Tu B’Av is a minor Jewish holiday. The term “Tu B’Av” means the “fifteenth of Av.” Av is the eleventh month of the civil year and the fifth month of the ecclesiastical year of the Jewish calendar. Av is approximately equivalent to July-August of the more familiar Gregorian calendar.
Tu B’Av occurs less than a week after the mournful Tisha B’Av, which falls on the ninth of Av. Compared to Tisha B’Av, Tu B’Av is a joyous holiday. Like many other Jewish holidays such as Hanukkah, Purim, and Tisha B’Av, Tu B’Av is a rabbinic or post-biblical addition to the Jewish holiday calendar.
In modern Israel, Tu B’Av is celebrated as the day of love. It is somewhat like Valentine’s Day for the Jews. But how has Tu B’Av become such a holiday?
Origins of Tu B’Av
Although we may not know for sure when or how Tu B’Av began, the date was first mentioned in the Mishnah (the first major written collection of the Jewish oral traditions known as the Oral Torah) compiled and edited at the end of the second century CE.
In the Mishnah, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel was quoted as saying:
“There were no better (i.e. happier) days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Israel/Jerusalem go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards. What were they saying: Young man, consider whom you choose (to be your wife)?” (Ta’anit, Chapter 4)
Like many other Jewish holidays, Tu B’Av was connected to farming and the harvesting of crops. The Mishnah states that Tu B’Av was a joyous occasion during the days of the Second Temple of Jerusalem which marked the beginning of the grape harvest, which ended on Yom Kippur. On both Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur, unmarried girls were dressed in white and went out to dance in the vineyards.
The Talmud records other commemorations that are related to the Tu B’Av:
- The Tribe of Benjamin was allowed to intermarry with the other tribes after the incident of Concubine of Gibeah (Book of Judges).
- The Pharisees (rabbinic Jews) declared victory over the Sadducees, on the 14th or 15th of Av.
- The cutting of wood for the main altar in the temple was completed for the year.
- King Hoshea, the king of the Northern Kingdom, lifted the sentries on the road leading to Jerusalem, permitting the northerners to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem.
- The Romans permitted the burial of the victims who fell at Bethar during the Bar Kochba revolt.
Tu B’Av – Valentine’s Day for the Jews
On Tu B’Av, as well as other Jewish holidays, and also when the bride and groom are present at a minyan (public prayer), the Jews do not say the penitence prayer, Tachanun, in their morning prayer service. There are also no eulogies pronounced at funerals that take place on Tu B’Av (Jewish tradition requires that the dead should be buried immediately).
In the modern incarnation of Tu B’Av, it has gradually become the “Jewish Day of Love”, somewhat resembling Valentine’s Day among Christians. It is a day of love and romance. According to My Jewish Learning, Tu B’Av is “explored through singing, dancing, giving flowers, and studying.”
Tu B’Av has become quite popular to hold wedding celebrations, as it is an auspicious day for weddings and marriages, as well as renewal of vows and marriage proposals.
While Tu B’Av is a regular workday, many festivals filled with dance and music are typically held as part of the observance of this holiday. Modern Israeli Jewish couples may also celebrate this day by giving cards and/or gifts to their loved ones, having a romantic dinner or maybe even watching rom-com movies together. These customs are observed by many Jews, whether they consider themselves observant or non-observant.