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All You Need is Love

The fasts, famines and general tribulations of Masechet Taanit end on a happy note as the final Mishnah discusses two holiday celebrations, one on Yom Kippur and one on Tu B鈥橝v. In both, girls would go out dancing in the vineyards and 鈥渃atch鈥 themselves a husband:

鈥淎nd the daughters of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vineyards. And what would they say? Young man, please lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself for a wife. Do not set your eyes toward beauty, but set your eyes toward a good family鈥 (Taanit 26b)

Yom Kippur of course needs no introduction, although perhaps the idea of having a dance party towards the end of the day seems odd to us. But let us remember that Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel is talking about Temple days, when at the end of Yom Kippur the people would know if their sacrifices and worship had been accepted, and if they were, of course you would want to dance!

But what about Tu B鈥橝v? Until very recently this minor holiday was off the radar for most Jews. It has experienced a resurgence in modern Israel, where it has gotten various new names 鈥 the Jewish holiday of love, or the oxymoronic and semi-offensive Jewish Valentine鈥檚 Day. Let鈥檚 explore Tu B鈥橝v as more than another way for flower sellers and chocolate companies to make money.

Tu B’Av dances in Hadera in the State’s early days (Wikipedia)

The Gemara (Taanit 30-31) gives a number of reasons why Tu B鈥漚v is a festive day. Tu b鈥橝v was identified with the Chag Hashem related at the end of book of Judges:

And they said: ‘Behold, there is the feast of the LORD from year to year in Shiloh, which is on the north of Beth-el, on the east side of the highway that goeth up from Beth-el to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah.’聽鈥(Judges 21:19)

On this day people would come from all over Israel to feast in Shilo. The women would dance and the men would choose brides. This was the venue chosen to bring the tribe of Benjamin back into the nation. After a terrible and costly civil war at the end of the period of the judges, the tribe of Benjamin was almost wiped out. Even worse, there were only men left and the other tribes had sworn not to give their daughters to them in marriage. The creative solution was that the remaining Benjaminites would come to Shilo and when the girls went out to dance in the vineyards, they would grab brides for themselves, not needing the consent of the fathers (although hopefully getting the consent of the prospective brides). In addition,聽 the Gemara explains that Tu b鈥橝v was the day that the tribes could marry amongst each other, leading to greater unity and love. Hence Tu b鈥橝v as the holiday of love.

A portrait of the Benjaminites and their potential brides in the medieval Morgan Bible (Wikipedia)

The ancient site of Shilo where this story took place has been excavated and is open to visitors. Shilo is unusual among Tanakh sites in that the modern community was built forty years ago literally above the ancient one. You can see the tel and the remains of the Biblical town.聽 You can also see what we believe is the site of the Mishkan, Israel鈥檚 holiest place for over three centuries. Shilo was destroyed in the days before King Saul but it was soon rebuilt and we have remains there from Second Temple times and on, almost up to modern times. At the top of the hill, in the modern community, is an extraordinary synagogue designed to look like the Mishkan. Tel Shilo often hosts a special event to celebrate Tu b鈥橝v, the red-letter day on its calendar.

Mishkan site in Shilo (Wikipedia)

The Gemara gives some other reasons for the celebratory nature of Tu b鈥橝v. An additional one that connects to the tribes is that on this day King Hoshea ben Elah removed the barriers that stopped the northern tribes from visiting the Temple in the southern kingdom of Judah. The theme here is that Tu B鈥橝v is a day of unity and connection, if not necessarily (or only) of romantic love.

The Gemara also points out this is the time in the summer when the days start to (slowly!!) grow a little shorter and colder. On Tu B鈥橝v they stopped cutting wood for the Temple because

Rabbi Eliezer the Great says: From the fifteenth of Av onward, the strength of the sun grows weaker,鈥 (Taanit 31a)

and the wood would not be sufficiently dry to be used on the altar. By this time, the peak of the summer has passed.

Finally the Gemara mentions a didactic point. As the days are growing shorter and the nights longer, now is the time to spend those nighttime hours in the bet midrash, studying Torah. Ironically, the week of Tu b鈥橝v and afterwards are today considered 鈥渂ein hazemanim,鈥 a sort of semester break for yeshiva students. This is one of the few times in the year when yeshivot are closed and students go out to see the land. For once they are not in the bet midrash but on tiyulim all over Israel. But perhaps that is also a form of Torah study, learning the land and immersing oneself in it.

Today Tu B鈥橝v has become a popular date for weddings, it is also a time to let go and have some fun and music after the difficult and mournful period between the seventeenth of Tammuz and the ninth of Av. In fact, the Shabbat after Tisha B鈥橝v, known as Shabbat Nachamu, has long been a traditional time in the Orthodox world to have singles鈥 weekends, perhaps a modern version of the Chag Hashem in Shilo.

However we celebrate Tu B鈥橝v, let us try and make it a day of unity, bringing the Jewish people together so that we no longer have to mourn at all.

Love statue in the Israel Museum (Wikipedia)

 

 

 

Shulie Mishkin

Shulie Mishkin made Aliyah from New York with a Master's degree in Jewish History from Columbia University. After completing the Ministry of Tourism guide course in 1997, she began guiding professionally and has since taught and guided all ages, from toddlers to retirees. Her tours provide a complete picture of the land of Israel and Jewish heritage, with a strong reliance on sources ranging from the Bible to 19th century travelers' reports. Alongside her regular guide work, she teaches "tour and text" courses in the Jerusalem institutions of Pardes and Matan as wel as the Women's Bet Midrash in Efrat and provides tours for special needs students in the 鈥淒arkaynu鈥 program. Shulie lives in Alon Shvut with her husband Jonathan and their five kids. Shulie Mishkin is now doing virtual tours online. Check out the options at https://www.shuliemishkintours.com/virtual-tours
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