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What is the history behind Tu B’Av?

Monday, Aug 3 2015

Av/Elul/Tishrei 2015 August/September 5775

JEWISH/ZIONIST EDUCATION HEBREW LESSON 41 - Tu B'Av

An American folk event, Sadie Hawkins Day, is a pseudo-holiday that originated in Al Capp's classic hillbilly comic strip, Li'l Abner (1934—1978). This inspired real-world Sadie Hawkins dances, where girls invite boys to escort them. Did you know that Al Capp was Jewish? His family name was Caplin.

On the Gregorian calendar, February is the month that celebrates love. In much of the world, February 14 is known as Valentne's Day and is dedicated to lovers. There is a similar day within our tradition Tu B'Av, celebrated on the 15th day of Av. It is a day when young unmarried women are permitted to approach men (also unmarried, of course) rather than the other way around. Tu B'Av is a big holiday in Israel. It is celebrated much the same as Valentine's Day is celebrated in other parts of the world with flowers, cards, and sweets.

On Tu B'Av there is a full-moon and it is traditionally celebrated as a day of love and affection.

What is the history behind Tu B'Av?

  1. Tu B'Av marked the end of the "desert generation." After 40 years the desert generation died off and the new generation was finally ready to enter the Promised Land.
  2. Tu B'Av marked the time when the tribes of Israel were permitted to intermarry. This next generation of women was granted permission to marry whomever they desired (within Israel) since the land had been allocated among the various tribes.
  3. Tu B'Av marked the restoration of the tribe of Benjamin. Six hundred surviving males from the tribe of Benjamin were permitted to marry a daughter from Shiloh. This saved the tribe from extinction.
  4. Tu B'Av became a time of celebration in Jerusalem. It was celebrated as a time of reconciliation for the sin of the 10 spies who came bearing such negative reports that the entire nation was reduced to panic. Later it became known as a time of summer dancing and a courtyard celebration. Girls would exchange white clothing with one another so that their prospects would not know who could afford expensive dresses and who was borrowing them. In recent years this practice has been revived and Jewish girls from Shiloh (located about 40 minutes north of Jerusalem) dance in the same vineyards, while Chassidic musical artists provide entertainment.
  5. Tu B'Av marked the end of Jeroboam's blockade against Jerusalem. This was King Jeroboam, an evil ruler of the Northern Kingdom of Israel whose roadblocks were removed on the 15th of Av which allowed people to make the pilgrimage into Jerusalem again.
  6. Tu B'Av marked the time of "Breaking of the Hatchets." After this date it was forbidden to cut down trees or use them in the Temple offering fires.
  7. Tu B'Av marked the end of the year for planting. Trees and crops planted after this date are considered to take root after Rosh Hashanah and therefore belong to the following year for the purpose of the Sabbatical Year.
  8. Tu B'Av marks the final Jewish Holiday of the year. Since it falls on the fifteenth of the month, Tu B'Av is a night of the full moon; and since the ninth of Av (Tishah B'av) recalls the history of Jewish tragedy, the full moon of Av represents the transformation of darkness into light, sorrow into joy.
  9. Tu B'Av marks a time of romance and love in modern Israel. It is customary to send a bouquet of red roses to the one you love. Romantic songs are played on the radio and parties are held in the evening throughout the country. It is a popular day for Jews to hold weddings (and they are not required to fast before the wedding on this day).

Tu B'Av is a holiday mentioned in the Talmud. We read that Rabbi Simeon ben Gamliel said that there never were in Israel greater days of joy than on the 15th of Av and the Day of Atonement. On these days the daughters of Jerusalem danced in the vineyards exclaiming, "Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself. Do not set your eyes on beauty but set them on good family. Grace is deceitful and beauty is vain. But a woman that fears G-d, she will be praised."

Do you think that there should be a special day for love? Is love a "gift" or something that needs to be cultivated and worked at each day?

There are many kinds of love: romantic love, love of family, love of country, love of Israel and love of G-d to name a few. On Tu B'Av we have an opportunity to reflect on all of them.

Janice Greenwald Israeli Literature

This article is part of the the current edition of Women Who Learn. To obtain a PDF version of the full edition, email us at jewisheducation@hadassah.org.

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