Dateline Jerusalem — The Festival of Love was celebrated in Israel this week.
The minor religious holiday of Tu B’Av, the 15th of the month of Av, often is likened to the pagan holiday of Valentine’s Day. In reality, it is very different.
It began one thousand years before St. Valentine or Sadie Hawkins days ever existed, and is called the happiest day of the year.
As an auspicious time to get engaged or married, matchmakers take this holiday seriously.
It is said that if a person makes three shidduchim, defined as matches between husband and wife, that person is guaranteed a place in olam haba, the World to Come.
In Israel, special prayers for finding a mate are posted on buildings and walls throughout the country. As I rode in a taxi, love songs were played on the radio instead of the usual news or popular songs of the day.
Nearly every street vendor, florist or not, has roses to sell on Tu B’Av. Some malls and shops on the street are decorated with red and pink hearts.
Unfortunately the holiday is commercialized. It hardly resembles the holiday of ancient times.
Cards, flowers, candy, romantic dinners, hikes, picnics, and communing with nature have replaced single young women dancing in the fields as single young men serenaded them.
Israel’s commercialization of the holiday is minimal compared to the observance of Valentines Day in the States.
Although observed by both religious and non-religious in Israel, and only by religious Jews in the States, many Israelis are unaware of the significance of this minor holiday.
Originally Tu B’Av marked the beginning of the grape harvest in Israel.
Young Israeli women would flock to the vineyards and olive groves. They would dance for hours at a time while young men – in search of wives — would sing to them.
In modern Israel, some young women still go to dance in the vineyards.
Most singles, however, just attend free music and dance festivals.
In ancient times, all unmarried girls would dress up in borrowed white clothing. That way no girl would have a clothing edge.
White, a symbol of purity, also signified the blossoming of the squill, which still blooms all over Israel. One of Israel’s most prominent flowering plants, squill is the subject of many poems.
Tu B’Av is a time for joy and celebration. There is always a full moon on Tu B’Av.
The date is based on the Hebrew calendar. Then as now, a full moon was associated with romance and love.
Commitment and love are essential elements in a marriage and also in our relationship with G-d. Therefore, many Jews choose to marry on Tu B’Av.
A Jewish wedding is considered a sacred event. The bride and groom are considered royalty according to Jewish law.
On the day of the wedding ceremony, the bride receives her guests on a throne-like chair.
The newlyweds’ previous individual sins are forgiven. They can start a new life together unburdened by their past transgressions.
What could be more joyous than having one’s sins forgiven by G-d?
After the couple is wed, the groom stomps on a glass, symbolic of the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Breaking the glass reminds the bride and groom of the commandment in Psalms 137:6: “Set Jerusalem above my highest joy.”
I often have been asked, “Another Jewish holiday?”
Isn’t there an inordinate number? Yet the Festival of Love, the most joyous day of the year, occurs less than a week after the saddest day of the year, Tisha B’Av.
According to Immanuel Kant, “Rules for Happiness: something to do, someone to love, something to hope for.”
As the song says “Love is in the air.” So it is in Israel.