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Though Tu B’Av is a holiday mentioned in the Talmud, the observance of this holiday has only recently been revived–most notably in Israel–where it is celebrated as the Jewish equivalent of Valentine’s Day, with dancing, the giving of red roses, and dedicating love songs on the radio. Because of this renewed popularity, Tu B’Av is included in the modern holiday section of this website. Reprinted with permission of the authors from Jewish Family and Life: Traditions, Holidays, and Values for Today’s Parents and Children, published by Golden Books.
The walls of Jerusalem have historically been a source of inspiration for romance and love. Thousands of years before anyone heard of Saint Valentine or Sadie Hawkins, the Jewish people created a Jerusalem-centered love festival for couples. This custom is quite in keeping with the sensuous poetry of the Song of Songs, canonized in the Hebrew Scriptures.
In the glow of a full summer moon, young women, robed in white, would dance in the fields outside the walls of Jerusalem. The men would follow in hopes of finding a bride. This ancient Jewish love festival is called Tu B’Av because it was celebrated on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av (the Hebrew letters for “Tu” equal the number 15). Coming one week after Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish year, Tu B’Av is celebrated outside of the walls of the city, away from the Temple Mount, the site of the destruction.
Whereas Tisha B’Av is the day when [tradition says] God declared that the Jews would wander 40 years in the desert (until the generation that knew slavery died out), Tu B’Av is the day when, 40 years later, the remaining 15,000 Israelites of the desert generation were told they would be able to enter the Promised Land. God was able to forgive the Jewish people on this day, even for the sin of having built and worshiped a Golden Calf.
In the Talmud (Ta’anit 4:8) we read that Rabbi Simeon ben Gamliel said there never were in Israel greater days of joy than the 15th of Av and the Day of Atonement. On these days the daughters of Jerusalem used to walk out in white garments that they borrowed in order not to put to shame anyone who had none. 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 God, she will be praised.”
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