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V’Etchanan and Tu b’Av: What is love?

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12.08.2022

Today we mark the holiday of Tu B’Av, commonly thought of as Israel’s answer to Valentine’s Day, the holiday of love. The Mishnah explains the significance of the day:

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel used to say, ‘There were no days more joyful for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Jerusalem would go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards. What were they saying? ‘Young man, consider whom you choose (to be your wife)?’”(Mishnah Ta’anit, Chapter 4).

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel used to say, ‘There were no days more joyful for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Jerusalem would go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards. What were they saying? ‘Young man, consider whom you choose (to be your wife)?’”(Mishnah Ta’anit, Chapter 4).

In reality, this day should really be called “the holiday of courtship”, rather than “the holiday of love”. Nor is it a coincidence that Tu b’Av is exactly one week after the fast of Tisha b’Av. Historically, the date corresponds to the day when “the tribes of Israel were permitted to mingle with each other,” namely: to marry women from other tribes (Talmud, Ta’anit 30b). This alludes to a dark chapter described in the book of Judges (chapter 21): After a civil war between the tribe of Benjamin and other Israelite tribes, the tribes vowed not to intermarry with men of the tribe of Benyamin. On Tu b’Av, this prohibition was lifted, and not only were the tribes allowed to intermarry with the tribe of Benyamin, were also allowed to intermarry among each other.

Do you love me?

“Love” is an abstract emotion, hard to pin down, and notoriously difficult to base a relationship on. Courtship, meanwhile, is very concrete. It’s been said that the Jewish marriage has traditionally been more of a business deal than a romance, and there’s something to be said for this.

In Fiddler on the Roof, when Tevye asks Golde “do you love me”, she famously responds with a list of things she’s done for him:

For twenty-five years I’ve washed your clothes
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house
Given you children, milked the cow
After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?

For twenty-five years I’ve washed your clothes
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house
Given you children, milked the cow
After twenty-five........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)


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