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What is Tu B'Av?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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“The Jewish people had no greater holidays than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur.”1

Many joyous events occurred on this day, known as “Tu b’Av.”:

1. After the episode of the spies, it was decreed that all Jewish males between the ages of twenty and sixty would die in the desert. Every year thereafter, on the night of Tishah b’Av – the very night that this decree was made – all men who had reached sixty years of age in the past year would dig graves, lie down in the graves and await their death (– pretty eerie!). On the fortieth year, the men dug the graves, but the sun rose in the morning and no one had perished. Thinking that perhaps they had mistakenly dug their graves a day early, they once again went to sleep in their graves on the next night. They continued this practice until they saw the full moon on the 15th of the month. At this point they realized that they had not erred in their calendar calculations; rather G-d’s fury had abated, and they were free to enter the Holy Land.

2. Moses commanded the daughters of Tzelofchad to marry within their own tribe.2 This injunction also applied to any woman who inherited real-estate from her father. After Israel was completely divided amongst the Tribes, this injunction was lifted  – on the 15th of Av – enabling Jewish girls to marry whomever their hearts desired.3

Despite being exposed to the elements for a long period of time, none of the bodies had decomposed!
3. After the Concubine in Givah catastrophe,4 which resulted in an awful civil war between the tribe of Benjamin and the rest of the nation, the Jews swore that no member of the tribe of Benjamin would be allowed to marry a woman from another tribe. On the 15th of Av this oath – and the resulting schism amongst Jews – was annulled.

4. When the northern ten tribes seceded from Davidic rule and established their independent kingdom,5 Jeroboam, the first king of the newly formed empire, established manned roadblocks to stop anyone who wanted to make pilgrimage to the Holy Temple. As a “substitute” for the Temple, he erected two pagan temples, one in the northern end and one on the southern end of his territory. Years later, Hoshea the son of Elah, the last king of the Northern Kingdom removed the roadblocks and allowed his subjects to visit the Temple in Jerusalem  – on the 15th of Av.6

5. After the Romans conquered the fortified city of Beitar, they mercilessly slaughtered all its inhabitants. To humiliate the Jews, Hadrian Caesar did not allow their bodies to be interred; instead he used the bodies to fence in a large vineyard he owned. The hundreds of thousands of corpses were stacked atop each other and formed a fence which was nearly 43 miles in circumference!
When Hadrian died more than a decade later, the next Caesar permitted the Jews to bury the remains of the Beitar residents. Miraculously, the Jews who went to bury their brethren found that their bodies were intact; despite being exposed to the elements for a long period of time, none of the bodies had decomposed! The permission to bury the dead was granted on the 15th of Av.

6. The 15th of Av was the last day when wood was chopped for the altar. After this date, which marks the onset of autumn, the sun’s strength begins to wane and the wood is moister – and unfit for the altar. The completion of the Mitzvah of chopping wood was accompanied by celebrations and feasts.

Due to the festive nature of the day, we omit the Tachanun from the prayers.

Though we are seemingly in the heart of summer, the days are gradually shortening and the nighttime hours are lengthening. The Talmud7 encourages us to utilize these additional peaceful nighttime hours to study more Torah: “From hereon [after the 15th of Av], one who increases [Torah study] will [have his years] increased!”

In anticipation of the new year which is just around the corner, Tu b’Av is the day when many traditionally begin wishing their fellows, “ketivah vachatimah tovah”—“may you be inscribed and sealed for [a] good [year].”

Footnotes

  • 1. Mishna, end of tractate Taanit.
  • 2. Numbers ch. 36.
  • 3. The Sages did this based on a verse, from where they extrapolated that this restriction only applied to the generation that entered the Land of Israel.
  • 4. Judges ch. 19-21.
  • 5. I Kings ch. 12.
  • 6. Ironically, the removal of the sentries had disastrous consequences. The Jews were so entrenched in their idolatrous ways that few of them made pilgrimage to Jerusalem, even after the king permitted it. Thus the blame, which previously belonged solely to the king, shifted onto the general public. This was one of the causes of the exiling of the Ten Tribes by the king of Assyria.
  • 7. Taanit 31a.

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Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Tachanun
Sections of the prayers involving confession and asking for forgiveness. Tachanun is omitted from the prayers on the festive days of the Jewish calendar.
Yom Kippur
Day of Atonement. This late-autumn high-holiday is the holiest day of the year. We devote this day to repentance and all healthy adults are required to fast.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Av
The fifth month of the Jewish calendar, normally corresponding to July-August. The saddest month of the year due to the destruction of the Temples, and the many other tragedies which befell the Jews in this month.
Jerusalem
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.