The Jerusalem Post

Celebratin­g love on Tu Be’av

- • By ADAM GREENWALD

When it comes to matters of love and sexuality, religion has a well-earned reputation for mainly offering a whole litany of “thou shalt nots.” When it comes to matters of the heart, most people associate religion with the forces of convention and judgment.

They probably have never heard of a Jewish summertime holiday called Tu Be’av – the Hebrew holiday of love. They would be quite surprised, and maybe even a bit shocked by the details.

In biblical times, on the 15th day of the month of Av, singles from around the Land of Israel would gather in the rural vineyards that surrounded Jerusalem. Women would borrow simple white dresses from their friends and relatives so that all distinctio­ns of wealth and class would be temporaril­y erased. Then they would go to these wild, beautiful places to dance under the glow of the Full Moon (the 15th of every lunar Hebrew month marks the center point of the Moon’s monthly cycle.)

Youths would gather there in droves, and amid the festival atmosphere, many couples would form. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel taught, “There was no happier day of the entire year than the 15th of Av.” (Mishnah Ta’anit 4:8). I’m quite sure he was right.

After having fallen out of practice for centuries, today Tu Be’av is experienci­ng a bit of a rebirth. In Israel, it is treated like Valentine’s Day – an occasion for dates, gift-giving and romance, and a particular­ly challengin­g date to book a wedding venue. In North America, many Jewish organizati­ons throw love-themed celebratio­ns and offer teachings on themes of Judaism and relationsh­ips. If you do nothing else, it’s a good idea to bring a bouquet of flowers home that day. Even if your beloved doesn’t know it’s Tu Be’av, they’ll surely appreciate them anyway!

The existence of a holiday dedicated to love might be a surprise for some people. So many Jewish holidays are rooted in memories of oppression, sadness, and grief – holidays that remind us of how we have prevailed in the face of adversity. Tu Be’av is preceded just a week before by the similarly named and better-known Tisha Be’av, the day of mourning for the destructio­n of the Temple and the combined tragedies of Jewish history. It’s a common joke that Jewish holidays all boil down to “They tried to kill us, we’re still here, let’s eat.”

Tu Be’av provides an essential balance to all that heaviness. It’s an unabashed celebratio­n of love in all its forms, an echo of the sacred dance that took place in the hills and valleys of the Judean countrysid­e more than 2,000 years ago. For Judaism to continue to play a role in the lives of a new generation, we’re going to need to make sure we emphasize the uplifting and life-affirming aspects of our tradition at least as much as those that call us to somber remembranc­e.

Judaism doesn’t see romance or sexuality as either secular or sinful. Instead, loving partnershi­ps are acknowledg­ed as being among the greatest gifts we can offer and receive. Beginning with the first couple in the Garden of Eden, who are exhorted by God to join together as though of one flesh (Gen 2:24), to the breathless flirtation­s of the young lovers in the Song of Songs who cry out, “Give me the kisses of your mouth, for your love is sweeter than wine,” (Shir haShirim 1:2), ours is a tradition that sanctifies passion and celebrates love.

If we are fortunate enough to have true partnershi­p in our lives, Tu Be’av is a chance to give thanks for that profound blessing. If we are still seeking it, perhaps this season can strengthen our resolve to continue to search.

Maybe reach out to a friend to see if they have a white garment to borrow, just to be prepared for whatever might happen.

Rabbi Adam Greenwald is vice president for Jewish engagement and director of the Maas Center for Jewish Journeys at American Jewish University. He and his wife will this year mark their fifth wedding anniversar­y just a couple of weeks after Tu Be’av.

 ?? (Illustrati­ve photo: Mila Aviv/Flash90) ?? A COUPLE enjoys Tu Be’av last year in a field.
(Illustrati­ve photo: Mila Aviv/Flash90) A COUPLE enjoys Tu Be’av last year in a field.

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