The Spanish have an old proverb: "Where there is love, there is pain." The French take a more cynical view: "Love makes the time pass. Time makes love pass." Well, what about the Jews? What's our take on love? Forget proverbs - the ancient Hebrews created an entire holiday devoted to romance: Tu B'Av. If there's any Jewish holiday in dire need of some PR, it's Tu B'Av. You would think more people would be aware of it. After all, according to the Mishna (Ta'anit 4:8), "There were no greater holidays for Israel than Tu B'Av and Yom Kippur." Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah, Sukkot, Simchat Torah - even Tu B'Av's morose older sister, Tisha B'Av - springs to mind ahead of the "Jewish love holiday" as Tu B'Av has been labeled.
So what exactly is Tu B'Av? Is it the Jewish Valentine's Day? And if so, do we really need a bearded guy named Yankel popping up in a diaper, flinging love-tipped arrows at us? One observant woman I spoke to described Tu B'Av as the Jewish "Sadie Hawkins Day," referring to that antiquated middle school ritual inspired by "Li'l Abner" where the girls pursue the guys. Bring on those knee-knockin,' cider jug playin' Jewish Appalachian women. Whee doggies!
Actually, by arriving every year on the 15th day of Av (that's Aug. 15 -16 this year), Tu B'Av - which Virtual Jerusalem shorthands as "a celebration of rebirth, continuity and love" - compliments Tisha B'Av, the holiday a few days earlier upon which we grieve. The emotional flip side, Tu B'Av pro-motes upbeat themes of Jewish unity, tradition and matchmaking. Historically, the Talmud states, it was on the eve of Tisha B'av that God decreed that the generation of the wilderness would not enter Israel, and on that same day, nearly 1,500 years later, the city of Betar fell to the Romans, and its dead were left unburied.
Therefore, Tu B'Av harkened the end of the cycle of misery, decreeing that the worst was behind us. It became symbolic of that interim period when, although our Temple had not yet been rebuilt and we had not entered Eretz Yisrael, there was hope, and the will to move forward, looming on the horizon.
Tu B'Av also heralded a turning point when intermarriage between the 12 tribes was finally permitted. In confluence with that trend, Hoshea ben Elah, last of the Northern Kingdom rulers, reinstated pilgrimages that were outlawed by predecessor Jereboam. It was a move that helped solidify Jerusalem as the spiritual center of Israel; it also encouraged Jewish unification, increasing both the numbers and the bond among the children of Israel.
JDate, the online Jewish singles service, might not be a fountainhead of epiphanies. Its last big idea was arranging a singles cruise with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Personally, I'm not so sure I'd want to be trapped somewhere in the middle of the Gulf of Alaska on a boat with a hyperanimated "love guru," a situation worthy of several "Survivor" episodes.
To JDate's credit, it is banging on the Tu B'Av drum with its synergistic advertising of a Tu B'Av gathering and Tu B'Av e-cards. Naturally, it's in its best interest as a matchmaking enterprise to turn Tu B'Av into Valentine's Day, but at least somebody is doing something. Each year, there seems to be a general apathy, maybe a mild interest at best, in the community toward trumpeting Tu B'Av. It definitely doesn't get the fanfare that accompanies other Jewish holidays. With so many singles circulating in this city, you'd think Tu B'Av would generate some more heat, if not as a serious holiday, as a great excuse for some serious socializing.
My advice to the holiday of Tu B'Av: Hire Baker, Winokur and Ryder and get the word out.