If someone were to ask you what the two happiest days are in Judaism, what would you say? Purim for all it’s talk of increasing joy, Shavuot when we received the Torah, or maybe Rosh Hashanah when we try to make a renewed start to the year.
The answer given down in the Torah is none of those, but rather Tu B’Av, a day many Jews haven’t even heard of, and Yom Kippur, which often does not bring up peasant connotations. The explanation for why Yom Kippur is the happiest is relatively straightforward—it’s when Jews get the opportunity for a clean slate and a closer relationship to God—but Tu B’av is somewhat strange, but first one needs to know what it is at all.
Tu B’av, occasionally referred to as the “Festival of Love”, is one of the most joyous and celebrated days on the Jewish calendar. It falls on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av—”Tu” being the pronunciation of way 15 looks in Hebrew Numerals—which typically corresponds to late July or early August on the Gregorian calendar. The origins of this festival can be traced back to the times of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
In the Talmudic era, the 15th of Av was a significant date for matchmaking and marriages. On this day, young unmarried women would dress in white garments and dance in the vineyards, while young men would come to find their potential partners. The atmosphere was one of joy, love, and hope for building new families and preserving the Jewish community.
While the specific observance of Tu B’av is not directly mentioned in the Tanakh, some sources in the Oral Torah mention its significance and the positive events that occurred on this day. WHile nowadays the story of romantic love takes center stage, the theme immediately apparent is reconciliation of all types.
- Mishnah Ta’anit 4:8: The Mishnah, a compilation of Jewish oral laws, mentions Tu B’av as one of the two greatest festivals of the year, alongside Yom Kippur. It states, “There were no better days for the people of Israel than the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, on which the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in borrowed white garments to dance in the vineyards.”
- The End of the Desert Wanderings: According to the Talmud (Bava Batra 121a), the generation of Israelites that left Egypt and wandered in the desert for 40 years ceased to die on the 9th of Av. They were destined to pass away until the last of Tisha B’Av, but in the final year of wandering, no one died on the 9th of Av. Instead, they passed away peacefully in their sleep and were buried on the 15th of Av. This marked the end of the divine decree that prevented them from entering the Promised Land, and the new generation was assured that they would be entering the land.
- The Tribe of Benjamin Allowed to Rebuild: After a tragic incident occurred involving the Tribe of Benjamin during the times of the Judges (Judges 19-21), the other tribes imposed a decree forbidding their daughters to marry Benjaminite men and after a brutal civil war they were nearly wiped out. This decree was lifted on Tu B’av, allowing the tribe to rebuild and rejoin the broader Israelite community (Talmud, Ta’anit 26b).
- The Wood Offering: During the time of the Second Temple, an annual event occurred where wood was gathered for the altar’s offerings. On the 15th of Av, it was announced that the supply of wood was sufficient for the year, marking a day of celebration and rejoicing for the entire community (Mishnah Ta’anit 4:5).
- Orla Count: Orla is the prohibition of benefiting from the fruits of trees for their first 3 years. This is not the full 3 anniversaries though, and while years 2 and 3 are calculated Rosh Hashanah to Rosh Hashanah, a tree planted any time before 45 days of Rosh Hashanah counts as year 1. This makes Tu B’Av the last day one can plant a tree and not have to make wait the extra year, so it is further associated with growing.
- Reconciliation of the Tribes: In the aftermath of the destruction of the First Temple, tensions between the tribes of Israel resulted in animosity and division. However, on Tu B’av, the tribes reconciled, and unity was restored within the Jewish people (Jerusalem Talmud, Ta’anit 4:5).
Beyond its historical background, Tu B’av holds spiritual significance as a day of unity, love, and the restoration of relationships. It serves as a reminder of the importance of building and maintaining strong bonds within the Jewish community and beyond. Just as the unmarried women would use this opportunity to find a husband, Tu B’av remains an enduring symbol of love and cherish the connections that bind us together as a people.
Tying Tu B’av with Yom Kippur
The comparison of Tu B’av with Yom Kippur in the Mishnah (Ta’anit 4:8) is intriguing, as Yom Kippur is known as the holiest day of the Jewish year, dedicated to atonement and repentance. The association may be rooted in several shared elements between the two festivals:
- Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Yom Kippur is a day when individuals seek forgiveness from God, and Tu B’av also marks the reconciliation of the tribes after a period of division and strife. Both days emphasize the importance of repairing relationships and finding unity.
- Renewal and New Beginnings: Yom Kippur provides a spiritual reset, a chance for individuals to start anew after seeking forgiveness and making amends. Tu B’av, with its emphasis on love and building new families, also represents a time of renewal and new beginnings.
- Joy and Celebration: While Yom Kippur is a solemn day of fasting and prayer, it is considered a joyful occasion because of the opportunity for spiritual cleansing and forgiveness. Similarly, Tu B’av is a day of immense joy, as it celebrates love and relationships.
Tu B’av is a day of immense happiness and love in the Jewish calendar. Its historical roots in the Second Temple era, combined with its spiritual significance and association with reconciliation and unity, make it a day cherished by the Jewish people. Though it does not have the same solemnity or frankly significance as Yom Kippur, its celebration of love and the building of relationships brings a unique and uplifting aspect to the Jewish calendar, making it one of the happiest days of the year.