Tu b’Av (The Fifteenth of Av) is no longer the well-known holiday on the Jewish calendar that it was in ancient times. In fact, the Talmud states that: “There were no holidays so joyous for the Jewish People as the Fifteenth of Av …” (Ta’anit 26b).

On Tu b’Av, the unmarried maidens of Jerusalem would go out to the vineyards to dance together under the gaze of the unmarried men (sort of a Sadie Hawkins Day!). Each young lady would be dressed in white clothing borrowed from her neighbor so that those who came from wealthy families would not stand out and none would be embarrassed.

As they danced, the ladies would call out: “Young man, lift your eyes and choose wisely. Don’t look only at physical beauty–look rather at the family [values], ‘For charm is false, and beauty is deceitful. A God-fearing woman is the one to be praised …’” (Proverbs 31:30).

In ancient times, the same ceremony also took place on Yom Kippur.

Why such joy? The rabbis offer many reasons to celebrate. Jewish Treats will present some of the reasons in no particular order.

First, the Jews in the Wilderness realized that the generation that wandered for 40 years due to believing the slander of the 10 scouts, had died out and that the punishment had ended. This brought a sense of closure to the nation who were about to enter the Land of Canaan. Second, it was on the 15th of Av when the prohibition of the rest of the Jewish tribes marrying into the tribe of Benjamin, due to the tragedy known as the Concubine in Giv’ah, was lifted. Third, and continuing the theme of schism, it was on the 15th of Av when Hoshea ben Elah, the last king of the northern kingdom of Israel, removed the roadblocks set by Jereboam to prevent his subjects from making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Fourth, the masses of Jews who were massacred when the Romans conquered the city of Betar in 133 CE, were finally buried, on the 15th of Av. Finally, the 15th of Av was the final day when wood was cut for the Temple. When Ezra and Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the Temple, they found that the enemies of Israel had cut down most of the trees, a common act for an army at that time. In order to supply wood for the Temple sacrifices, Jews would donate wood, which was desperately needed, and offer a sacrifice at the same time, called the “wood offering.” The 15th of Av is considered the end of the sunny season, and it marked the date by which that the wood in the Temple needed to be dry. It was a day of celebration for having amassed enough wood for the Temple’s needs.

Happy Tu b’Av.

Tonight and tomorrow is Tu b’Av.

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Tu b’Av.

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