Tu B’Av: (Not) The Israeli Valentine’s Day

Often misrepresented as the local version of Valentine’s Day, Tu B’Av actually holds much deeper meaning

By Arthur Schwartzman |
Photo: Hadas Parush/Flash90

In Israel, Tu B’Av is viewed as an Israeli version of Valentine’s Day (in Hebrew: Yom Ha’Ahava, יום האהבה, Day of Love). This holiday also has a religious foothold in the ultra-Orthodox community, and it is customary to hold matchmaking events and wedding ceremonies. Flowers and chocolates are in high demand, couples are out on dates, celebrating their love for one another. Is it the Israeli Valentine’s Day, however? When did it start, and what really does it symbolize?

Tu B’Av comes around shortly after the 9th of Av, a day of mourning over the destroyed Temple, thus the day is clad in restoration and hope. It holds several symbolic meanings, but the core of it is not a romantic date by candlelight, but a call to dive deeper into the Torah.

Tu B’Av is mentioned by Rabbi Gamliel in the Mishna: “There were no better days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Jerusalem go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards. What were they saying: Young man, consider whom you choose? Don’t set your eyes on beauty, set your eyes on the family. Beauty is false and favor is empty, but a woman that is in the awe of Lord Jehovah, she will be praised .” (Ta’anit, Chapter 4)

In those days, the harvest season was over, the grain was already collected into granaries, the fruits were also harvested and stored in storehouses, and Jews were now free to devote themselves to Torah, day and night, as Rashi interpreted the Gemara saying: “Who adds nights upon the days, to engage in the Torah – will add life upon his life.”

The daughters of Jerusalem going out in dance to the vineyards to find themselves a hubby may be the thing linking the holiday to it’s more secular or cultural aspect of what today is called Yom Ha’Ahava. Among practicing Jews, however, it holds more significance. Yom Kippur and Tu B’Av were used for matchmaking and engagement between the sons and daughters of Jerusalem: These two days symbolize, according to Jewish tradition, the engagement and marriage of the Creator with the people of Israel. Yom Kippur – the day on which the second set of tablets were given to Moses on Mount Sinai, thus establishing the covenant – symbolizes the engagement, and Tu B’Av – the day that marks rebirth after the destruction of the Temple on the 9th of Av – celebrates the realization of marriage and the final redemption to come by the Messiah.

More can be said on this holiday, as the Talmud links six events of grace in Jewish history to the 15th of Av, but as a Messianic Jew, I would like to stop there and marvel at the significance of Christ in Jewish thought and tradition. Messiah had already come, and it is His 2nd coming that we patiently await! The illustration of the daughters of Jerusalem is a stark reminder of John’s vision in the book of Revelation, where the bride will one day be joined to her groom – Yeshua Ha’Mashiach. His body destroyed, but He is risen, and the Jerusalem of above will descend from the heavens, then truly, like Gamliel, Apostle Paul’s teacher, had said, there will be no better days for the people of Israel.


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