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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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Stay tuned for the return of comments

 

A rabbi hasn’t walked into the bar ... yet

It’s not every day that a liquor license comes up for sale in Teaneck. (State licensing laws limit the number of licenses in a formula based on a town’s population.)

So when Jonathan Gellis heard that the owner of Vinny O’s in Teaneck was looking to sell the establishment, including the license, after 28 years behind the bar, he realized that only one of the more than 20 kosher restaurants in Teaneck could sell alcohol.

That seemed to be an opportunity.

Mr. Gellis is a stockbroker by day. He’s used to working in a regulated business — and the alcohol business in New Jersey is highly regulated.

Mr. Gellis grew up in Teaneck; his parents moved the family here from Brooklyn in 1975, back when the town had only one kosher restaurant. His four children attend Yeshivat Noam and the Frisch School, and he serves on the board of both institutions. He also is president of Congregation Keter Torah.

 

The converso’s dilemma

Local group goes to New Mexico to learn about crypto-Jews

Imagine that you were raised as a Catholic. Then one day — perhaps as a beloved parent or grandparent lay dying and leaned over to whisper something in your ear — you learned that your family once was Jewish. Your ancestors were converted forcibly some 500 years ago.

For those people all over the world who have had that experience, the next step is not entirely clear. Do they jump in with both feet and vigorously pursue their new Jewish identities, or do they simply go about their business, choosing to do nothing with this new information? These dilemmas, and more, were the subject of a recent Road Scholar program in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The topic — “New Mexico’s Conversos and Crypto-Jews” — continues to fascinate both Jews and non-Jews, as evidenced by the religious identity of the attendees. Among those participating in this month’s session — there are 10 such programs held each year — were five residents from our area, including this author.

 

How to learn Hebrew

Confronting American Jews’ linguistic illiteracy, many programs offer help

Can you read a Hebrew newspaper or order a meal in an Israel restaurant? If you’re like the vast majority of American Jews, the answer is no.

“Half of Jews (52%), including 60% of Jews by religion and 24% of Jews of no religion, say they know the Hebrew alphabet,” according to last October’s “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” the famous study released by the Pew Research Center.

“But far fewer (13% of Jews overall, including 16% of Jews by religion and 4% of Jews of no religion) say they understand most or all of the words when they read Hebrew,” the report continues.

Alarmed by this finding, the World Zionist Organization, the Israeli Education Ministry, and several partner organizations recently launched the Hebrew Language Council of North America to help more Jews become conversant in the language of their literature, lore, and land — as well as the language of their peers in Israel.

 

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Mississippi burning, remembered

Puffin marks jubilee of Freedom Summer

It was a summer that changed lives.

It was a fight for American democracy in the face of terrorism.

It was dubbed “Freedom Summer,” and it drew 700 college students and young adults to help Mississippi activists fight for civil rights.

The year was 1964.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech the previous August, during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In Washington, a far-reaching civil rights bill that would desegregate public facilities had been introduced to Congress by President Lyndon Johnson — but quickly stalled and was then filibustered for months.

 

Adding to Jewish life in Clifton

Rabbi Moshe Mirsky heads religious services department at Daughters of Miriam

Rabbi Moshe Mirsky thinks his new position as the director of religious services at the Daughters of Miriam Center/Gallen Institute in Clifton is a perfect shidduch.

Actually, it is not quite a new job. Rabbi Mirsky had already worked there with Rabbi Ira Kronenberg, who just retired from the home this month, in the late 1980s. Back then Rabbi Mirsky was studying for simicha — rabbinic ordination. He worked there once again in the 1990s, while he was teaching at various day schools.

“I would come on the weekends for Shabbat and on yom tov to assist Rabbi Kronenberg,” he said. “I would lead davening, give Torah classes, go to the Alzheimer’s unit, and try to engage the residents Jewishly. I had a special rapport with Rabbi Kronenberg and the residents.”

Indeed, then he already was doing many of the things he is doing now as director of religious affairs.

 

Poor assumptions = poor policy

ZOA’s congressional lobbyist talks about Israel, Oslo, and plans doomed to fail

The two-state solution is a chimera, Joshua London says. It is a lovely vision of something that never can be real, and chasing it — chasing the plan that would make Israel and Palestine two separate states, living next to each other in prickly but sustainable peace — is chasing the wind.

Mr. London, who lives in suburban Maryland, is the Zionist Organization of America’s co-director of government affairs. He will be taking a break from his daily routine — lobbying Congress to further the ZOA’s own understanding of the Middle East — to speak at a parlor meeting in Teaneck on Wednesday.

His goal, he said, “is to bring clarity and critical analysis to the longstanding U.S. policy for support of — and in fact to apply pressure toward — the creation of a Palestinian state from territory that otherwise belongs to Israel, and to do so under the notion that this will bring peace.”

 
 
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