With Tisha B’Av behind us, we leave the saddest part of the Jewish calendar and turn to one of our most joyful (and least known) holidays, Tu B’Av. The 15th of Av (which falls this year on Aug. 18) may not have the fame of Passover or Chanukah but listen to what the Talmud says about it (Ta’anit 26b; 30b-31a):
“There were no holidays so joyous for Israel as the Fifteenth of Av (Tu b’Av) and Yom Kippur, for on those days, daughters of Jerusalem would go out dressed in borrowed white clothing (so that they would all look the same). … And the daughters of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vineyards located on the outskirts of the city. And everyone who didn’t have a wife would go there. And what would they say?
“Young man, lift up your eyes and choose wisely. Don’t look only at physical beauty – look rather at the family – ‘For charm is false, and beauty is vanity. A G-d-fearing woman is the one to be praised…’” (Proverbs 31:30)”
According to the Talmud, there are six reasons Tu B’Av was made a holiday. Among them: Marriage between different tribes of Israel was finally permitted on that day. In the desert, a ban on inter-tribal marriage had insured that land would not pass out of the hands of the tribe it originally belonged to. Virtual Jerusalem explains the significance. “The ability for all of the tribes to marry each other– necessary to facilitate a deep, fundamental sense of Jewish oneness – is worth celebrating.”
Yosef Abramowitz and Susan Silverman suggest that we could learn a great deal from those ancient courting practices. “The young girls borrowed white dresses so that the young men could not choose among them according to materialistic concerns… Today, we live in a world that is status- and fashion-conscious, a world of beauty pageants and beauty ideals set by television and movies, and some synagogues are even described as ‘meat markets’ for looking over the unmarried merchandise. Tu B’Av tells us to look beneath the surface when looking for (or at) a life partner, just as Yom Kippur forces us to look deep into ourselves before God grants us life anew.”
Rabbi Jill Hammer explains how the courting of Tu B’Av has a Divine counterpart but weeks away. “Tu B’av falls forty days before the 25th of the month of Elul, the day, according to the Talmud, on which the world was created. The Talmud also tells us that forty days before a child is born, God decrees who will be that child’s mate. A chassidic thinker, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelekh Shapira of Dinov, (known as the B’nei Yissachar) teaches that Tu B’Av is a holiday of weddings and dances because it celebrates the moment when the Divine is paired a human mate—in Israel’s sacred story, that mate is Israel.”
These days, you don’t see many girls of Jerusalem borrowing white dresses and dancing in the vineyards. Modern boosters say the day should be rekindled as a day in which Jewish men and women search for their shiduch. So how can we observe the day?
This may be hard to believe for a Jewish holiday but there are no traditional foods associated with the day. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach says Jews should repossess “our own, Jewish Day of Love: Tu B’Av.” How? “Well, you could send your special someone a heart-shaped gefilte fish – well-refrigerated, of course.
In keeping with the joyous feel of the day, on Tu B’Av, we omit saying the penitential Tachanun prayer. But that’s about it; there is no traditional liturgy added to the day. So Rabbi Hammer has gathered sources for study and celebration for the 15th of Av, a type of mini-Haggadah.
Rabbi Boteach has this suggestion for a potential beloved. “FedEx him or her a steaming hot bowl of chicken soup symbolizing your passion. But a far better way is for you women to don gorgeous white sundresses and organize with friends to dance away in Central Park in front of a mesmerized gathering of available single men. When the cops come to arrest you, you can say that your rabbi made you do it.”
Although Tu B’Av is a minor holiday that flies under the radar of many Jews, it doesn’t escapes all-knowing Google! In fact, every year the search engine honours the day in Israel with one of their quaint Google Doodles, an image or animation that pops up on its home page. Although they really don’t have much to say about the history of the day, they are reminders of the day, nonetheless. Last year, they presented several “quick animations of how love and technology go hand-in-hand!”