Tisha B’Av (The Ninth of Av) is the most solemn day of the year where the Jewish people and all who choose to join them focus on the current state of exile and the destruction of the Temple. The twenty-five hour fast from food and water coupled with the hot summer temperatures of the Western Hemisphere that time of year make it one long arduous day.
In turn, it is surprising that just six days later is a joyous festive called Tu B’Av. Tu B’Av (ט"ו באב) literally means the Fifteenth of Av and is considered to be a minor festival. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel calls it one of the two most joyous days in the Jewish calendar (m.Ta’anit 4:8).
So what makes Tu B’Av special? According to the Talmud (b.Ta'anit 26b) several events occurred on this day:
- Forty years after the generation of the exodus, the last of that generation passed and the death of that generation was ceased.
- The tribes of Israel were once again allowed to inter-marry with members of other tribes within Israel. The ban was instituted so as to ensure a proper division of the land of Israel (Numbers 27:1-11).
- The ban on marrying into the Tribe of Benjamin was lifted (Judges 20-21).
- Hosea ben Elah removed all roadblocks that were established by Jeroboam ben Nevat; these roadblocks, which prevented people from the northern kingdom from making the required pilgrimages to Jerusalem, were established after the death of Solomon when the land of Israel was divided into two kingdoms. Hosea destroyed these roadblocks two hundred years later.
- When the Temple stood it was on this day that the firewood was cut for the altar for the upcoming year of Temple service. This would conclude with a joyous feast that included a ceremonial breaking of an ax. Therefore, Tu B’Av is also called “The Day of the Breaking of the Ax.”
- After the Bar Kochba rebellion, the people who died at the fortress of Bethar were allowed to be buried.
- It was on this day that matchmaking occurred. It is said that on this day the daughters of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vineyards during which time they would tell the young men to make a choice for themselves concerning a bride to take.
- It is also at this time of year that the summer solstice has passed and nights begin to lengthen. Because nights are ideal for Torah Study it is a time for joy because study will increase.
Today, without the Temple, the observances of Tu b’Av are limited. The penitent prayers of Tachanun are omitted and it is a custom to increase one’s Torah study and begin introspection for the upcoming month of Elul. In modern Israel it is called Chag HaAhavah (חג האהבה), “the festival of love” which has become a romantic holiday similar to Valentine’s Day. There it is said to be a perfect day for marriage, proposals, or the renewing of vows.
Tu B’Av in a way foreshadows the prophecy of Zechariah 8:19: “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘… the fast of the fifth … shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts.’” Zechariah promises that all the fasts associated with the current exile including the Ninth of Av will one day become festivals of gladness and feasting. In a small way, Tu B’Av coming on the heels of Tisha B’Av paints a picture of the future joy that will be when Messiah returns and the exile ends. It is therefore fitting that Tu B’Av is a minor festival for, while we as disciples of the Master can access a taste of the future kingdom now, we await the fullness when Yeshua returns and ends the exile establishing his rule in Jerusalem. It is at that time that the great metaphorical marriage will take place between Yeshua and his bride Israel. It is in that day that our mourning will be turned into dancing.