This is a weird week in the Jewish calendar. On Sunday we commemorated Tisha b’Av (the 9th of Av), the day on which the ancient Temple was destroyed and numerous other calamities befell our people. It ties with Yom Kippur as the saddest day of the Jewish year (and shares many ritual similarities as well). Yet, less than a week later, we reach an entirely different sort of holiday.
Tu b’Av (the 15th of Av) is tomorrow– and it is only a minor holiday, one that’s largely fallen out of fashion in contemporary Judaism. The Talmud tell us that Tu b’Av was a day when women went out in borrowed white clothing to dance in the field and to choose partners from among the men who came to dance with them. They wore borrowed clothing so as not to shame any woman who did not have fine white clothing to wear. They would sing to their potential lovers, telling them to choose goodness and integrity rather than good looks. In rabbinic tradition, Tu b’Av also marks a number of miraculous events relating to marriage, union, and rebirth—particularly, that this was the day on which the Israelites were redeemed from wandering in the wilderness and allowed to enter the land of Israel.
In modern Israel, Tu b’Av has become a sort of Valentine’s Day, a Chag haAhavah (festival of love). Whether in its original significance or its modern one, there’s something to be said for reviving the tradition of Tu b’Av. To acknowledge a holiday celebrating love and rebirth less than a week after we’ve been weeping over death and destruction is a powerful moment.
Even in our saddest hours and our darkest days, perhaps love and light and playful dancing in summer fields is not far away at all. The contrast between Tisha and Tu b’Av acknowledges how often life swings dramatically between joy and misery, sometimes so fast it feels simultaneous. This week, as we move from loss to love, we’d do well to learn a bit more about Tu b’Av- and maybe even take a few minutes to go out and dance in the fields (weather-permitting).
To learn more:
My Jewish Learning, Celebrating Romantic Love
Tablet, On Tu b’Av, Embrace Thy Neighbor
Tel Shemesh, Tu b’Av – the Fruit