Dark story be­hind the day of love

The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM - BY SI­MON ROCKER

TU B’AV, which falls on Mon­day, is prob­a­bly the least-known fes­ti­val on the Jewish cal­en­dar. Prob­a­bly only reg­u­lar dav­en­ers of shacharit will no­tice be­cause the prayers of sup­pli­ca­tion which would nor­mally be said that morn­ing are omit­ted.

Af­ter the Three Weeks of mourn­ing for the Tem­ple, it is an os­ten­si­bly happy oc­ca­sion, a kind of an­cient Valen­tine’s Day ( see right). It could also be said to be a day of Jewish unity.

The Tal­mud of­fers a num­ber of ex­pla­na­tions of its ori­gin. Dur­ing the wilder­ness, for ex­am­ple, Moses pro­hib­ited Jewish women mar­ry­ing into a dif­fer­ent tribe — a mea­sure de­signed to pre­vent one tribe’s al­lot­ted por­tion of the Land of Is­rael pass­ing to another through mar­riage. But on Tu b’Av, ac­cord­ing to the rabbis, the tribes were per­mit­ted to in­ter­marry again.

There is also a darker story be­hind the day — one of the most dis­turb­ing in the Bi­ble — which goes back to the fi­nal chap­ter of the book of Judges. There was a Le­vite who had a con­cu­bine; she deserts him and goes back to her home. But he fol­lows her and per­suades her to re­turn.

Dur­ing the jour­ney home, they rest for the night in Gibeah, which is part of the ter­ri­tory of the tribe of Ben­jamin. But out­side their lodg­ing, a crowd of “base fel­lows” gather and de­mand that the man come out where they in­tend to sex­u­ally abuse him. In­stead, he sends out his con­cu­bine, who is then gang-raped through the night un­til she col­lapses in the door­way.

In the morn­ing the Le­vite ap­proaches her to re­sume the jour­ney, but when he speaks, the Bi­ble says, “none an­swered”. He brings her lifeless body home and then “he took a knife and di­vided her, limb by limb, into 12 pieces, and sent her through­out all the bor­ders of Is­rael”.

When the Ben­jamites refuse to sur­ren­der the “base fel­lows” who car­ried out the bru­tal deed to jus­tice, the other tribes of Is­rael go to war with them. They also place a ban on mar­riage with the tribe of Ben­jamin. .

But Tu b’Av brought na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to the rabbis, and the Ben­jamites were once again able to in­ter­marry with the other tribes.

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