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Tu B'Av-The Ancient Day of Love Returns

Julie A. Sergel

A greeting card for Tu B'Av from JDate, an online dating service.Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make me a match, Find me a find, Catch me a catch

Matchmaker or not, those seeking their "destined ones" may prove to find this date on the calendar the hottest tip yet. Tu B'Av, or the 15th day of the Hebrew month Av, which happens to run eve-to-eve July 29-30, is marked for such an occasion--a day of finding one's bashert (Yiddish, for "fated" in the context of predestined soul mate).

(Ladies, get your white dresses on!) Stretching back to days of the Second Temple, Tu B'Av was cause for much celebration, as noted by Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel in the Mishnah (Ta'anit 4:8):

"There were no greater holidays (yamim tovim) for Israel than Tu B'Av and Yom Kippur, for on them the girls of Jerusalem used to go out in borrowed white dresses…and dance in the vineyards. What would they say? 'Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself…'"

Some recount the event as taking place in the outer vineyards of Jerusalem, or, more specifically, in Shiloh, Israel's first capital city. But in the time of the Holy Temple, the daughters of Jerusalem would gather in the surrounding vineyards and dance! They would be robed in white gowns, borrowed from one another, in an attempt to cover any discrepancies found between rich and poor.

Yom Kippur and Tu B'Av became known as occasions for matchmaking between the young men and women of Jerusalem. Both dates demanded celebration in light of the joy of having sins forgiven-Yom Kippur celebrates release from the sin of the Golden Calf, and Tu B'Av for the sin of the ten spies' ill report of Canaan.

But in a clear directive towards union in marriage Tu B'Av ushered many liberties previously withheld: Intermarriage was again permitted between the 12 Israeli tribes. This was especially advantageous for daughters who inherited land from fathers where there were no sons, because they were forbidden to marry outside their respective tribes, to hold possession of the land. Additionally, the "Concubine of Giv'ah" forbade the Children of Israel to allow their daughters to marry anyone from the tribe of Benjamin. However, on Tu B'Av all such prohibitions were lifted. The merging of the tribes was cause for great rejoicing and in time, described in Tractate Ta'anit as a day devoted to betrothals, so new Jewish families would emerge.

Other events marked by the day include: the end of the death of the Exodus generation in the Sinai desert (punishment for believing the report of the ten spies); King Hosea removed barriers and pilgrimage to Jerusalem was restored; the Romans permitted the Jews to bury the dead from Bar Kochba's revolt at Betar; and the victory of the Pharisees over the Sadducees took place on the 14th or 15th of Av.

To underscore the intensity of the joyous occasion Tu B'Av follows the 3-week mourning period (Fast of Tammuz to Tisha B'Av) commemorating the breach of the wall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple. Only six days following the gravest date on the Jewish calendar does a very high point reside. Tu B'Av ends the prohibition of marriage, which is instated during the time of mourning.

Although this Jewish day of love has lied quietly, almost dormant as a hidden secret over the centuries, an arousal of ancient rites has occurred in recent decades, especially in the land of origin-Israel. In fact, girls from Shiloh (40 minutes north of Jerusalem) dance in the same vineyards while Chassidic musicians play. It's customary to send a bouquet of red roses to the one you love on Tu B'Av. Like many Jewish holidays, this one blooms at night, utilizing the romance, love, and fertility commonly associated with full moons.

Romantic songs are played on the radio and parties extend throughout the evening across the country. Tu B'Av is a sought-after date for Jews to get married (they aren't required to fast before the wedding on this day). Also, in observance of the date, Morning Prayer service omits Tachanun, or the penitence prayer (as does the afternoon service of the prior day) and eulogies are not read aloud at funerals.

JDate, a popular Jewish online dating service, is taking full advantage of this prized ancient day of love by offering very attractive Tu B'Av e-cards. Gail Laguna, JDate's Dating Expert, provides more suggestions to embrace the holiday: throw a White party with single friends, have a bon fire, eat grapes or feed them to someone special, have a picnic, learn Israeli folk dancing, go wine tasting, or simply wear white if you're a lady, and carry a rose (to offer) if you're a man.

The Talmud tells us that 40 days before a person is conceived, it is announced in heaven, who will marry whom. With odds like this, one might draw the conclusion that little energy need be expended to warrant such a divinely inspired union. However, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, American founder of the Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York City, addresses the issue with insight to dispel such thinking. Referring to the quote found in the Gemarah that says bringing two people together in marriage is as difficult as the splitting of the Red Sea (Sanhedrin 22a), Riskin explains that God was prepared to split the body of water to save the Israelites, but required them to make the first move. This simply confirms the idea that even though your soul mate is predestined, there's an active role to be played in bringing that match about.

The Zohar offers more: When a soul is sent down from heaven, it contains both male and female characteristics; the male elements enter the boy baby, the female the girl baby; and if they be worthy, G-d reunites them in marriage.

In earlier times on Tu B'Av, it was customary to use the greeting/blessing employed on Rosh Hashanah, "May your inscription and seal be good" (ketiva vahatima tova). To all who are single and hope to be not, may the date prove to etch something wondrously indelible.