Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Tu B'Av

The holiday of Tu B'Av occurs this year at sundown of August 8, 2006 and continues until sundown of August 9, 2006.

The Mishnah writes[1] that Yom Kippur (the Tenth of Tishri) and Tu B'Av (the fifteenth of Menachem Av) are the happiest days in the Jewish calendar. The Talmud[2] gives various explanations as to why Tu B'Av is such a happy. Evidently, it is apparent that Yom Kippur is considered a happy day because it is on this day that G-d absolves the Jews of their sins, as it says[3], "For on this day, He shall forgive you, to purify you, from all your sins, in front of HaShem, and you shall be cleansed." Rabbi Ya'akov Yitzchak of Preshischa, the Yid Kadosh, explains that Tu B'Av is compared to Yom Kippur by the Mishnah in Taanis because just as one's sins are forgiven on Yom Kippur, one's sins are forgiven at one's wedding[4]. As a result of this happiness on Yom Kippur and Tu B'Av, a certain innocent custom was adopted in previous generations and has been perverted by modern-day society. Even though Tu B'Av is such a happy, it is somehow connected with death.

Tu B'Av is closely associated with death because it is the anniversary of the death of the Tanna, Nachum Ish Gamzu. Nachum Ish Gamzu, the teacher of Rabbi Akiva[5], is called Ish Gamzu because he always said the phrase, "Gam Zu L'Tova," meaning, "This is also for the good" even at times when seemingly bad events occurred. The Talmud[6] relates that Nachum Ish Gamzu was sent to bring a bribe to the Roman Caesar. He planned to bring beautiful stones and gems, but they were stolen in an inn on his way to Rome. He said, "This is also for the best" and gave the Roman Emperor a tribute of a chest filled with dirt. Miraculously, the dirt had the supernatural ability to transform into arrows when thrown, and Nachum Ish Gamzu was saved. Rabbi Nachum Ish Gam Zoo was blind in both eyes, lame in both hands, had amputated both his legs, and his entire body had painful boils. He lived in a crumbling house, and lied in a bed with the legs of his bed in buckets of water so ants would not climb up on top of him. Nonetheless, he did not complain, but merely told his students that he brought these pains upon himself as a punishment for not aiding a pauper quickly enough, which caused the poor man to die[7].

In one explanation, the Talmud explains that the happiness of Tu B'Av stems from the fact that in the wilderness Jews stopped dying on Tu B'Av of the fortieth year. In the second year since the Exodus of Egypt, G-d punished the Jews for believing the spies' untrue slanderous report about the land of Canaan by decreeing that all Jews between the ages of twenty and sixty were to die in the desert over the next forty years and only the next generation would enter the land[8]. On the night of that decree, Tisha B'Av, the nation cried. Rashi explains that every subsequent year on the night of Tisha B'Av, the Jews in the desert would gid for themselves graves and sleep in them, some would woke up the next morning, while others would not. In their final year of wandering, everyone awoke the next morning in their graves; no one died that night. The Jews concluded that they must have miscalculated the date of Tisha B'Av, so they continued sleeping in their graves every night until Tu B'Av. When the night of Tu B'Av arrived, the Jews saw the full moon and knew that the date of Tisha B'Av surely passed and that no one died because the decree must have been lifted. At this point, G-d began to continue conversing with Moses as He did before. This is the cause of rejoice on the holiday of Tu B'Av.

According to this explanation; however, the day of celebration should actually be the Tenth of Av, not the Fifteenth because the last day that people died in the desert was the Ninth of Av of the thirty-ninth year, which means that the decree actually stopped killing Jews on the Tenth of Av of the thirty-ninth year. Furthermore, if the reason for the celebration is the lack of death, then why does the Talmud have to have specifically mentioned that at this time HaShem resumed his communications with Moses? Thirdly, if only people between twenty and sixty during the sin of the spies were destined to die, then who was expecting to die in the last (fortieth) year, if there was no alive anymore who was between those ages at the time of the sin of the spies? Tosafos[9] that even on the Tisha B'Av of the fortieth year, people still died, and since their close relatives were in a state of mourning for a week (shiva), they remained sad until Tu B'Av. The Talmud[10] says that HaShem does not rest His spirit of prophecy upon those who are sad, so only after Tu B'Av did HaShem return His spirit to Moses and only then did He restart communicating with Moses. This is the cause of the celebration of Tu B'Av. Tosfos also explain[11] that people died on every day of the year in the desert, except on Tisha B'Av, more people died than on other days. Therefore, even in the fortieth year, people died on all days, including the fourteenth of Av; however, on the fifteenth of Av, no one died at all, which showed that the decree stopped and was cause for celebration. By annulling the decree on Tu B'Av, HaShem showed that the decree was only the twenty-year olds exclusive, not inclusive, which explains why people still died in the fortieth year.

According to this explanation, the association of Tu B'Av with women and marriage must stem from the fact that women were not included in this decree that the Jews in the desert should die, because it was only the men who believed the spies' slanderous reports, but to the women, the lad of Israel was too precious[12]. This explains why immediately after detailing the decree (Numbers 26:64-65), the Torah discusses the complaint of the daughter of Zelophehad (Numbers 27:1-11).

The daughters of Tzelophchad came to Moses and complained that daughters are seemingly left out of the inheritance hierarchy and therefore they cannot receive the lot in the land of Canaan which was destined to go to their late father. After this complaint, HaShem told Moses about the law that if one dies leaving over no sons; his property is not inherited by his other relatives before it goes to the deceased's daughters. Therefore, the five daughters of Zelophechad were entitled to their father's property. However, in order to insure that the each tribe would have its allotted amount of property when the Israelites would enter the land of Canaan, HaShem temporarily decreed that intermarriage between the tribes was forbidden[13]. The Talmud explains that on the fifteenth of Av in the last year of the Jewish Wandering, this ordinance expired, so men and women from the twelve different Jewish tribes were permitted to marry each other. Similarly, after the incident described in Judges 19:1-21:18, certain sanctions were put on the tribe of Benjamin which forbid other Jews from marrying Benjaminite women.; these sanctions were subsequently rescinded on the Fifteenth of Menachem Av. This allowance of intertribal marriage broadened many people's potential prospects for spouses which accounts for the rejoicing and on Tu B'Av as well as the association of Tu B'Av with women and marriage.

The Maharsha explains[14] that Tu B'Av is particularly joyous for women because it was the women for whom intertribal marriage was forbidden to avoid the transfer of tribal property in Israel from one tribe to another, but the men were allowed to intermarry even before Tu B'Av. Thus, the expiration of the decree affected women more so than men. Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried (1804-1886) adds[15] that this explains Tosfos[16] who said that Tu B'Av is a Yom Tov: Tosfos did write Yom Tov, but rather Yom Tovasan, a "day for their [female tense] good.[17]" The Maharsha writes the same was true concerning the decree against Benjaminite women; the decree was only marrying the women, but the men were allowed to marry into other tribes.

The Talmud gives a few more varying explanations as to the rejoicing of Tu B'Av. One reason given is that on Tu B'Av, the barriers, which King Yerovam ben Nevat of Israel set up to block Israelis from pilgrimaging to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem under Judean control, were removed by Hoshea ben Elah. This act solidified the relationship and love between HaShem and His nation Israel. Furthermore, after the Roman massacre at Betar during the Bar Kochba revolution, Emperor Hadrian did not allow the Jews killed to be properly buried. However, after his reign, the next Emperor of Rome allowed for their burial, this mass burial of the victims of the Roman carnage occurred on Tu B'Av, and is also the cause for celebration. A third reason for the happiness of Tu B'av is that on Tu B'Av the Kohanim stopped collecting wood for the altar because the sun became too weak to dry out the worms in the wood[18]. As a result of the weakness of the sun—because after Tu B'Av, the summer solstice, the days begin getting shorter and the nights longer—the wood-driers had more time to learn Torah, especially at night which is a special time for learning. This increase in Torah learning also contributes to the happiness for which Tu B'Av is known[19].

Rabbi Zvi Elimelech Shapiro of Dinov (1783-1841) explains[20] the Kabbalistic significance of the holiday of Tu B'Av. The Talmud writes[21] that forty days before one's embryo is formed, Heaven declares who his future spouse will be. In Tractate Rosh HaShana, a dispute is discussed at great length between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua. Rabbi Eliezer maintains that Adam was created on the first of Tishrei. Adam was created on the sixth day of creation[22]; therefore, the world was created on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Elul. Forty days before the creation of the world, the day on which all spouses must have been divinely declared was the fifteenth of Av. This is the cause of the celebration of Tu b'Av and its links to marriage and matchmaking. It is from the day of Tu B'Av, that it is customary to begin using the New Years greetings to fellow Jews in anticipation of Rosh HaShannah, the first of Tishrei.[23]

The custom which developed in Tannaic times (based on Judges 21) shows the stark contrast between Tu B'Av/Yom Kippur and Tisha B'Av. Both the fasts of Tisha B'Av and Yom Kippur are stringent fast days that last a day and night, yet one celebrates the erasing of sins and one laments the destruction of the Holy Sanctuary in Jerusalem. The Talmud[24] tells that the Holy Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred. On Tu B'Av and Yom Kippur, the daughters of Israel, virgins of Zion, and maidens of Judea practiced baseless love. All the girls borrowed white clothes from other girls in lower social classes than themselves to show how they are all equal and the girls went dancing and singing in the grape vineyards to attract mates.

Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov (1912-1979) explains[25] that there was a relative lack of adherence to normal laws of tznius and modesty in these Tu B'Av celebrations because we were not afraid that inappropriate conduct would occur because the fast days (whether Tisha B'av for Tu B'Av, or Yom Kippur itself on Yom Kippur) teach self-control and the bachelors, therefore would not give into their physical. It is obvious that the seriousness of Tisha B'Av and Yom Kippur in present times is not what it once was, and that these fast days do not trigger a sense of self-control like they used to in generations of old. Therefore, it is not recommended to carry out these celebrations anymore for fear of indecent behavior. In the Modern Orthodox world and Secular Israeli culture, Tu B'Av is known as Chag HaAhava, the "Holiday of Love". Grand concerts are arranged so that boys and girls can intermingle in the name of Tu B'Av. However, this debauchery is unjustified and is against the entire spirit of the holiday; Tu B'Av is not a Jewish version of the pagan "Saint Valentine's Day."

The holiday of Tu B'Av always falls out between the reading of Parshas Vaeschanan and Parshas Eikev. The main two themes of Parshas Vaeschanan are contradictory because on one hand, there is an obligation to fear HaShem[26], yet on the other hand there is an obligation to love Him[27]. Both of these aspects were personified by Rabbi Akiva, the main student of Nachum Ish Gamzu, who understood[28] that loving HaShem means willingly and happily giving up one's self, heaven forbid, in the name of HaShem should the need to do so arise. In Parshas Eikev, Jews are commanded to thank HaShem after eating to the point of satisfaction[29]. The Talmud understands that the Jews' scrupulous observance in this commandment is what causes HaShem to favor His nation[30]. The fourth blessing in the Grace After Meals (Birkas HaMazon) thanks HaShem for the ability of the Jews to have buried the dead after the fall of Betar; this burial occurred on Tu b'Av. The fall of Betar serves to remind the Jewish nation that even when they lose a battle or even a war, they are never completely annihilated because HaShem favors them and they will continue to exist as they have for thousands of years already[31]. Thus, the connection that Tu B'Av has to death only strengthens the happiness, not weakens it.

Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin (1823-1900) explains that when the Holy Temple will be rebuilt, it will be rebuilt on Tu B'Av. Tisha B'Av, then, would be a (Yom Tov) holiday like Succos (Tabernacles), Pesach (Passover), and Shavuos (Pentecost) because the Messiah will arrive on Tisha B'Av. After a seven-day festival including Chol HaMoed, the Temple's construction would begin only on Tu B'Av[32]. The Mishnah and Midrash elaborate[33] when the girls would go around looking to become brides, they would entice the bachelors by telling them to lift their eyes and select a female companion from amongst themselves. They told the young men to ignore such meaningless factors as physical beauty in their selection. They said, "Charm is false, and beauty is vain. A woman who fears G-d—she shall be praised.[34]" They read the verse, "Go out and see, O' Daughters of Zion, the King to whom all the peace belongs [HaShem], with the crown with which his mother coronated him on His wedding day and the day of the happiness of His heart." The "day of the happiness of His heart" is a reference to the construction of the Holy Temple, may it be rebuilt speedily and in our days: Amen.
[1] Ta'anis 4:3
[2] Taanis 30a-b
[3] Leviticus 16:30
[4] Jerusalem Talmud, Bikkurim 3:3
[5] Chagigah 12a, Brachos 22a, Shavuos 26a
[6] Taanis 21a, Sanhedrin 108b-109a
[7] See Jerusalem Talmud, Peah 8:8 and Shekalim 5:4
[8] See Numbers 13-14
[9] Bava Basra 121a
[10] Shabbos 22b
[11] Taanis 30b
[12] Rashi to Numbers 26:64
[13] Numbers 36
[14] To Bava Basra 121a
[15] Pnei Shlomo ibid.
[16] To Taanis 30b
[17] The text of Tosafos doesn't actually say Yom Tov, it says Y"T which usually is an abbreviation for Yom Tov, but can also mean Yom Tovasan.
[18] The finalization of the performance of a mitzvah can be cause for celebration, like a siyum.
[19] Rabbeinu Gershom to Taanis 31a
[20] Bnei Yissaschar to Tu B'Av
[21] Sotah 2a
[22] Genesis 1:24-31
[23] According to Rabbi Yehoshua, Adam was created on the first of Nissan. Adam was created on the sixth day of creation[23]; therefore, the world was created on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Adar. Forty days before the creation of the world, according to Rabbi Yehoshua, was Tu B'Shvat. This explains why there is also a holiday on Tu B'Shvat.
[24] Gittin 55b
[25] Sefer HaToda'ah on Tu B'Av
[26] E.g. see Deuteronomy 6:1, 10:2
[27] E.g. see Deuteronomy 6:5
[28] Brachos 55a
[29] Deuteronomy 8:10
[30] See Brachos 20b which contrasts a verse in Eikev (Deuteronomy 10:17) which shows HaShem does not show favorites, with a verse in the Kohanic blessings (Numbers 6:26).
[31] This should be remembered especially in the current situation.
[32] See Tosfos Tom Tov to Taanis 4:8 §36 who says that at the construction of the Holy Temple there will be a seven-day holiday just like it is described in Kings 1 Chapter 8
[33] End of Taanis 4:8, Midrash Lamentations Rabbah, introduction §33
[34] Proverbs 31:30


Anonymous said...


Thank you for this wonderfully detailed essay. I have not found such a well-sourced article to share with my family. I very much appreciate your work and will vist often.


Reuven Chaim Klein said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Incredible. Well written R'Chaim. It is not often that I have to think upon a blog post. Well done, indeed.

Reuven Chaim Klein said...

Thank you too.

Anonymous said...


How do we celebrate this auspicious holiday?

Paul M. Kingery said...

Dear Reb,

Thank you for your thoughts. I look forward to following your interesting blog. I have been studying and writing about the Land of Canaan with regard to the Christian future. My view takes you to a completely different place than that from which you now write. Are you interested in topics about the apocalypse, end times, the end of the world, eschatology, last days, the horsemen of the apocalypse, the beast, prophesy, prophesies, revelation, 666, bible prophesy, prophets, Canaan, Canaan's land, Land of Canaan, or the Christian future? If so you may enjoy reading " Land of Canaan." This is a free online book. The Link is http://landofcanaan.info/book.php
Let me know what you think.


Paul M. Kingery, PhD, MPH

Reuven Chaim Klein said...

I do not beleive in Christianity nor its dogmas, therefore in my opinion most of your information would be based on invalid source, such as the "New" Testament.

Anonymous said...

Shame on you Reb Chaim. What he says has a lot of merit.

Take the beast for example, you might think it's dumb, but he is one of my faviort x-men. I think Kesley Grammer did a stand up job in the movie this summer. What I like about the beast is he is a well devloped character, not just some guy based on his super power. I encourage you to read more about this fasinating mutant before you are so quick to judge.


2)apocalypse. Another classic x-man villian. He is crazy powerful, and although he is often not well written, he still is a preaty cool supervillan
learn more about him at:


3) Then there are the horsemen of the apocalypse. This plot affect several major characters in X-men, including, Wolverine, Archangel and Gambit, who have all been death. Poloris and Sunfire are also horsemen. How dare you ingore a plotline that has run trhough X-men comics for almost twenty years. For shame.


Sadly, your anti-Comicism has been showing for some time. Why do you hate superheros so? They are hear to defend us. I hope that someday you will learn to open your heart to the wonders that x-men has to offer

Prehapps then I can introduc you to the gosepl according to Spiderman.

Reuven Chaim Klein said...

Call me a heretic, but I'm more a DC guy than Marvel.

Ilan The Portlander Rebbe said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ilan The Portlander Rebbe said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ilan The Portlander Rebbe said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Hey Ilan the Portlander Rebbe, I think I know this one. It was of EC Comics all time best sellers...

You know EC Comics, Harvey Kurtzman and William Gaines are true geniuses.

Ilan The Portlander Rebbe said...

I want to tell you a story my firend. A story about a man who came from the heavens and did only good. Who was sent by his wise father to help mankind. A man who belived in Justice and kindness and who died althought he was sinless. And then, amid glory rose from the dead.

And his name was Superman

Alan Paul Katz said...

Reb Chaim:

Very informative essay on Tu B'Av. I will try to check your blogs for all other Jewish issues.

Yasher Koach.
Alan Paul Katz
Avraham Pinchas HaKohain

Anonymous said...


I thought you were refering to

Alfred E. Neuman!!!!

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