What Is Tu Be’Av? Isn’t Av Supposed to be a Mournful Month? Originally published July 20-21, 2018

We do tend to get serious during the month of Av, but in the middle of the month is Tu Be’Av, the Day of Love!

The fifteenth day of the month of Av, ט"ו באב, was, according to the Mishnah (Ta’anit 4:8), a joyous holiday back in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, to mark the beginning of the grape harvest.  This year the observance is July 27th, beginning the evening before.

Hag HaAhavah (in Hebrew, חג האהבה) was apparently a day for young unmarried females to don white clothing and go dancing in the vineyards.  They also say - recalling the story of the daughters of Zelophehad, about whom we were reading a couple weeks ago - that on this date female orphans without brothers could marry even outside their tribes in order to keep their father’s property from leaving their own tribe’s holdings.  (This is big, as the decree was that the daughters had to marry within their own tribe if they got married at all after inheriting their fathers’ land holdings.  Real estate was very big.)

The Mishnah says that Tu Be’Av and Yom Kippur are the most festive days of the year.  They characterize Yom Kippur as symbolizing the atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf, while Tu Be’Av represents atonement for the sin of the spies who brought Fake News and Spun Information.  Some mention that the plague of dying on Tish’ah Be’Av ended in the 40th year of wandering on Tu Be’Av, but all this seems rather distant from a holiday of love, and I’d like to defer thinking about Yom Kippur being in any way festive for another day.

Tu Be’Av was apparently, early on, a matchmaking day, though it faded in observance.  It has been brought back, though, especially in Israel (possibly rather than celebrate a saint to pay tribute to love, as we do in other parts of the world).  Being the 15th of the month, the moon is full on this day, perfect for singing the love song “Shine On, Harvest Moon” (written by/for singer Nora Bayes, daughter of Orthodox Jews).

The holiday had fallen into ignominy.  As one source notes, for 19 centuries, between the destruction of the Temple and the creation of the State of Israel, the only notice of Tu Be’Av was that the evening and morning services do not include Tahanun, the penitence prayer.

So next Thursday night and Friday, let us pull out our copies of the Song of Songs, maybe write some of our own poetry, create a loving gesture, go out dancing, or just commune with the one we love.