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Tu b’Av — Jews in the mood for love

 
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Many Jews are uncomfortable with Valentine’s Day — with its pagan and Christian origins — and refrain from using it to send expressions of love. Happily, Jews have other opportunities to do just that.

The Mishnah (Ta’anit 4:8) relates that one of the two most joyous days in ancient Israel was the 15th day of Av, Tu b’Av. What happened on that day? “The daughters of Jerusalem went out in white garments ... dancing in the vineyards. And what did they say? ‘Young men, look up and see what you will choose for yourself. Look not at beauty but at family....’”

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A poster from last year’s Love Fest

The Mishnah is worthy of study on a number of counts. For example, all of the women wore borrowed dresses so that wealth — or lack thereof — would not be an issue in a man’s selecting a mate. Further, the emphasis is on family, not beauty, in the selection process. “Looks,” fleeting and superficial, are not what Judaism views as the foundation of a real and loving relationship.

Tu b’Av, which marked the beginning of the annual vintage, was a day to find love. To this day, Shabbat Nahamu, the Shabbat immediately after Tisha b’Av, is a popular singles Shabbat. What more appropriate day than Tu b’Av to send a card, flowers or small token to your beloved — or to introduce a young man and woman to each other?

Rabbi Ronald Roth, religious leader of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Cong. B’nai Israel, points out that in Israel, the holiday — which has not been much marked in recent years — has undergone a kind of rebirth.

Indeed, according to the Website myjewishlearning.com, “In recent decades, Israeli civil culture promotes festivals of singing and dancing on the night of Tu b’Av. The entertainment and beauty industries work overtime on this date.”

Still, Roth pointed out, there is no special liturgy for this occasion or any religious ritual.

In this country, he said, “most Jews are not aware of it, so historically it hasn’t worked out very well.” But, he added, since marriage within the faith is something we are still concerned about, the holiday might be used to raise our consciousness.

“It’s a conceptual reminder that we need to see to it that Jews have an opportunity to meet and marry other Jews,” he said, suggesting, for example that synagogues might purchase JDate memberships for single members.

The Jewish Standard reported in a March 2008 article that Rabbi Kenneth Emert of Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff had done precisely that, using monies from his synagogue’s discretionary fund.

Rabbi Jarah Greenfield of Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel of Bergen County in Maywood said the “day is fertile ground for what could become a contemporary Jewish ritual, but we’re not there yet.”

It “has a lot of resonance,” she said, adding that Tu b’Av, on which women went out to choose their life partners, represents “a reversal of social norms.” Also, she said, “it exists as something to look back on and enjoy — a snapshot of what vibrant Jewish life was like on that special day.”

Greenfield pointed out that the day has “a lot of potentially rich feminist elements.” Even though it is premised on the idea that women need to be married, “there are underpinnings of equality running through the ritual,” such as the requirement that the white garments be borrowed.

The rabbi said we might look on the holiday today as an opportunity to celebrate “unconventional loving relationships” in contemporary Jewish life. “To me, it’s a wonderful opportunity to be creative with ritual,” she said, adding that she will definitely mention the holiday on the Shabbat preceding it. “It’s an opportunity to educate people,” she said.

Rabbi Neal Borovitz of River Edge’s Temple Avodat Shalom — who said he doesn’t know anyone who observes Tu b’Av — pointed out that the day is linked in the sources to Yom Kippur, since the afternoon of that day was also traditionally a time for making matches.

Borovitz suggested that “somehow in medieval times [the day] had a connection with Tisha b’Av, [which began] the countdown to Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.” The rabbi noted that it also came at the end of a period of mourning, during which marriages are prohibited.

“Its only contemporary significance may be as a reminder that there’s a Jewish communal responsibility to facilitate young people meeting other young people,” he said. “To me, if we’re going to do something, it would be to make it a big Jewish singles event. Maybe we should consider this for next year.”

 

More on: Tu b’Av — Jews in the mood for love

 
 
 

A new take on an ancient tradition

Jennie Rivlin Roberts, founder of the Jewish retail site ModernTribe.com, said she learned about Tu b’Av last year through Lisa Alcalay Klug, author of “Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe.”

Together, Roberts and Klug — who this year are co-sponsoring a Tu b’Av “LoveFest” in Los Angeles featuring a variety of Jewish performers — have created a contest called the “Cool Jew Love Day Giveaway.”

 
 

Time for a Jewish Couples Hall of Fame

A big, round August moon will be hanging in the sky the night of Aug. 4, as Jews begin to celebrate the little-known and ancient Jewish holiday of love.

Under this shining moon of love and dedication, I propose a new museum.

Tu b’Av — the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av, six days after the fast of Tisha b’Av — dates back to the Temple times when Jewish maidens would put on white garments and go out into the fields in search of husbands.

 
 
 
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Praying while female at the Kotel

Women of the Wall representative to speak locally

What’s going on with the Women of the Wall now?

What’s happening with gender equality and pluralism in Israel, now that the Israeli election is over?

Women of the Wall, made up of women from across the Jewish spectrum, has fought for the right to pray at the Kotel — Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the symbolic center of Jewish life, the magnet that draws observant and non-observant Jews, non-Jews, poets, and often even skeptics, close to it, as if they were pure iron filings.

The group, which was formed in the late 1980s, has been bolstered by legal wins. Its most important recent victory was the April 2013 decision by Judge Moshe Sobel of the Jerusalem District Court, who ruled that the city police were wrong when they arrested five women for the crime of wearing tallitot at the women’s section of the Kotel.

 

‘Oy vey, my child is gay’

Orthodox parents seek shared connection in upcoming retreat

Eshel, a group that works to bridge the divide that often separates lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews from their Orthodox communities, is holding its third annual retreat for Orthodox parents of those LGBT Jews next month.

Although most of its work is done with Orthodox LGBT Jews — who may or may not be the children of the parents at the retreat — the retreat offers parents community, immediate understanding, the freedom to speak that comes with that understanding, the chance to learn, and the opportunity to model healthy acceptance.

“There are particular issues to being Orthodox and having a gay child, although it varies a lot from community to community,” Naomi Oppenheim of Teaneck said. “You worry about what the community is thinking about you. Someone — I don’t remember who — said, ‘When my kid came out, I went into the closet.’”

 

Twenty years later

Stephen Flatow remembers his murdered daughter Alisa

When you ask attorney Stephen Flatow of West Orange how many children he has, his answer is immediate.

“I have five children,” he says.

Not surprising. What father doesn’t know how many children he has?

And how are they doing?

Four of them are flourishing; they are all married and all parents. Mr. Flatow and his wife, Rosalyn, have 13 grandchildren, and another one’s on the way. (And three of the Flatows’ children live in Bergen County.)

But the fifth, his oldest, Alisa, was murdered by terrorists when she was 20; her 20th yahrzeit was last week. She has been dead as long as she was alive.

“Just because she isn’t there now, that doesn’t mean I’m not her father,” he said. “I just don’t have any recent pictures of her to show.”

 

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Standing together with Israel

Local groups join for evening of unity as they discuss ways to protect Israel

Lee Lasher of Englewood has a deep interest in ensuring that different parts of the local Jewish community come to trust, respect, and even like each other.

To that end, Mr. Lasher, an alumnus of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Berrie Fellows Leadership program, and fellow alums — and now friends — Ian Zimmerman of Glen Rock and Ari Hirt of Teaneck, formed a group called Unite4Unity, which until now has explored the bridges that actually do span the community.

Now, the three friends have decided to multitask. Another cause dear to all of them is Israel. What could be better, they thought, than to bring the community together around the Jewish state? And given their own orientation toward action, what would be best would be to give people information they can use to present Israel positively, to combat such threats as BDS with knowledge, insight, and passion.

 

Considering German Jews

Spätzle, weiner schnitzel, stuffed cabbage, and German chocolate cake are on the menu for Shabbat dinner on May 1 at Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake. It’s all part of the shul’s weekend exploration of German Jewish heritage.

German Jews are known not only for their signature cuisine, however. They tend to have a reputation as “yekkes” — obsessively punctual, punctilious, and a touch pompous.

The shul’s Rabbi Benjamin Shull admits he bought into that stereotype — he is the descendant of Lithuanian Jews — until he discovered through genealogical research that he, too, has German-Jewish ancestors. So do about a third of his regular congregants.

 

Balancing attraction and halachic law

Local Orthodox rabbis meet with therapists and LGBT Jews

On Sunday, some leading Orthodox rabbis, including Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood and Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot of Netivot Shalom in Teaneck, met with mental-health professionals and members of the Orthodox gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community for a conference on “sexual orientation and gender identity in the Orthodox and chasidic world,” as a press release put it.

The conference, about 150-strong, held at the Kraft House on Columbia University’s campus, was organized by the modern Orthodox, Upper West Side Lincoln Square Synagogue; the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology; and JQY, a nonprofit that provides support to young LGBT Orthodox and chasidic Jews.

 
 
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