What is Purim Katan?

Find out More About the Lesser-Known Leap Year Holiday

Two men enjoy lunch at a kosher McDonald's in Israel.
Two men enjoy lunch at a kosher McDonald's in Israel. David Silverman/Getty Images

Most people have heard of Judaism's festive Spring holiday of Purim, but most have not heard of Purim Katan. 

Meaning and Origins

Celebrated on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar, the holiday of Purim is detailed in the Book of Esther and commemorates the miracle of the Israelites being saved from their evil enemy Haman.

With Purim Katan (פּוּרִים קָטָן), Purim simply refers to the Jewish holiday of Purim, and katan literally means "small." The two put together as Purim Katan actually translates as "minor Purim," and this is a minor holiday that is only observed during a Jewish leap year.

 

According to the Talmud in tractate Megillah 6b, because Purim is observed in Adar II, the importance of Adar I must still be recognized. Thus, Purim Katan fills that void. 

How To

Interestingly, the Talmud tells us that there is

"no difference between the fourteenth of the first Adar and the fourteenth of the second Adar"

except that, on Purim Katan,

  • the megillah is not read,
  • gifts are not sent to the poor,
  • the al ha'nissim (sections of prayer about miracles) prayer is not recited, and 
  • the tachanun prayers (sections of prayer involving confession and asking for forgiveness) are not recited.

On the other hand, fasting and funeral eulogies are not allowed (Megillah 6b).

As for how to celebrate, it is considered worthy to simply mark the day with a small, festive meal such as a special lunch, and generally to increase one's joy as well (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 697:1).

​But what about the fact that the Talmud says there is essentially "no difference" between actual Purim and Purim Katan?

Many understand this to mean that on Purim Katan, one is meant to focus on the emotional and internal aspects of Purim instead of focusing on the obvious, external aspects of the holiday (reading the megillah, sending gifts to the poor, reciting prayers). Without the requirements of specific observances, any act of celebration is done completely willingly and wholeheartedly.

 

Sixteenth century Rabbi Moses Isserles, known as the Rema, says, in comments on Purim Katan,

“Some are of the opinion that one is obligated to feast and rejoice on the 14th of Adar I (known as Purim Katan). This is not our custom. Nevertheless, one should eat somewhat more than usual, in order to fulfill his obligation according to those who are stringent. ‘And he who is glad of heart, feasts constantly' (Proverbs 15:15).”

According to this, then, if one is joyful, he will feast on Purim Katan and when he's glad of heart as well. 

Bonus: More on The Leap Year

Because of the unique way the Jewish calendar is calculated, there are year-to-year differences that, if not "fixed" would cause complete shifts in the calendar. Thus, the Jewish calendar accommodates these differences by adding in an additional month. The additional month falls around the Hebrew month of Adar, resulting in an Adar I and an Adar II. In this type of year, Adar II is always the “real” Adar, which, in addition to being the one in which Purim is celebrated, yarzheits for Adar are recited and someone born in Adar becomes a bar or bat mitzvah. 

This type of year is known as a “pregnant year" or a "leap year" and it occurs seven times in a 19-year cycle during the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, and 19th years.

Dates for the Holiday

  • February 22, 2016 at sundown (14th of Adar I, 5776)
  • February 18, 2019 at sundown (14th of Adar I, 5779)
  • February 14, 2022 at sundown (14th of Adar I, 5782)
  • February 22, 2024 at sundown (14th of Adar I, 5784)