Featured Ads

Love - Jewish style

A chuppah (Jewish wedding canopy) in Jerusalem. Photo by Nikki Fenton

Forget Valentine’s Day. We’ve got our own.

“There were no greater holidays for Israel than Tu b’Av and Yom Kippur, for on them the girls of Jerusalem used to go out in borrowed white dresses … and dance in the vineyards. What would they say? ‘Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself.’ ”

Tu b’Av? Dancing on Yom Kippur? This is the description of a Mishnah scholar and head of the Sanhedrin court about an event in the time of the Second Temple.

Tu b’Av, the 15th of the Hebrew month of Av, was a festival in ancient times dedicated to young Jewish men and women finding their mates and was celebrated as a holiday of love. This year, it occurs on Aug. 6 at sunset and Aug. 7.

According to the Talmud, during the time of the First Temple, Yom Kippur was the day on which one could hunt for a mate. The eligible single girls of Jerusalem borrowed white dresses, so as to not embarrass those who possessed none of their own. Then they would go out and dance in the vineyards so they would be chosen as brides by eligible young men.

Tu b’Av also marked the beginning of the grape harvest, and Yom Kippur marked the end.

Among the reasons why Tu b’Av existed, as listed in the Talmud, is that on this day the members of the 12 tribes were allowed to intermarry. Another reason was that in ancient Israel, at the end of the Book of Judges, there is the story of a Levite who took a concubine for a wife and they went to Gibeah, part of the tribe of Benjamin, to lodge. The townsmen demanded to see the man, he offered them his concubine-wife, and the men of Gibeah brutally killed her and cut her into 12 pieces. This started a civil war, and most of the Tribe of Benjamin were killed. The other tribes decided they would not permit their women to marry anyone from the tribe of Benjamin. 

Somehow the other tribes decided on Tu b’Av they would readmit the remaining male Benjaminites into the community, and marriages could take place. In fact, 200 males from the tribe of Binyamin were married to women of one of the tribes that was about to become extinct. The soon-to-be brides danced in the vineyards of the capital of Israel, which was then Shilo, a town 40 minutes north of Jerusalem.

In the time of King Hosea, Jews in the Northern Kingdom could visit Jerusalem as the checkposts were removed. On Tu b’av, the Romans allowed the Jews to bury the soldiers who fell in defense of Bar Kochba’s stronghold, Betar.

People also brought kindling wood to the temple altar as offerings, accompanied by torches and bonfires.

Today, in the same vineyards, since 2009, there is a Meholelot Bakramim (dancing in the vineyards) festival for women at Shiloh. They dance in special programs, there are guided tours to the site where the ark lay, and there are reenactments of biblical stories, workshops and more.

In modern-day Israel, people send red roses to the one they love on Tu b’Av, romantic songs are played on the radio, and the holiday is celebrated with parties in the evenings. Some think of the day as a holiday devoted to singles, about getting on with life and love. More weddings than normal are registered on this day in rabbinate offices, and many have their marriage ceremonies on this day. A few years ago, in Israel a rock concert was held on Tu b’Av with attendees sleeping on the beach.

Over the years, restaurants have offered romantic meals including heart-shaped burgers, special desserts with champagne for two and even heart-shaped chocolate mousse.

Some refer to this holiday as the Jewish Valentine’s Day, but in reality it has been rooted in Jewish tradition for 3,300 years. Whereas Jews mourn with Tisha b’Av, which falls the week before, and we remember the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians and the burning of the Second Temple by the Romans, Tu b’Av provides a nice contrast as it focuses on hope and continuity, as one looks forward to the coming of the month of Elul and the High Holy Days.