“No days were as festive for Israel as the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur” (Tractate Ta’anit).
“No days were as festive for Israel as the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur”Tractate Ta’anit
In a case of classic Jewish irony, the saddest day in the Hebrew calendar – the Fast of Tisha Be’av – is almost immediately followed by the happiest day of the year, the 15th of Av. This year, Tu Be’av also occurs on the eve of Shabbat Nachamu, when the prophetic words of Isaiah, “Nachamu, Nachamu” are recited, promising that God will comfort the Jewish people after all we have suffered, by ending our exile and bringing us all home to Zion.
These two occasions have become synonymous with matchmaking and matrimonials. Tu Be’av is significant because it was on this day that the rabbis first decreed that women may marry men from a tribe other than their own, which heretofore had been prohibited for fear that ancestral land would pass out of the tribe’s domain.
It also was the date when the nation was given permission to once again wed members of the tribe of Binyamin, who had been ostracized due to their despicable conduct in the “Concubine of Givah” scandal (see Judges 19-21).
The Talmud records the festive ritual that would take place each Tu Be’av:
“The daughters of the Jewish people would go out and dance in the vineyards. One who did not have a wife would come there to find one. The women of distinguished lineage among them would say, ‘Young man, please lift up your eyes and see (the fine family) you can choose from for a wife.’ The beautiful women would say, ‘Set your eyes toward beauty!’ Those of lesser beauty would say, ‘Marry me for the sake of Heaven, and then adorn me with golden jewelry to enhance my looks.’”
Shabbat Nachamu, for its part, became associated with marriage because it marked the end of the three-week period when weddings and celebrations were prohibited in the Ashkenazi community. Singles’ gatherings were established at kosher hotels – this was always the busiest weekend at the famous Grossinger’s and Concord hotels in the Catskills – so that young men and women could meet each other. Many a couple began their romance at these famed encounters.
This brings us to the current crisis in the dating world.
There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young people of marriageable age who have not yet found their bashert. While the haredi population has its own network of shidduchim, this problem is particularly acute in the Modern Orthodox, or national-religious community, especially among the female population.
It seems clear that over the years, the yeshivas have done a much better job of keeping the observant women “within the fold,” while many of the men drop out, and so the girls clearly outnumber the boys. And while men are waiting longer and longer to make a commitment and start their families, the women are watching their child-bearing years fly by. This has led to a great many women deciding to either freeze their eggs or have a child on their own, certainly a less-than-ideal solution.
THERE HAS also been a trend whereby couples – including those who are fully Jewish – who do decide to marry, choose to do so in a ceremony outside of Jewish law and tradition. Some of them hire “celebs” to conduct their nuptials; others simply “exchange vows” in a “do-it-yourself” production.
I consider this to also be a tragic development, for there is nothing more meaningful or spiritually satisfying than starting married life with a traditional Jewish chuppa. The symbols of the wedding, if explained properly, paint a picture of what Jewish love and life represent: the ring is a symbol of an unending and golden relationship; the chuppa models the ideal home – open on all sides to family and friends, while protected from above; the seven blessings proclaim that marriage can create our own personal Garden of Eden, while advising us to be friends as well as lovers.
The tallit customarily worn by the groom reminds him that marriage is a commitment “with strings attached,” yet also has wonderful “fringe benefits.” Even the breaking of the glass at the ceremony’s end not only recalls our long history and yearning for redemption, but it also reminds the couple that love, like a glass, is fragile and must be carefully guarded.
I recognize that there is a great deal of hostile “buzz” on social media regarding the rabbinate and selected horror stories about the bureaucracy of filing for marriage. But don’t believe everything you read. While the system is far from perfect, there are many modern, caring and charismatic rabbis in Israel who bring meaning, joy and even humor to a wedding because they take a sincere and personal interest in the groom and bride. Making a connection to these rabbis can create a lifelong relationship that should not be underestimated.
ON TWO recent occasions, when I conducted weddings for non-Orthodox couples, I asked them what customs and rituals they found to be the most meaningful. Both brides, interestingly enough, said that immersing themselves in the mikveh prior to the wedding made the greatest impact on them. Said one, “I felt that I was actually being born again, cleansed of any past deeds or disappointments, and ready to begin a great new life.”
I urge young couples to seek out a suitable rabbi and enhance their wedding experience. But I am also reaching out to the public at large. I am pleading with you to take an interest in all the young people you know who have not yet found their beloved. Keep a list of them, invite singles to your Shabbat table, encourage them to keep the faith and seek any and all avenues to meet the opposite sex.
I am gratified that there are many wonderful organizations that are involved in connecting singles. Two that I highly recommend are Chiburim – Connecting 2 Your 1 (chiburim.co.il), and Shagririm B’Lev – Ambassadors of the Heart (shagririm.org.il). Both have dedicated staff and volunteers who have accomplished wonders in making matches by enlarging the base of both singles and marrieds in their project.
I can’t think of a more noble, more praiseworthy, more rewarding mitzvah than Nachamu, Nachamu – comforting and caring for new couples. You will not only be saving lives; you will be helping to create generations of new lives.
The writer is the director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana. [email protected]