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A Day for Romance, Built Right Into the Jewish Calendar
Fed up with feeling excluded at Jewish holidays because you're single? Believe it or not, there is a holiday just for us, the unmarried, the single and the Jewish: Tu B'Av.
Before you start scratching your head wondering how you forgot this from Hebrew school, the truth about this holiday is that it's a bit on the obscure side.
A number of sources yield little insight into how the 15th of Av, which falls on Monday, July 30, has become known as the Jewish "day of love."
When I asked my rabbi for information on Tu B'Av, he admitted to knowing so little about it that he referred me to the library. Even the Encyclopedia Judaica -- that massive treatise on everything Jewish -- calls it "a minor" holiday.
Though Tu B'Av's origins are unknown, the Web site MyJewishLearning.com says that the holiday originated in 70 C.E. as a day of joy and matchmaking for unmarried women.
Both the Web site and the encyclopedia note that the daughters of Jerusalem celebrated the day by dressing in white and dancing in vineyards singing songs. Some scholars also say that bonfires were part of the celebration. It was also a day when intermarriage between the ancient Jewish tribes was permitted, according to sources.
With the holiday falling in the middle of the summer, its origins are also linked to fertility rites, possibly inspired by harvests as the summer days get shorter, according to Dr. Eliezer Diamond, the Rabbi Judah A. Nadich Associate Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
"It always occurred during the grape harvest, and at a time when the olives were just beginning to produce oil and a white plant called the squill was blooming everywhere," wrote Diamond in an unpublished essay distributed by JTS.
Roughly described as the Jewish Valentine's Day, the holiday was virtually ignored, if not forgotten, for centuries. But don't go rushing down to your local Judaica store looking for heart-shaped Tu B'Av gelt, greeting cards or goofy stuffed animals with messages like "I Luv U on Tu B'Av."
The holiday is not too widely promoted or practiced.
The Encyclopedia Judaica also described this day as one to give kindling wood to the temple altar, as well as the day Romans permitted the Jews to bury soldiers who fell in the battle at Betar.
A Jewish Valentine's Day?
Nowadays, even in Israel, it's not a major holiday (though the young often make a big deal out of it), even though it has become a popular day to celebrate with weddings, dancing and singing. Nevertheless, people still have to go to work.
Diamond wrote that the day is popular for singles events, too.
"With the founding of the State of Israel, Tu B'Av observance was revived," he penned. "It has become a popular day for weddings and an occasion for music and dancing. The day has also become an occasion on which secular Israelis, probably influenced by Valentine's Day celebration in the United States, send cards and flowers to their sweethearts."
Most holidays and celebrations are tough on singles because they are so family-centered. Everyone gathers at the seder for Passover and breaks the fast together on Yom Kippur, with the kids participating in both. That leaves many singles feeling excluded or self-conscious for being alone.
Our secular American holidays are even worse. Is there anything lonelier than a New Year's Eve without a person to kiss at the stroke of midnight?
Manufactured celebrations such as weddings or birthday parties are just as bad. Singles are often relegated to outcast status, haphazardly thrown together at "singles" tables, or grouped with other strangers or losers who have no viable relation to each other.
Perhaps, with a little publicity, Tu B'Av will gain traction in the secular Jewish community. At least it hasn't taken on the out-of-control behemoth status of Valentine's Day.
The mass-market commercialism of Valentine's Day has totally overtaken the holiday --to the point that it's lost any significance unless you get the flowers, chocolate, stuffed animal, sappy card and other junk.
Now that we have a holiday to celebrate, go out -- sing, dance, just don't burn anything down in your wake.
Roy S. Gutterman is a Syracuse, New York-based writer. To contact him, visit: www.Lrev.com.