of this afternoon. Jerusalemites and people in the higher regions of Gush Etzion have reported some flurries.

I know I've said that the white almond blossoms look like snow on the bare branches, but...
I know I’ve said that the white almond blossoms look like snow on the bare branches, but…
By Zlerman (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
You see, Tu B’shvat is “early” this year. And when you start using words like “early” to describe something that is supposed to occur on the same date every year, you start to understand the complications of living with a solar-lunar calendar.

You see… the Muslims use a calendar that is 100% lunar. So for them there’s no such thing as an “early” or “late” Ramadan or Eid Al-Adha. These holidays fall whenever they fall; the weather has nothing to do with it.

But for us, it does, and here’s why. Passover has to fall in the spring: “You shall observe the festival of unleavened bread; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread as I have commanded you, at the appointed time of the month of budding/springtime, for then you left Egypt, and they shall not appear before Me empty handed.” (Exodus 23:15) The seasons are dependent, obviously, on our position around the sun. So if Passover must fall in the spring, we need to manipulate our calendar to align, more or less, with the solar calendar.

So when Tu B’shvat falls in January, we have a bit of a problem. Passover falls on the 15th of Nissan, meaning exactly two months from Tu B’shvat. The end of March may technically be spring, but it’s pushing it, and next year it would certainly be too early.

What’s a Jew to do?

Well, we need another month.

So, we add another month.

And what better month to celebrate twice than the happiest month of the year: Adar!

Yup. This year there are going to be two months of Adar. That’s what we do on a Jewish leap year. In Hebrew they are called “shana me’uberet.” This is often literally translated as a “pregnant year,” which conjures up a pretty cute image; but it occurs to me that the root of the word “me’uberet” (מעוברת)–which is ע.ב.ר–means both “fetus” (“ubar”) and “passing” (“ma’avar”), so it could be that it actually just means “leap year.” But don’t quote me on that; I’m not a Hebrew scholar!

You may recall that we do have a holiday right in the middle of Adar: Purim. So you may be wondering, if we repeat the month, do we also repeat the holiday?! No, unfortunately 😛 , we don’t. We celebrate Purim during Adar II. During Adar I, we do note what we call “Purim katan” (“little Purim”) on the 15th, but we don’t actually do anything special on that day.

I know, I know. Two entire months without a holiday! How do we cope?!?!

I’m joking, but it was actually kind of a bummer as a student in school, because Adar I was never as fun as Adar II. 😉

My kids came home early from preschool today–because of the storm–with various almond-tree decorated paraphernalia, and looking out the window, it seems almost as strange as it used to back in the USA, where the concept of almond trees blooming was completely foreign to me around this time of year.

Well, wish us luck with the snow; at least we know the terrorists will probably be indoors over the next few days. 😛

Love,

Daniella

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