The Day of love: Tu Be’av in Jewish history

Why is this holiday considered one of the happiest days in Judaism?

August 15, 2019 21:24
4 minute read.
The Day of love: Tu Be’av in Jewish history

IAF jets draw a heart in the sky at at Hatzerim Air Base.. (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)

“Matchmaker matchmaker make me a match…”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Well, it should. It’s the famous song from Fiddler on the Roof.

Tu Be’av, which happens this year from Thursday night through Friday, focuses on just that: finding one’s match.

In Jewish culture, it is the day of love – the Jewish version of Valentine’s Day. It is considered a joyous and celebrated day in Jewish history.
The Mishna states that, “No days were as festive for Israel as the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur.” (The Hebrew letters “Tu” equal 15.)
During the time of the Second Temple, unmarried Jewish women would dress in white, “go out... and dance in the vineyards... whoever did not have a wife would go there to find himself a bride,” the Talmud explains.
By wearing all white and dancing together, the women were showing that they were all united in their quest and that the differences between them became irrelevant.
Although the exact origins of this important date are not clear, the first time it’s mentioned as a day of significance is during the 40th year that the Jews were wandering in the desert.
On this night that year, the last members of the generation of the sin of the spies, which had initially been barred from entering the Land of Israel, discovered that they were not destined to die.
The 12 spies returned from a reconnaissance mission into what was to become the Land of Israel. Ten of the spies lied, saying that although the land “does flow with milk and honey” and presenting large fruits that grow there to the Jewish people, they added that, “the people who live there are very powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.”
But the other two spies, Joshua and Caleb, silenced the Jewish people, who had begun to panic. The pair praised the land, adding that it was conquerable and that the Jews should go now. No one believed them, however, and the Jews instead chose to go with the account of the other 10 spies.
It was decreed on that night – which later became the mourning day of Tisha Be’av – that the Jews were to wander in the desert for 40 years and that some of the men of that generation who had sinned were decreed to die every Tisha Be’av during that time.
But in the final year of wandering, none of the remaining 15,000 men died. Only when there was a full moon – on the 15th of Av – did everyone realize that the decree had been lifted.

ANOTHER PROHIBITION that was lifted on Tu Be’av that same year was the law stating that women who were orphans and did not have brothers could only marry within their tribe to prevent their father’s inherited territory in Israel from passing on to other tribes. On the 15th of Av, however, this ban was lifted and inter-tribal marriage was allowed.
The Talmud also goes through some of the other reasons why Tu Be’av became such a joyous and happy day, like Yom Kippur.
Two of the reasons are that the ban against marrying into the tribe of Benjamin, following the horrific “Concubine of Givah” incident, was lifted and inter-tribal marriage was permitted.
The incident, which is described in the Book of Judges, led to a major battle after a concubine of a Levite was raped and abused by members of the tribe of Benjamin and later died. They were systematically killed by some of the other tribes, who had been deeply angered by the incident, until the tribe was almost wiped out and the ban was imposed on its remnant. Even after the ban was later lifted and the tribe was re-accepted into the nation of Israel, it continued to remain the smallest tribe.
Another reason the Talmud gives is that 65 years after the destruction of the Second Temple, the Romans finally permitted the bodies of dead Jews to be buried, which they had not allowed since the fall of Betar. Miraculously, the bodies never decomposed, despite the huge lapse in time.
Also on Tu Be’av, King Hoshea removed the roadblocks set up by King Jeroboam that prevented the Jews from the Northern Kingdom – the other 10 tribes – from traveling to Jerusalem to ascend and have access to the Temple.
During Temple times, Tu Be’av marked the end of the season for wood gathering for the altar, where sacrifices were offered, and it was also a day when special offerings and sacrifices took place.
Today, the holiday has traditionally become a day of love, romance and marriage. The prayer of tachanun (confessions of sin) is omitted during the daily davening.
Many Jewish couples choose to get married or engaged on Tu Be’av. Singing, dancing and re-enactments of the vineyard ceremonies also take place.
In Israeli culture, there are also festivals of singing and dancing on the night of Tu Be’av, while Orthodox men usually spend the night studying extra Torah.

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