Tu B’Av: The Mysterious Jewish Holiday of Love

While the Hebrew month of Av is primarily known for being a solemn time in the Jewish calendar, each year on the 15th of the month, the ‘minor’ Jewish holiday of Tu B’Av comes along to break up the dreary mood with a festive day of happiness and celebration. Though the origins of this holiday remain somewhat mysterious, as does its ancient customs and observances, underneath the layers of obscurity lies the fascinating story of a festival celebrated in the name of love, forgiveness, and miracles!

From the Beginning

The earliest known mention of Tu B’Av in Jewish sources can be found in the Mishnah, which describes the 15th of Av as ‘the only festive holiday in the Jewish calendar that is as joyful as Yom Kippur.’ Considering the lofty significance of Yom Kippur as both the holiest day and the happiest day of the year, this statement might be surprising, but the Sages offer the following explanation: The reason why the Mishnah equates the joyfulness of Tu B’Av with the gladness of Yom Kippur is that both holidays notably share a theme of atonement. Just as Yom Kippur marks the day God forgave Israel for the Sin of the Golden Calf; likewise, Tu B’Av marks the day when God forgave Israel for the Sin of the 12 Spies, giving us a worthy cause to celebrate.

Tu B’Av in the Times of the Temple

According to the Talmud, it was customary for the unmarried daughters of ancient Israel to go out into the vineyards on the 15th of Av dressed all in white, to dance before single men in hopes of attracting a husband. These girls would call to their spectators, “Choose who will become your wife!” urging those watching to select their prospective brides from amongst the dancers. The profound beauty of this unique tradition is that it allowed many girls from impoverished homes to have a chance to find a husband since their lack of dowries often discouraged a potential match from expressing interest in them. As such, during the times of the Temple, Tu B’Av was primarily a festival for matchmaking and marriage, which explains why even in modern times, Tu B’Av is still considered a good day for celebrating weddings or engagements. Furthermore, because Jewish tradition asserts that on his wedding day, a groom is forgiven for his sins (similar to Yom Kippur) this custom reinforces the idea that Tu B’Av is ultimately a day of forgiveness.

Tu B’Av Today

For many centuries, very little was done to celebrate Tu B’Av, apart from omitting certain prayers during prayer service; however, this all changed with the re-establishment of Jewish independence in the State of Israel. The return of Jews to the Holy Land inspired a social movement focused on reviving forgotten aspects of ancient Jewish culture, including the celebration of ‘lost’ biblical holidays like Tu B’Av. Because of their efforts, over the decades Tu B’Av has been reborn as a modern holiday for celebrating love and romance, with many Israelis using the 15th of Av as a chance to enjoy a night of singing and dancing at local festivals or an opportunity to shower their significant others with romantic gifts symbolizing their commitment and love.

While many within Israel’s orthodox circles have yet to embrace Tu B’Av’s present incarnation, a growing number of Israelis from the secular-to-modern Jewish communities have expressed enthusiasm for wider acceptance of this ancient-turned-modern holiday of love, suggesting that in the future, this holiday may eventually become even more popular than it is today!

As always, we wish you all a very happy holiday! If you enjoyed this article and want to celebrate Tu B’Av this year with something amazing from Israel, make sure you check out our spectacular Buying Guide to find great gift ideas for your special someone!