Today is the Tu B’Av holiday of love, according to the Hebrew calendar. It is parallel to Valentine’s Day. It is a holiday not directly mentioned nor mandated in the Bible.
Paradoxically, this holiday is also a sobering reality check from Israel’s history: Part of the traditional Jewish interpretation given to this “day of love” involves one of the harshest of sins in Israel’s entire history.
(If you read Israel Today much, you know we do not “whitewash” Israel nor claim this is a perfect nation, far from it.)
In short, part of the Tribe of Benjamin falls into extreme sexual sin in Judges 19-21. It is a story paralleling the story of Lot and the people of Sodom. Open your Bible if you must read the gory details.
The tribes of Israel are shocked by the incident of gang rape, homosexuality and murder. They go out to demand that the Tribe of Benjamin hand over the offending criminals, in order to punish them with the death penalty.
The rest of the Tribe of Benjamin refuses to hand the criminals over! So the other tribes, with 400,000 infantrymen, declare war on Benjamin. The war is waged in three battles. In the first two battles, the children of Israel lose 40,000 slain soldiers.
In the third battle, Israel finally defeats Benjamin. In this war, the whole population of the Tribe of Benjamin is killed except for 600 men who escape.
But now Israel suddenly sees that one of God’s tribes of inheritance is about to become extinct.
As part of finding brides for the remnant of 600 Benjamites, the other tribes decide to take advantage of a holiday festival in Shiloh, where the townspeople are having a celebration with dancing among their vineyards. Each of the remaining wifeless Benjamites runs in among the dancing maidens to “catch a wife” for himself (Judges 21:21). According to Jewish tradition, the holiday on which the bachelors went out to the vineyards was celebrated on this very date of the 15th of the month of Av, “Tu B’Av.”
The tough story we just examined addresses power struggles; people ignoring the plight of others; inconceivable cruelty; evil inclination; hatred; oaths; war; death; and judgement.
It also includes discrimination against women, and treating them as objects.
As I read the story I struggle to find a single point of light. I am shocked at the traditional connection between love and this story! I read this brutally honest, depressing narrative in the book of Judges to learn lessons from it, and pray that it never repeats itself!
Other Explanations for this Holiday
According to the Mishnah, the date Tu B’Av was the day of the building of the Temple.
It seems to have been an ancient agricultural holiday – the dnd of the Spring harvest, the holiday of the ripening of the olives. And indeed in many of the countless vineyards in Israel, the grapes are ripe for harvest now!
During the Temple period, one custom was for young men to search for a bride among the young ladies picking grapes in the vineyards. Some in Israel choose to get engaged on this day.
The Day of Love.
And why not?
Love – that’s the whole story. Love overcomes.
We can celebrate love every day.
“Love does not delight in evil but
rejoices with the truth.
It always protects,
Love never fails.”
(I Corinthians 13:6-7)