Tu Be'av: What's love got to do with it?

Tu Be'av should be about making others significant.

August 4, 2009 22:13
3 minute read.


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Honestly, I don't like Tu Be'av. More commonly known as hag ha'ahava (holiday of love) in Israel, the 15th of Av has become a cheap imitation of Valentine's Day, with stores selling everything from heart-shaped chocolates to flower arrangements marketed at those in a relationship. Perhaps I'm just cynical because I don't have a significant other at the moment, but there must be more to Tu Be'av then buying heart-shaped pillows with cute sayings like "I dream about you." Where did it start? Tu Be'av is a minor holiday on the Hebrew calendar, but was popular during the Second Temple period. The holiday celebrated the wood offering brought in the Temple (Nehemiah 10:35). Josephus refers to it as the Feast of Xylophory ("Wood bearing"). ACCORDING TO the Talmud, Tu Be'av was a joyous holiday in the days of the Temple: There were no holy days as happy for the Jews as Tu Be'av and Yom Kippur, for on these days unmarried girls would dress in simple white clothing (so that rich could not be distinguished from poor) and go out to sing and dance in the vineyards surrounding Jerusalem. Hence, Tu Be'av became an auspicious day for matchmaking - and buying chocolate for your sweetheart, but that came much later. Various reasons for celebrating on Tu Be'av are cited by the Talmud and its commentators: • While the Jews wandered in the desert for 40 years, female orphans without brothers could only marry within their tribe, to prevent their father's inherited land in the Land of Israel from passing on to other tribes. On the 15th of Av of the 40th year, this ban was lifted. • That same year, the last of the generation of the spies, which had been forbidden to enter the Promised Land, died out. • The tribe of Benjamin was allowed to intermarry with the other tribes after the incident of the concubine of Gibeah (Judges chapters 19-21). • Cutting of the wood for the main altar in the Temple was completed for the year. • The nights lengthen again after the summer solstice, permitting more time for Torah study. • The Roman occupiers permitted burial of the victims of the massacre at Betar. Miraculously, the bodies had not decomposed, despite exposure to the elements for over a year. But to quote Tina Turner, "What's Love Got To Do With It?" What do all these events have in common? I'D LIKE to suggest that the love we are talking about is not the love of one for a spouse or a boyfriend/girlfriend. Tu Be'av should be more global than that. Members of the tribe of Benjamin were outcasts after the incident with the concubine of Gibeah. On Tu Be'av, the tribe was brought back into the fold. The same sort of feeling must have been felt by the generation of the desert when their ban was lifted. The girls who danced in the vineyards all wore the same clothing in order not to shame those who had less (tilboshet ahida, standard uniform). The other events also brought estranged parties together again, creating a sense of belonging. We all know that the Second Temple was destroyed due to sinat hinam (baseless hatred), and just six days later on the calendar comes Tu Be'av, a holiday signifying ahavat hinam (unlimited love). But if Tu Be'av becomes a holiday simply to express love for one's significant other, we are missing the point. Tu Be'av should be about making others significant. Instead of just showing how much you appreciate your best guy or gal, why not show a little kindness to a stranger? Say good morning to that neighbor you never talk to in the elevator, smile at the cashier in the supermarket, strike up a conversation with that coworker you rarely talk to. Instead of the horrible random acts of violence we have seen recently, including the haredi protests in Jerusalem and the senseless killing of two young people from the gay community in Tel Aviv, why not attempt some random acts of kindness on Tu Be'av? What's love got to do with it? Everything! The writer has an MA in creative writing from Bar-Ilan University.

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