Hallmark hasn’t approached the market of the Jewish Valentine’s Day of Tu B’Av as of yet. No hearts and xoxo cards or even a Hallmark channel Saturday night movie about the day of love that follows a fast day, in that peculiar order. Did you even attempt to bring home a dozen long-stem red roses with a box of chocolates? Okay, you are forgiven for this go around, but for next year, let’s explore this day of “amore” a little bit more.
The first recorded mention of this date of Tu B’Av (15th of Av) is in the Mishnah. It is compiled and edited at the end of the second century, where Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel is quoted as saying:
“There were no better (i.e., happier) days for the people of Israel than the 15th 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’anis Chapter 4)
The Gemara finds the origin of this date as an especially joyous day due to a particular social occasion. On this day the Biblical “tribes of Israel were permitted to mingle with each other,” namely, to marry women from other tribes (Talmud, Ta’anis 30b).
Since the holiday starts the night before, its theme partakes in the full moon with romance, love, and fertility. Somewhat like an ovulation cycle in monthly charts.
The Gemara considers this the greatest festival of the year, with Yom Kippur a close second. That’s a lot of importance for a seemingly lightly observed holiday.
Indeed, the 15th of Av is a bit of a mystery. There is no mention of it anywhere in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) except for the instruction that the tachanun (confession of sins) and similar portions should be omitted from the daily prayers.
I guess confessions are not very romantic!
Only in recent years has this day come to the forefront of Jewish holidays. Israel promotes special festivals of singing and dancing on the night of Tu B’Av to recreate the original social event. Although it had no legal status on the formal calendar, the beauty, food, and floral companies are working overtime to validate Tu B’Av as the Jewish day of ahavah (love). Since Israel has a host of delicious chocolate artisans, shopping for this occasion has become fun. Max Brenner, the famous bald chocolate man, provides gorgeous boxes of delightful truffles and chocolate delicacies.
Ika Chocolate in Tel Aviv offers “chocolate love for Tu B’Av” with Parisian-style gift sets or a sampling of their international award-winning za’atar pralines. Of course, you can always count on Godiva to give you a glorious assortment of chocolate delight. Let’s not forget your local flower shop to deliver the long-stem roses just in time to beautify the Shabbos table this year.
Whatever it is that enhances the romance, Tu B’Av is a day wrapped in duality. It sits between the worst part of Jewish history in the first 15 days and the happiest times of love and Shabbos Nachamu. It seems to be the bridge point between sinas chinam or baseless hatred for which the Holy Temple was destroyed, and unconditional love of Tu B’Av and Nachamu. Just like a ballet or an opera, tragedy and ecstasy seem to follow each other. What other way could you then appreciate love, if you did not taste sorrow first?
If it’s a big box of chocolate champagne truffles or a bouquet of red roses or even a heartfelt “I love you,” let’s not forget to treat each other with love, for that is the only way the Beis Hamikdash will ever be ours again.
Tobi Rubinstein is a retired fashion and marketing executive of 35 years who currently produces runway and lifestyle events for NYFW, specializing in Israel’s leading artists and designers. She is the founder of The House of Faith N Fashion, fusing culture and Torah. Tobi was a fashion collaboration and guest expert for ABC, Geraldo Rivera, Huffington Post, Lifetime, NBC, Bravo, and Arise. She hosted her own radio and reality TV series. Tobi is a mother, wife, dog owner, and shoe lover.