Saturday, July 27, 2013

Tu B’Av – The Jewish Day for Love

This year Tu B'Av falls on July 22 which, on the Hebrew calendar, is the fifteenth day in the Hebrew month of Av. We’re talking about the ancient Jewish festival that takes its name from the Hebrew calendar itself – “Tu” for “fifteen” and “B’ or “in” the month of “Av.” Tu B’Av, is an ancient Jewish holiday known as the Jewish day for love.

Biblical records tell us all about the celebration. We learn that in the glow of a full summer moon young women would put on white dresses and dance in the fields outside the walls of Jerusalem, while all the single guys would follow the girls in the hopes of finding a bride.

But what we Jews did and how we did it says a lot about the unique perspective Jewish tradition offers regarding romantic relationships. It seems that even in ancient times, Jewish families were attuned to the notion that every young man and every young woman deserved the opportunity to find her/his “B’shert,” the one who was “meant to be.”

What exactly happened on Tisha B’Av? Sages tell us that the girls who danced by the light of the late summer moon were required to wear borrowed dresses.  That was the rule. No one was to make or buy a special dress for the occasion. Instead each girl was to borrow a dress so that the boys who were watching them from afar wouldn’t be distracted by material concerns. The borrowed dress requirement eliminated the temptation for the young man to choose the girl with the most expensive dress, assuming perhaps that the fancy dressed girl was his ticket to marrying into a rich family. Who knew? The girl  girl with the dowdy dress just might be from the richest family in town. 

As the night progressed, the young men moved closer. They were encouraged to begin a conversation with one or several of the young women and eventually to continue the exchange with girls whose interests and values were similar to his own.

Indeed, one of our rabbinic sages advised the young men to observe the dancing with a watchful eye. “Look for the girl whose dancing is joyful and spirited,” advised the rabbi, “because these would be the girls who would bring joy and spirit to their lives. 

In America, in Europe and even in Israel, Tu B’Av is rarely celebrated as it was in ancient times. Now we do Valentine’s day but there are some who believe that the modern holiday celebrated on February 14, has its roots in the ancient Jewish celebration of love.

Could be. It wasn’t so many years after Temple times - 270 years to be exact - that a sourpuss old Roman emperor. Claudius outlawed marriage completely. But one young priest, named Valentine defied the emperor. Claudius was furious when he found out that Valentine was secretly conducting weddings for young couples who were in love and who wanted to marry.

Yet in the face of great personal peril which eventually led to his arrest and murder, Valentine continued to put into action a Jewish directive found in the Song of Songs where we read that “many waters cannot quench love; neither can the floods drown it.” 

Love is strong, the bible tells us, and maybe for our singles out there, this year’s Tisha B’Av will make love will be the order of the day

OK, so there won’t be girls in white dresses dancing in our parks or on our beaches, but there are spirited and enthusiastic men and women out there if  we are willing to look beyond the dress or the suit or the car or the job or the paycheck. So if you’re still out there searching, begin again by looking again at the men and women who cross your path. Look at each other with brand new, Tu B’Av eyes. 

Why? Whether in ancient times or in the modern era,  when it comes to human emotion, God seems to be telling us something really important.  Nothing is stronger than love. 

Hag Sameach and Happy Tu B’Av!