Another in the occasional series of the intersections of agronomy, astronomy, and their significance on the Jewish calendar…
The moon will be full Saturday night, and given that we are in the month of Adar on the Jewish calendar, that means it will be Purim. The photo below shows the moon, a bit shy of full, a minute or two before sundown on 28 February (i.e. just as it was about to become 11 Adar). Here at Ladera Frutal we won’t see the lunar eclipse that will usher in Purim for folks in some parts of the globe.^ We’ll have to settle for webcasts of a moon that promises to “take on an eerie coppery tint that has often been compared with blood.”
Moon of 11 Adar rising in the east around sundown, over the orange and avocado trees.
The traditional explanation of Purim’s purpose in Jewish life is as a commemoration of Jewish victory against an evil ruler–sadly, a recurring historical theme. However, the story, as told in the book of Esther, has minimal (and I may be generous in using that word) historical basis. What Purim really marks is the end of winter, at least for those of us in Mediterranean climates (of the northern hemisphere). Once we have seen the full moon of Adar (assuming it’s not eclipsed!), we would expect that, in such a climate, the danger of freezes is pretty much past. As such, the fixing of Purim in the cycle of sun and moon was a way of regulating the agricultural calendar as much as it is a religious event.
At the full moon of Adar we are one month past the full moon of Shevat, otherwise known as Tu Bishvat, the (minor) holiday that marks the beginning of the end of winter (traditionally, when Israel’s almond trees begin to flower). And we are one month away from the full moon of Nisan, which marks the spring equinox (when winter is once and for all over)–the occasion of Pesach/Passover and its commemoration of liberation in the Exodus story.
The exception in this timing, with even one-month intervals between the three holidays that mark the progression of winter to spring is if it’s a leap year in the Jewish calendar. In a leap year an additional month has been added, separating Tu Bishvat and Purim by two months,* but keeping Purim and Pesach one month apart. So, does that mean winter lingers longer in leap years? Next year will be a leap year on the Jewish calendar–as on the Gregorian–so I will be watching those bloom dates to find out.** The additional month comes seven times every nineteen years and is necessary to keep the rhythm of a calendar that is, for agricultural purposes, tied to the sun (and hence the seasons) as well as the moon.
So, is winter over at Ladera Frutal? Well, we had a light freeze at the lowest level of the finca on 1 March and a near-freeze this morning. But Saturday it should be about 80, and while a return of chilly weather is by all means possible, it sure does seem as though one of the coldest winters of recent times is winding down. Signs of spring abound. The lower-chill peaches are all in bloom (the earliest bloomer, Tropic Snow, is past the peak of its flowering), the higher-chill peaches are gearing up to bloom, and we’ve seen the first blooms on the Newcastle apricot and Mesch Mesch Amrah plumcot. The Flavor Delight aprium is nearing full bloom, and several other apricots and the Kuban burgundy plum are close to their first bloom.# Yes, I think spring is upon us! In the spirit of the holiday, I will most certainly drink to that.
(Of course, the surest sign of spring is that I have been listening to baseball games!)
^ [new note, 4 Mar.] Mah Rabu notes that the process of an eclipse “exactly parallels the structure of the book of Esther: during the first half, it appears as though the Jews are going to be annihilated. In the end, this ominous darkness is chased away, and everything works out.” So, how often does an eclipse happen on Purim? Both events have to occur at a full moon, so a convergence would happen now and then, but I have no idea how often. And as Mah Rabu notes, this convergence is yet another example of how “This yearâ€™s cosmic confluences march on!”
Unfortunately, I was indeed unable to see the eclipse. As the photo shows, the moon has been rising before sunset, but the period of the eclipse here on the west coast of North America likewise occurred before sunset. It is possible that it was visible and I simply missed it, but it is more likely that the sky was still too bright at the time for an eclipsed moon to be visible.
* Using Gregorian dates, the three holidays this year fall on the 3 February, 4 March, and 3 April (the first of eight days in the case of Passover). In 2008, they will be 22 January, 21 March, and 20 April. (22 January seems awfully early for almond flowers!)
** I am eager to find out which calendar is better for tracking the bloom and ripening dates of the fruits of Ladera Frutal, the Gregorian or the Jewish. I am betting on the latter, but stay tuned!