ט״ו באב | Tu b’Av: sources for study and celebration on the 15th of Av

Image: See! by Mark and Allegra (License: CC-BY 2.0)

Source (Hebrew) Translation (English)

וכל ישראל שואלין זה מזה כדי שלא יתבייש את מי שאין לו:‏…
…and all Yisrael borrow from one another, so as not to put to shame any one who may not possess. (Talmud Bavli Ta’anit 31a)

וַיַּ֣עַשׂ אֱלֹהִ֔ים
אֶת־שְׁנֵ֥י הַמְּאֹרֹ֖ת הַגְּדֹלִ֑ים
אֶת־הַמָּא֤וֹר הַגָּדֹל֙ לְמֶמְשֶׁ֣לֶת הַיּ֔וֹם
וְאֶת־הַמָּא֤וֹר הַקָּטֹן֙ לְמֶמְשֶׁ֣לֶת הַלַּ֔יְלָה
וְאֵ֖ת הַכּוֹכָבִֽים׃
/1:16 And God made
the two great lights:
the greater light to rule the day,
and the lesser light to rule the night;
and the stars. (Genesis 1:16)

The combined solar and lunar Jewish calendar has the 15th of the month always occur on a full moon. Prior to this age of artificial electrical light, the reliable illumination of the full moon would permit relatively safe travel and celebration into the evening. While the new moon days of Rosh Ḥodesh were once (and actually remain) gendered as holidays with ritual and lore exclusive to Jewish women, holidays occurring on the 15th of the month have always been gender inclusive community gatherings (e.g., Tu biShvat, Purim, and Pesaḥ). And this romantic idea is perhaps most overtly expressed on the Jewish holiday that falls on or nearby the summer solstice, the fifteen of the month of Av, Tu b’Av. Since the Jewish calendar is not affixed to the sun, but corrected by a leap year to its seasons, Tu b’Av does not normally fall on the summer solstice. And yet, the relationship between Tu b’Av and the zenith of the summer is alluded to in Rav Menashya’s statement regarding Tu b’Av, “From this day onwards, one who increases [their knowledge through study as the nights grow longer] will have their life prolonged.”

Tu b’Av may remain of the most obscure days on the Jewish calendar but the valence of the day in the source texts below, and the major theme of rebirth in the face of utter demise in general, and Tu b’Av in particular, is clear. Trepidation over the length of ones days is a theme of the dry season, a reminder that the worries of the seven weeks leading up to Shavuot still remain present for a season long endangered by warfare on the one hand and failed harvests on the other. If the cannibalization of infants in the reading of Eikha on Tu b’Av represents the absolute, primal depths of human predation, terror and degradation — Tu b’Av represents that day’s universal opposite — an apex of joy in survival expressed passionately though overt invitations to make new babies.

Liturgically, the prayer most closely related to Tu b’Av is the fourth blessing of the Birkhat Hamazon, blessing God’s kindness. The particular historical circumstances for inspiring this invocation of God’s kindness however, was the occasion of a respite from overwhelming tragedy. According to the Talmud Bavli tractate Brachot (48b) the blessing was originally instituted in Yavneh and in memory of the day when the many thousands massacred in the fall of the city of Betar during the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-136 CE) were finally permitted to be buried.[1]See Talmud Bavli Ta’anit 31a, Berakhot 46a, and Eikha Rabba 4.

If that sounds like an odd valence for a blessing ending every meal, then Tu b’Av may seem like an atrocious day to celebrate with romantic overtures. The story of the near genocide of the tribe of Binyamin in Shofetim (Judges 20-21), however, provides the precedent for the odd juxtaposition of Tisha B’Av-like devastation with Tu b’Av-like rebirth. The story appears at the very end of Shofetim, and in the story, a particular holy festival day in Shiloh (the cultic center of Israel before Jerusalem) in which the daughter’s of Shiloh dance in its vineyards, becomes a stage for the survival of the remnant of Binyamin.[2]Perhaps “vineyards” are simply a provocative and recurring biblical symbol for a liminal zone of sexual or perhaps psychedelic intrigue, I find it suggestive that in the first chapter of 1 Samuel following the Ḥannah, Shmuel’s mother is accused of intoxication at Shiloh, by Eli, the High Priest. Were the vineyards north of Shiloh a gender defined domain of a women’s cult, parallel to but segregated from the proto-Temple cult at Shiloh?

The element of “vineyards” in the story in Shiloh is echoed in the story of Betar (see below).[3]Please contact the author if you’re aware of any sources or Tu b’Av piyyutim or Tisha B’Av kinnot mentioning Tu b’Av. The perverse resemblance of wine and blood makes for perhaps the most jarring juxtaposition of Tu b’Av. Regarding the massacre in Betar, a Beraita explains, “For seven years the Gentiles fertilized their vineyards with the blood of Israel without using manure,” (Talmud Bavli Gittin 57a).

Rabbi Jill Hammer makes the following observation, recognizing the importance of the grape harvest in this season:

Tu b’Av begins the entry into the season of earth, and much about it is earthy—not only the sexuality and fecundity of the young women who went out to dance. Tu b’Av was once the time of the grape harvest. Residents of Israel would go to cut down grapes for wine at this season. So Tu b’Av is related to the Kiddush, the prayer over wine that sanctifies holy time among Jews. In Temple times, Tu b’Av was the last day to harvest wood for the sacred temple fires, and was called the Day of the Breaking of the Axe. After this date, the sun grew weaker and any wood harvested would be too wet to burn. Therefore human beings were to turn to introspection and Torah study rather than physical labor in the fields. So Tu b’Av represents three hinges in holy time: the harvesting of grapes to make wine for the Shabbat and festivals, the last moment to feed the eternal Temple fires with fresh wood, and the last moment of outward focus on the harvest before one begins the introspection necessary for the renewal of the new year and the quiet of the winter season.

You can read more of Rabbi Jill Hammer’s deep insights into Tu b’Av here.

Tu b’Av: Sources for study and celebration on the 15th of Av

[Translations referenced while preparing these sources include Jill Hammer for excerpts from Eikha Rabba, Bavli Ta’anit, and Bavli Gittin; JPS 1917 for Tanach; Dr. J. Rabinowitz (Talmud Bavli Tractate Ta’anit, Soncino 1938), Maurice Simon (Talmud Bavli Tractate Gittin, Soncino 1936) and (Talmud Bavli Tractate Berakoth, Soncino 1948)]

Isaiah 65:21-22

21 וּבָנ֥וּ בָתִּ֖ים וְיָשָׁ֑בוּ
וְנָטְע֣וּ כְרָמִ֔ים
וְאָכְל֖וּ פִּרְיָֽם׃
They shall build houses and dwell in them,
they shall plant vineyards and enjoy their fruits.

22 לֹ֤א יִבְנוּ֙ וְאַחֵ֣ר יֵשֵׁ֔ב
לֹ֥א יִטְּע֖וּ וְאַחֵ֣ר יֹאכֵ֑ל
כִּֽי־כִימֵ֤י הָעֵץ֙ יְמֵ֣י עַמִּ֔י
וּמַעֲשֵׂ֥ה יְדֵיהֶ֖ם יְבַלּ֥וּ בְחִירָֽי׃
They shall not build, and another inhabit,
They shall not plant, and another eat;
and like the days of a tree shall be the days of my people
And my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

From Seder Moed, Tractate Ta’anit, Chapter 4, Mishna 8:

אמר רבן שמעון בן גמליאל,‏
לא היו ימים טובים לישראל כחמשה עשר באב וכיום הכפורים,‏
שבהן בנות ירושלים יוצאות בכלי לבן שאולין,‏
שלא לביש את מי שאין לו.‏
Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel said:
Yisrael had no greater holidays than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippurim,
on which occasions the Banot Yisrael [Daughters of Yisrael] used to go out in white garments,
borrowed so as not to put to shame one who didn’t have a white garment.

כל הכלים טעונין טבילה.‏
ובנות ירושלים יוצאות וחולות בכרמים.‏
These garments were immersed in a ritual bath to purify them,
and in them the maidens of Yisrael would go out and dance in the vineyards.

ומה היו אומרות, בחור, שא נא לג עיניך וראה, מה אתה בורר לך.‏
אל תתן עיניך בנוי,‏
תן עיניך במשפחה.‏
שקר החן והבל היפי,‏
אשה יראת יי היא תתהלל. (משלי לא)‏
ו[כך הוא ]אומר, תנו לה מפרי ידיה,‏
ויהללוה בשערים מעשיה.‏
The men would go there, and the maidens would say:
‘Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you will select.
Do not pay attention to beauty but to one of good family;
Grace is deceitful, and beauty is fleeting;
But a woman that fears YHVH, she shall be praised.
“‘[4]Proverbs 31:30
[And he would reply,] ‘”Give her of the fruit of her hands;
And let her works praise her in the gates.
[5]Proverbs 31:31

וכן הוא אומר, צאינה לה וראינה בנות ציון במלך שלמה
בעטרה שעטרה לו אמו ביום חתנתו
וביום שמחת לבו.‏ (שיר השירים ג)‏

ביום חתנתו, זו מתן תורה.‏
וביום שמחת לבו, זה בנין בית המקדש,‏
שיבנה במהרה בימינו.‏
אמן.‏

And he would say, “Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, And gaze upon king Solomon,
Even upon the crown wherewith his mother has crowned him in the day of his espousals,
And in the day of the gladness of his heart.
[6]Song of Songs 3:11

the day of his espousals‘ — this refers to the day the Torah was given.
the day of the gladness of his heart.‘ — this refers to the building of the Temple —
may it be rebuilt quickly in our days.
Amen.

From Talmud Bavli Tractate Ta’anit, 30b-31a:

א”ר שמעון ב”ג לא היו ימים טובים לישראל כחמשה עשר באב וכיוה”כ:‏

בשלמא יום הכפורים משום דאית ביה סליחה ומחילה יום שניתנו בו לוחות האחרונות אלא ט”ו באב מאי היא

RABBAN SHIMON BEN GAMLIEL SAID: THERE NEVER WERE IN YISRAEL GREATER DAYS OF JOY THAN THE FIFTEENTH OF AV AND YOM KIPPURIM.

[The narrator of the Gemara asks] I can understand Yom Kippur, because it is a day of forgiveness and pardon and on it the second Lukhot [Tablets of the Covenant] were given,[7][According to a tradition in Seder Olam 6, Moshe spent three periods of forty days and forty nights in Har Sinai beginning with the seventh of Sivan and ending on the tenth of Tishri when he came down on earth with the Second Tablets.] but what happened on Tu b’Av?

אמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל יום שהותרו שבטים לבוא זה בזה מאי דרוש, זה הדבר אשר צוה ה’ לבנות צלפחד וגו’ (במדבר לו, ו) דבר זה לא יהא נוהג אלא בדור זה
Rav Yehudah said in the name of Shmuel: It is the day on which permission was granted to the tribes to intermarry. Whence may this be adduced? [From the following verse:] This is the thing which YHVH has commanded concerning the daughters of Zelopheḥad etc.,[8]See Numbers 34:6-7 [meaning] ‘this thing’ shall hold good for this generation only.[9]According to this interpretation, the exception made in the case of the daughters of Zelopheḥad held only for that particular generation and was not binding on future generations.

אמר רב יוסף אמר רב נחמן יום שהותר שבט בנימן לבוא בקהל שנאמר, ואיש ישראל נשבע במצפה לאמר איש ממנו לא יתן בתו לבנימן לאשה (שופטים כא, א)‏
מאי דרוש אמר רב ממנו ולא מבנינו
Rav Yoseph said in the name of Rav Naḥman: It is the day on which the tribe of Binyamin was permitted to re-enter the congregation [of Yisrael], as it is said, Now the men of Yisrael had sworn in Mitzpah, saying: There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Binyamin to wife.[10]Judges 21:1
How did they derive this? Rav said: From the phrase ‘any of us’ which was interpreted to mean, ‘but not from any of our children’.

Judges 21:16-23

16 וַיֹּֽאמְר֨וּ זִקְנֵ֣י הָעֵדָ֔ה מַה־נַּעֲשֶׂ֥ה לַנּוֹתָרִ֖ים לְנָשִׁ֑ים כִּֽי־נִשְׁמְדָ֥ה מִבִּנְיָמִ֖ן אִשָּֽׁה׃ 17 וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ יְרֻשַּׁ֥ת פְּלֵיטָ֖ה לְבִנְיָמִ֑ן וְלֹֽא־יִמָּחֶ֥ה שֵׁ֖בֶט מִיִּשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ 18 וַאֲנַ֗חְנוּ לֹ֥א נוּכַ֛ל לָתֵת־לָהֶ֥ם נָשִׁ֖ים מִבְּנוֹתֵ֑ינוּ כִּֽי־נִשְׁבְּע֤וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר אָר֕וּר נֹתֵ֥ן אִשָּׁ֖ה לְבִנְיָמִֽן׃ ס 19 וַיֹּאמְר֡וּ הִנֵּה֩ חַג־יְהוָ֨ה בְּשִׁל֜וֹ מִיָּמִ֣ים ׀ יָמִ֗ימָה אֲשֶׁ֞ר מִצְּפ֤וֹנָה לְבֵֽית־אֵל֙ מִזְרְחָ֣ה הַשֶּׁ֔מֶשׁ לִמְסִלָּ֔ה הָעֹלָ֥ה מִבֵּֽית־אֵ֖ל שְׁכֶ֑מָה וּמִנֶּ֖גֶב לִלְבוֹנָֽה׃ 20 ויצו וַיְצַוּ֕וּ אֶת־בְּנֵ֥י בִנְיָמִ֖ן לֵאמֹ֑ר לְכ֖וּ וַאֲרַבְתֶּ֥ם בַּכְּרָמִֽים׃ 21 וּרְאִיתֶ֗ם וְ֠הִנֵּה אִם־יֵ֨צְא֥וּ בְנוֹת־שִׁילוֹ֮ לָח֣וּל בַּמְּחֹלוֹת֒ וִֽיצָאתֶם֙ מִן־הַכְּרָמִ֔ים וַחֲטַפְתֶּ֥ם לָכֶ֛ם אִ֥ישׁ אִשְׁתּ֖וֹ מִבְּנ֣וֹת שִׁיל֑וֹ וַהֲלַכְתֶּ֖ם אֶ֥רֶץ בִּנְיָמִֽן׃ 22 וְהָיָ֡ה כִּֽי־יָבֹ֣אוּ אֲבוֹתָם֩ א֨וֹ אֲחֵיהֶ֜ם לרוב לָרִ֣יב ׀ אֵלֵ֗ינוּ וְאָמַ֤רְנוּ אֲלֵיהֶם֙ חָנּ֣וּנוּ אוֹתָ֔ם כִּ֣י לֹ֥א לָקַ֛חְנוּ אִ֥ישׁ אִשְׁתּ֖וֹ בַּמִּלְחָמָ֑ה כִּ֣י לֹ֥א אַתֶּ֛ם נְתַתֶּ֥ם לָהֶ֖ם כָּעֵ֥ת תֶּאְשָֽׁמוּ׃ ס 23 וַיַּֽעֲשׂוּ־כֵן֙ בְּנֵ֣י בִנְיָמִ֔ן וַיִּשְׂא֤וּ נָשִׁים֙ לְמִסְפָּרָ֔ם מִן־הַמְּחֹלְל֖וֹת אֲשֶׁ֣ר גָּזָ֑לוּ וַיֵּלְכ֗וּ וַיָּשׁ֙וּבוּ֙ אֶל־נַ֣חֲלָתָ֔ם וַיִּבְנוּ֙ אֶת־הֶ֣עָרִ֔ים וַיֵּשְׁב֖וּ בָּהֶֽם׃
/21:16 Then the elders of the congregation said: ‘How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing the women are destroyed out of Benjamin?’ /21:17 And they said: ‘They that are escaped must be as an inheritance for Benjamin, that a tribe be not blotted out from Yisrael. /21:18 Howbeit we may not give them wives of our daughters.’ For the children of Yisrael had sworn, saying: ‘Cursed be he that giveth a wife to Benjamin.’ /21:19 And they said: ‘Behold, there is the feast of YHVH from year to year in Shiloh, which is on the north of Beth-el, on the east side of the highway that goeth up from Beth-el to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah.’ /21:20 And they commanded the children of Benjamin, saying: ‘Go and lie in wait in the vineyards; /21:21 and see, and, behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in the dances, then come ye out of the vineyards, and catch you every man his wife of the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin. /21:22 And it shall be, when their fathers or their brethren come to strive with us, that we will say unto them: Grant them graciously unto us; because we took not for each man of them his wife in battle; neither did ye give them unto them, that ye should now be guilty.’ /21:23 And the children of Benjamin did so, and took them wives, according to their number, of them that danced, whom they carried off; and they went and returned unto their inheritance, and built the cities, and dwelt in them.

From Talmud Bavli Tractate Ta’anit 30b-31a (continued):

‎‏(אמר) רבה בר בר חנה א”ר יוחנן יום שכלו בו מתי מדבר דאמר מר עד שלא כלו מתי מדבר לא היה דבור עם משה שנאמר (דברים ב, טז) ויהי כאשר תמו כל אנשי המלחמה למות וידבר ה’ אלי אלי היה הדבור
Rabbah bar Bar Ḥanah said in the name of Rabi Yoḥanan: It is the day on which the generation of the Midbar ceased to die out. For a Master said: So long as the generation of the Midbar continued to die out there was no divine communication to Moshe,[11][In a direct manner as described in Numbers 12:8, ‘With him I speak mouth to mouth, etc. (Rashbam, B.B. 121b).] as it is said, So it came to pass, when all the men of war were consumed and dead . . . that YHVH spake unto me.[12]Deuteronomy 2:16-17 [Only then] came the divine communication ‘unto me’.

Excerpt from Eikha Rabba, Petikhta 33:

א”ר לוי כל ערב תשעה באב היה משה מוציא כרוז בכל המחנה ואומר צאו לחפור והיו יוצאין וחופרין קברות וישנין בהן לשחרית היה מוציא כרוז ואומר קומו והפרישו המתים מן החיים והיו עומדים ומוצאין עצמן חמשה עשר אלף בפרוטרוט חסרו שש מאות אלף ובשנת הארבעים האחרון עשו כן ומצאו עצמן שלמים אמרו דומה שטעינו בחשבון וכן בעשור ובאחד עשר ובשנים עשר ושלשה עשר וארבע עשר כיון דאיתמלא סיהרא אמרו דומה שהקב”ה ביטל אותה גזירה מעלינו וחזרו ועשאוהו יום טוב.‏
Rabi Levi said: On every eve of Tisha B’Av [during the 40 years when Bnei Yisrael wandered in the wilderness] Moshe used to send a crier through the camp and announce: Go out to dig graves. They would go out and dig graves and sleep in them. In the morning he would send a crier and say: “Separate the dead from the living.” They would arise and find their number diminished. In the last of the forty years, they did this but found themselves undiminished. They said, “we must have made a mistake in counting.” They did the same thing on the tenth, eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth, but still no one died. When the moon was full, they said “it seems that the Holy One has annulled the decree from all of us,” so they made the fifteenth [of Av] a yom tov.

From Talmud Bavli Tractate Ta’anit 30b-31a (continued):

עולא אמר יום שביטל הושע בן אלה פרוסדיות שהושיב ירבעם בן נבט על הדרכים שלא יעלו ישראל לרגל ואמר לאיזה שירצו יעלו
רב מתנה אמר יום שנתנו הרוגי ביתר לקבורה ואמר רב מתנה אותו יום שנתנו הרוגי ביתר לקבורה תקנו ביבנה הטוב והמטיב הטוב שלא הסריחו והמטיב שנתנו לקבורה
‘Ulla said: It is the day on which Hoshea the son of Elah removed the guards which Yerovam ben Nevat had placed on the roads to prevent Yisrael from going [up to Yerushalayim] on pilgrimage,[13]See Talmud Bavli Tractate Gittin 8a and he proclaimed, Let them go up to whichever shrine they desire.
Rav Mattenah said: It is the day when permission was granted for those killed at Betar to be buried. Rav Mattenah further said: On the day when permission was granted for those killed at Betar[14]During the Bar Kochba Revolt (132-136 CE). See Talmud Bavli Gittin 57a. to be buried [the Rabbis] at Yavneh instituted [the recitation of] the blessing,[15]The fourth blessing of the Birkhat Hamazon.hatov v’hameitiv — Who is kind and deals kindly etc.’; ‘hatov — Who is kind‘: Because their dead bodies did not become putrid;[16][During the long period in which the slain were left lying in the open field owing to Hadrian’s decree forbidding their interment.]v’hameitiv — And deals kindly‘: Because permission was granted for their burial.

From Eikha Rabba 4:

הורגים בהם עד ששקע הסוס בדם עד חוטמו והיה הדם מגלגל אבנים של ארבעים סאה והולך בים ארבעה מילין ואם תאמר שקרובה לים והלא רחוקה מן הים ארבעה מילין וכרם גדול היה לו לאדריאנוס שמונה עשר מיל על שמונה עשר מיל כמן טבריא לציפורי והקיפו גדר מהרוגי ביתר ולא גזר עליהם שיקברו עד שעמד מלך אחד וגזר עליהם וקברום ר’ הונא אמר יום שניתנו הרוגי ביתר לקבורה נקבעה הטוב והמטיב הטוב שלא הסריחו והמטיב שנתנו לקבורה
They slew the inhabitants until the horses waded in blood up to their nostrils, and the blood rolled along stones of the size of forty se’ah[17]approximately 138 gallons and flowed into the sea, staining it for a distance of four mil. Should you say that Betar is close to the sea; was it not in fact four miles distant from it? Now Hadrian possessed a large vineyard eighteen mil square, as far as from Tiberias to Tzipori, ‬and they surrounded it with a fence consisting of the slain of Betar. Nor was it decreed that they should be buried until a certain king arose and ordered their burial. Rabbi Huna said: On the day when the slain of Betar were allowed burial, the blessing, “hatov v’hameitiv | Who is kind and deals kindly” was instituted – “hatov — Who is kind” because the bodies did not rot, and “v’hameitiv — Who deals kindly‟ because they were allowed burial.

From the Birkhat Hamazon, the fourth blessing, birkat hatov v’hameitiv:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם הָאֵל אָבִֽינוּ מַלְכֵּֽנוּ אַדִּירֵֽנוּ בּוֹרְאֵֽנוּ גֹאֲלֵֽנוּ יוֹצְרֵֽנוּ קְדוֹשֵֽׁנוּ קְדוֹשׁ יַעֲקֹב רוֹעֵֽנוּ רוֹעֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל הַמֶּֽלֶךְ הַטּוֹב וְהַמֵּטִיב לַכֹּל (אֵל) שֶׁבְּכָל יוֹם וָיוֹם הוּא הֵטִיב הוּא מֵטִיב הוּא יֵיטִיב לָֽנוּ: הוּא גְמָלָֽנוּ הוּא גוֹמְלֵנוּ הוּא יִגְמְלֵנוּ (נ”א יִגְמוֹל בַּעֲדֵינוּ) לָעַד לְחֵן לְחֶֽסֶד וּלְרַחֲמִים וּלְרֶֽוַח הַצָּלָה וְהַצְלָחָה בְּרָכָה וִישׁוּעָה נֶחָמָה פַּרְנָסָה וְכַלְכָּלָה וְרַחֲמִים וְחַיִּים וְשָׁלוֹם וְכָל טוֹב וּמִכָּל טוֹב אַל יְחַסְּרֵֽנוּ: ‏
Bless you, YHVH Eloheinu, Protector of the World, the god that is our Guide, our King, our Mighty One, our Creator, our Redeemer, our Maker, our Holy One, the Holy One of Ya’akov, our Shepherd, the Shepherd of Yisrael. O King who is kind and acts kindly with all creation, day by day you act kindly, are kind, and will be kind with us. You brought, you bring, and you will always bring goodness to us – with grace, lovingkindness, compassion and relief, deliverance and prosperity, blessing and salvation, with comfort and food, compassion, life, and peace – you bring everything that is really really good. For everything good that we need let us never be needy.

From Talmud Bavli Tractate Ta’anit, 31a (continued):

רבה ורב יוסף דאמרי תרוייהו יום שפסקו מלכרות עצים למערכה
‏(תניא) רבי אליעזר הגדול אומר מחמשה עשר באב ואילך תשש כחה של חמה ולא היו כורתין עצים למערכה לפי שאינן יבשין
אמר רב מנשיא וקרו ליה יום תבר מגל מכאן ואילך דמוסיף יוסיף ודלא מוסיף (יאסף) (תני רב יוסף) מאי יאסף אמר רב יוסף תקבריה אימיה:‏
Rabbah and Rav Yoseph both said: It is the day on which [every year] they stopped cutting down trees for the altar.[18]Undried wood harbours woodworms and this makes the wood unfit for the altar. After the fifteenth of Av the rays of the sun are not sufficiently strong to dry the fresh-cut logs and therefore the felling of trees for the altar was discontinued as from this date. See Tractate Middot Chapter 2, mishna 5.
It has been taught: Rabi Eliezer the Elder says: From the fifteenth of Av onwards the strength of the sun grows less and they no longer cut down trees for the altar, because they would not dry [sufficiently].
Rav Menashya said: And they called it the Day of the Breaking of the Axe.[19]The name signified that there was no longer any need for the woodcutter’s axe. From this day onwards,[20]The nights grow longer and people have more time for study. This comment appears to reflect an alternate Jewish calendar in which Tu b’Av is fixed to the summer solstice. he who increases [his knowledge through study] will have his life prolonged, but he who does not increase [his knowledge] will have his life taken away.[21]See Pirkei Avot 1:13. What is meant by ‘taken away’? — Rav Yoseph learned: His mother will bury him.

From Talmud Bavlin Gittin 57a:

אשקא קא דריספק חריב ביתר דהוו נהיגי כי הוה מתיליד ינוקא שתלי ארזא ינוקתא שתלי תורניתא וכי הוו מינסבי קייצי להו ועבדו גננא יומא חד הוה קא חלפא ברתיה דקיסר אתבר שקא דריספק קצו ארזא ועיילו לה אתו נפול עלייהו מחונהו אתו אמרו ליה לקיסר מרדו בך יהודאי אתא עלייהו:‏
Through the axle of a carriage Betar was destroyed. It was the custom when a boy was born to plant a cedar tree and when a girl was born to plant a pine tree, and when they married, the tree was cut down and a wedding canopy made of the branches. One day the daughter of the Emperor was passing when the axle of her carriage broke, so they lopped some branches off a cedar tree and brought it to her [to repair her carriage]. The Jews thereupon fell upon them and beat them. They reported to the Emperor that the Jews were rebelling, and he marched against them.

From Talmud Bavli Tractate Ta’anit, 31a (continued):

שבהן בנות ירושלים כו’:‏‏

ת”ר בת מלך שואלת מבת כהן גדול בת כהן גדול מבת סגן ובת סגן מבת משוח מלחמה ובת משוח מלחמה מבת כהן הדיוט וכל ישראל שואלין זה מזה כדי שלא יתבייש את מי שאין לו:‏

ON THESE DAYS THE DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM etc.

Our Rabbis have taught: The daughter of the king borrows [the garments] from the daughter of the Cohen Gadol [high priest], the daughter of the Cohen Gadol from the daughter of the s’gan [deputy] Cohen Gadol, and the daughter of the s’gan Cohen Gadol from the daughter of the Mashuaḥ Milkhama — the Anointed for Battle,[22]The cohen anointed as Chaplain of the Army in time of war, and part of whose duty it was to make the necessary proclamations for the exemptions from military service. See Deuteronomy 20:2ff. and the daughter of the Anointed for Battle from the daughter of an ordinary cohen, and all Yisrael borrow from one another, so as not to put to shame any one who may not possess [white garments].


כל הכלים טעונין טבילה:‏

אמר רבי אלעזר אפילו מקופלין ומונחין בקופסא:‏

ALL THE GARMENTS REQUIRE RITUAL DIPPING:

Rabi Eleazar said: Even though they lay folded in a box.


בנות ישראל יוצאות וחולות בכרמים:‏

תנא מי שאין לו אשה נפנה לשם:‏

THE DAUGHTERS OF ISRAEL CAME OUT AND DANCED IN THE VINEYARDS.

A Tanna taught: Whoever was unmarried went there.


מיוחסות שבהן היו אומרות בחור וכו’:‏

תנו רבנן יפיפיות שבהן מה היו אומרות תנו עיניכם ליופי שאין האשה אלא ליופי מיוחסות שבהן מה היו אומרות תנו עיניכם למשפחה לפי שאין האשה אלא לבנים מכוערות שבהם מה היו אומרות קחו מקחכם לשום שמים ובלבד שתעטרונו בזהובים

THOSE OF THEM WHO CAME OF NOBLE FAMILIES EXCLAIMED, ‘YOUNG MAN etc.’

Our Rabbis have taught: The beautiful among them called out, Set your eyes on beauty for the quality most to be prized in woman is beauty; those of them who came of noble families called out, Look for [a good] family for woman has been created to bring up a family; the unattractive ones among them called out, Carry off your purchase in the name of Heaven, only on one condition that you adorn us with jewels of gold.


אמר עולא ביראה אמר רבי אלעזר עתיד הקדוש ברוך הוא לעשות מחול לצדיקים והוא יושב ביניהם בגן עדן וכל אחד ואחד מראה באצבעו שנאמ’ (ישעיהו כה, ט) ואמר ביום ההוא הנה אלהינו זה קוינו לו ויושיענו זה ה’ קוינו לו נגילה ונשמחה בישועתו:‏
‘Ulla Bira’ah said in the name of Rabi Eleazar: In the days to come the blessed Holy One, will hold a chorus for the righteous and He will sit in their midst in the Garden of Eden and every one of them will point with his finger towards Him, as it is said, And it shall be said in that day: Lo, this is our God, for whom we waited, that He might save us; this is YHVH for whom we waited, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.[23]Isaiah 25:9.

Notes   [ + ]

  1. See Talmud Bavli Ta’anit 31a, Berakhot 46a, and Eikha Rabba 4
  2. Perhaps “vineyards” are simply a provocative and recurring biblical symbol for a liminal zone of sexual or perhaps psychedelic intrigue, I find it suggestive that in the first chapter of 1 Samuel following the Ḥannah, Shmuel’s mother is accused of intoxication at Shiloh, by Eli, the High Priest. Were the vineyards north of Shiloh a gender defined domain of a women’s cult, parallel to but segregated from the proto-Temple cult at Shiloh?
  3. Please contact the author if you’re aware of any sources or Tu b’Av piyyutim or Tisha B’Av kinnot mentioning Tu b’Av.
  4. Proverbs 31:30
  5. Proverbs 31:31
  6. Song of Songs 3:11
  7. [According to a tradition in Seder Olam 6, Moshe spent three periods of forty days and forty nights in Har Sinai beginning with the seventh of Sivan and ending on the tenth of Tishri when he came down on earth with the Second Tablets.]
  8. See Numbers 34:6-7
  9. According to this interpretation, the exception made in the case of the daughters of Zelopheḥad held only for that particular generation and was not binding on future generations.
  10. Judges 21:1
  11. [In a direct manner as described in Numbers 12:8, ‘With him I speak mouth to mouth, etc. (Rashbam, B.B. 121b).]
  12. Deuteronomy 2:16-17
  13. See Talmud Bavli Tractate Gittin 8a
  14. During the Bar Kochba Revolt (132-136 CE). See Talmud Bavli Gittin 57a.
  15. The fourth blessing of the Birkhat Hamazon.
  16. [During the long period in which the slain were left lying in the open field owing to Hadrian’s decree forbidding their interment.]
  17. approximately 138 gallons
  18. Undried wood harbours woodworms and this makes the wood unfit for the altar. After the fifteenth of Av the rays of the sun are not sufficiently strong to dry the fresh-cut logs and therefore the felling of trees for the altar was discontinued as from this date. See Tractate Middot Chapter 2, mishna 5.
  19. The name signified that there was no longer any need for the woodcutter’s axe.
  20. The nights grow longer and people have more time for study. This comment appears to reflect an alternate Jewish calendar in which Tu b’Av is fixed to the summer solstice.
  21. See Pirkei Avot 1:13.
  22. The cohen anointed as Chaplain of the Army in time of war, and part of whose duty it was to make the necessary proclamations for the exemptions from military service. See Deuteronomy 20:2ff.
  23. Isaiah 25:9.

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