A Jewish holiday I never knew about

Today was a Jewish holiday that I’d never heard of before!

Tu B’Av — apparently an ancient Jewish kind of Valentine’s Day.

Who knew? Well, Google for one. My Israeli-American friend Danny Shapiro called my attention to the logo on Google’s Israeli search site today:

Tu B’Av — the fifteenth day of the month of Av — apparently marked the beginning of the grape harvest during the Second Temple period. Yom Kippur marked the end of that harvest. According to Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel in the Talmud, there were no greater festivals for Israel than Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur. On both days, the young women of Jerusalem would dress in white and dance in the fields, and young men looking for wives would follow them there.

Yom Kippur, of course, evolved  into the most solemn holiday in the Jewish calendar, with well-known rituals of fasting, penitence, and prayer. Meanwhile there are no rituals attached to Tu B’Av  —  no actions we’re required to take or avoid, no festive foods we’re supposed to eat.

In modern Israel, Tu B’Av is apparently seen as a kind of Valentine’s Day. Couples often calendar weddings for Tu B’Av.

So what should we out here in Diaspora-land do? Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser offers this suggestion on his Reb Jeff blog:

Do something intentional today to make yourself a little bit extra joyful. Put on some clothes that make you happy. Get a massage. Give your loved ones an extra kiss. Make yourself happy for your own sake, for the sake of those around you, and for the sake of God and the world.

And Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt offers this in her Velveteen Rabbi blog:

In his book The Jewish Holidays, Michael Strassfeld notes that Tu b’Av comes one week after Tisha b’Av, and sees today as the definitive end to our formal period of mourning. Today we shake off the last vestiges of whatever mourning consumed us last week. It is as though we are all mourners who have been sitting shiva together, and now we can feel released from those strictures and that sorrow. Even if we’re not putting on white dresses and dancing in any vineyards today (though I envy any of you for whom that practice is actually possible!), we can try to experience today as a day of celebration, a day to shake off our sorrows and let our spirits dance.

These are both terrific blogs. I often learn something from them. Today that “something” was Tu B’Av.

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