Sign In Forgot Password

Love Is in the Air

Jewish holidays tend to be either fairly intense (see Yom Kippur) or sad (see Tisha B’av). And then we have Tu B’av, a festival of love and romance that was almost totally forgotten. According to the Mishnah:

There were no happier days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Israel/Jerusalem go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards. What were they saying? “Young man, consider whom you choose (to be your wife)?” (Ta’anit, Chapter 4)

At the end of Yom Kippur, people would dance and celebrate. During the Second Temple era, Yom Kippur was a national holiday. The rituals of Yom Kippur were about making sure the nation would have God’s favor in the coming year. People ascended from all over Israel, making it a prime opportunity to meet new people and arrange matches.

Tu b’Av by contrast was a standalone day just for love. People came to Jerusalem only to celebrate and sing and dance. It didn’t have any higher meaning or purpose, no story of redemption or deep meaning. And according to the Mishnah it was among the highlights of the year.

During the Exile, those 2000 years in which we had no place of our own, this holiday was almost entirely forgotten and uncelebrated. Modern Israel in recent years has revived it as a kind of Jewish valentine’s day. People get flowers for their sweethearts. They go on romantic evenings. Even the more observant see the day as an impetus to express romance and care for one’s partner.

We need Israel to provide a safe haven for the Jewish people. We need Israel to offer a place where the Jewish self can be fully expressed, where our practices and teaching can manifest into the world of states and politics. We need a place where Jews from all over the world can combine their food and languages and practices into the place we call Israel.

But we also need a place so that we can have a day that is just about romance and fluff and love. We also need a State so we can have a day without much of a story that is just to dance and send flowers. We never did that when we worried in their back of our minds whether we would have to leave tomorrow. After a 2000 year hiatus, we have started doing it again because we are home.

There is so much at stake right now in Israel. Having our own place means we can be normal people doing normal things. It means not everything has to be so intensely about survival and belonging and identity. It creates a freedom to breathe and to be. The divisions sown by a deeply problematic government risk destroying something precious and unique that lets us be a free people in our land.

I pray we have the wisdom to sustain Israel as a Jewish and Democratic state for a myriad of reasons, but not least so we can have an Israeli Valentine’s day on which to set aside the weightiness of history, the intensity of our lives, and just find the right chocolates for our beloved.

Shabbat shalom-

Rabbi David Booth

Wed, June 19 2024 13 Sivan 5784