I really enjoyed this article by Rabbi Larry Milder. He sent it to his congregation, Beth Emek of Pleasanton. It gives you a nice summary of the rather obscure holiday, Tu B’Av. Why not take his advice and tell someone that you love them, maybe even give them flowers.
The Jewish Day of Love
Today, the 15th of Av on the Jewish calendar, is the best holiday you’ve never heard of.
Tu B’Av (“Tu” equals 15) is a rabbinic holiday, i.e. one that isn’t mentioned in the Bible. According to the Mishnah (Taanit 4:8), on this day, young women would dress in white and dance in the vineyards, to attract the attention of young men.
Sounds a lot like Friday night Israeli folk dancing at summer camp!
Shimon ben Gamliel explains, “The Israelites had no greater holidays than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur.”
It is a rather odd comparison. It is true that on Yom Kippur, it is also customary to dress in white. But we don’t usually think of Yom Kippur as a joyous holiday; rather, it strikes us as serious.
That was not how the rabbis of the Mishnah viewed it. Yom Kippur, too, was supposed to be a day for women, dressed in white, to dance. I don’t know how they did it while they were fasting, but the rabbis claim that these two days were the premier match-making days of the Jewish calendar.
I actually get it. People often do meet their bashert, their destined one, on the High Holy days. It is a time when Jews come together, and it is inevitable that some unmarried Jews will find one another, perhaps reacquaint after an absence of some years, and maybe fall in love. Or, at least, go get a snack together after services are over.
As widespread as the observance of Yom Kippur is, however, the celebration of Tu B’Av has somehow fallen by the wayside. What a shame! We can use a good holiday devoted to love, and nothing more! No fasting required, no hours of prayer, just a good hora, a line dance, Cajun two-step or Texas boot scootin’.
The wearing of white (Shimon ben Gamliel says “borrowed”) suggests a kind of equality, a way of getting beyond the surface appearance of who has fancier clothes. We are encouraged to consider character, the deeper qualities of a partner, the things that will lead to a lifetime of happiness.
I prefer not to think of Tu B’Av as a Jewish St. Valentine’s Day. Among other reasons, we don’t have saints, and the story associated with Saint Valentine isn’t a pretty story, either. There is nothing but beauty and simplicity in the tradition of Tu B’Av.
More importantly, we were celebrating Tu B’Av for centuries before St. Valentine’s Day.
Sometimes, the riches of our tradition are just waiting to be discovered.
Go out and get someone you love some flowers. It’s Tu B’Av!
Rabbi Larry Milder