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What is Tu BeAv? A Holiday of Hope 

07/23/2021 01:16:40 AM


Yosef Lopez

Tu BeAv, or the 15th of Av, is an odd holiday. The Shulhan Arukh, the code of Jewish Law, only records that on this day we do not recite Tahanun. Often misunderstood as the “Jewish Valentine’s Day”, Tu BeAv remains even more mysterious upon examing our Oral Tradition. 

The following Mishna is very enigmatic and is most likely the source of the misconception or comparison to Valentine’s day or day of Love. 

ד,ז  [ח] אמר רבן שמעון בן גמליאל, לא היו ימים טובים לישראל כחמישה עשר באב וכיום הכיפורים, שבהם בני ירושלים יוצאין בכלי לבן שאולים, כדי שלא לבייש את מי שאין לו. וכל הכלים טעונין טבילה. ובנות ירושלים יוצאות וחונות בכרמים. וכך הן אומרות, שא נא בחור עיניך וראה, מה אתה בורר לך; אל תיתן עיניך בנואי, אלא תן עיניך במשפחה. וכן הוא אומר, "צאנה וראינה בנות ציון, במלך שלמה--בעטרה, שעיטרה לו אימו ביום חתונתו, וביום, שמחת ליבו" (שיר השירים ג,יא): "ביום חתונתו", זה מתן תורה; "וביום, שמחת ליבו", זה בניין בית המקדש. יהי רצון שייבנה בימינו.


Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: There were no days as joyous for the Jewish people as the fifteenth of Av and as Yom Kippur, as on them the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in white clothes, which each woman borrowed from another...And 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, as the verse states: “Grace is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised” (Proverbs 31:30), and it further says: “Give her the fruit of her hands and let her works praise her in the gates” (Proverbs 31:31). And similarly, it says in another verse: “Go forth, daughters of Zion, and gaze upon King Solomon, upon the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding, and on the day of the gladness of his heart” (Song of Songs 3:11). This verse is explained as an allusion to special days: “On the day of his wedding”; this is the giving of the Torah through the second set of tablets on Yom Kippur. The name King Solomon in this context, which also means king of peace, is interpreted as a reference to God. “And on the day of the gladness of his heart”; this is the building of the Temple, may it be rebuilt speedily in our days.


The Gemara will later elaborate (ta`anith 30b) and will expound on the historical significance of Tu BeAv. Several opinions are brought and examined. Rav Yehuda in the name of Shemuel taught this was the day on which the members of different tribes were permitted to enter one another’s tribe, by intermarriage. It was initially prohibited to intermarry between tribes, so as to keep each plot of land within the portion of the tribe that originally inherited it. 

Rav Yosef said that Rav Naḥman said: The fifteenth of Av was the day on which the tribe of Benjamin was permitted to enter the congregation of the Jewish people. After the tragic incident at Gibeah, for which the tribe of Benjamin was blamed, the other tribes ostracized them. They took an oath to prohibit themselves from marrying a member of the tribe of Benjamin. Rabba bar bar Ḥana said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: The fifteenth of Av was the day on which the deaths of the Jews in the wilderness ceased.

Ulla said: The fifteenth of Av was the day on which King Hoshea, son of Ela, canceled the guards that Jeroboam, son of Nevat, placed on the roads so that the Jews would not ascend to Jerusalem for the pilgrim Festival. Ulla said: The fifteenth of Av was the day on which King Hoshea, son of Ela, canceled the guards that Jeroboam, son of Nevat, placed on the roads so that the Jews would not ascend to Jerusalem for the pilgrim Festival.

Rav Mattana said: There was an additional salvation on this day, as it was the day that the slain of Beetir (often mispronounced as Beitar) were brought to burial, several years after the battle at Beetir (see Gittin 57a). And Rav Mattana said: On the same day that the slain of Beetir were brought to burial, they instituted the blessing: Who is good and does good, at Yavne.

Upon examing these different reasons in the Gemara, you can see a theme running through these seemingly disparate opinions. Reconciliation and growth. After bitter wars, foolish sins, and national disgraces, the People of Israel can reunite and push forward. It is no accident that such an uplifting message comes so soon after the day of our greatest National Tragedy. We are still suffering the consequences of exile and national destruction. Tu BeAv is here to remind us that despite our disgrace, there is still reason to dance. We persist in building families, the chief institution of the People of Israel, and establish faithful houses. The Biblical Hebrew locution for the family is Bayit (see Exodus 1:1. See also Hakham José Faur, The Horizontal Society, the Household of Israel, pg. 109). It captures the intimate and personal role each household plays in building the character of our nation. National identity isn’t imposed by courts, or kings, or temples and priesthoods, rather it is built by families and individuals living and fulfilling the covenant in everyday life. And even though our most glorious House, the Beth MaMiqdash burned and lies in ruins, the Jewish Household remains. It survives and thrives in a world that seeks to finally topple the Jewish house. But as long as we continue to pass on our tradition, to endeavor to learn and teach Tora, the foundation only grows stronger, and endurance only becomes more fortified. 

It is maybe for this reason that the Gemara teaches “From the fifteenth of Av onward when the days begin to shorten, one who adds to his nightly Torah study will add years to his life, and he who does not add [mosif ] will be gathered [ye’asef ]. The Gemara asks: What is the meaning of the phrase: He will be gathered? Rav Yosef said: It means that his mother will bury him, as he will be gathered to his grave” In our exile, we find ourselves in a prolonged night. What provides oil for the lamp to illuminate our night? As King Solomon writes “כִּ֤י נֵ֣ר מִ֭צְוָה וְת֣וֹרָה א֑וֹר” “For the Missva is a lamp, and the Tora an illumination” We pass on our tradition, and we strengthen our people. We reconcile our past and overcome the obstacles we face. We can take the holiday as an opportunity to reflect, and to overcome the sins that weigh us down. We can make peace with our brothers and sisters like Israel did with Binyamin. We can cease to lose our people in the wilderness of our exile like the generation of the desert. We can tear down the artificial barriers that separate us like Hoshea ben Ela, and finally, with God’s help, we can see the good and the beauty all around us even if we are in a dark night. We can look at the world we live in and say “God, you are good, and you do good”. Let us take this Mishna to heart, and find strength from the wisdom of our Ancestors and Sages. May we soon find ourselves, like the young women and men of Jerusalem, dancing in our vineyards in a Jerusalem rebuilt with an eternal Bayit.

*Hebrew Text comes from Mechon Mamre. English translations were provided by Sefaria, with slight modifications by myself where I thought necessary. 

See also my previous paper The Gift of Family

Fri, September 17 2021 11 Tishrei 5782