Tu B’Av: Jewish Valentine’s Day?

Now that Tisha B’Av is behind us, stores throughout Israel are selling fancy chocolates, teddy bears and heart shaped gifts that look like they belong to Valentine’s Day. How was Tu B’Av (the 15th of the month of Av) originally celebrated and how was it revived to become Israel’s national day of love?

In the last Mishna in Masechet Ta’anit (4:8), we read: Rabban Shimon ben Gamiliel said: Israel had no days as festive as Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur, when the maidens of Jerusalem would go out dressed in white garments that were borrowed, so as not to embarrass one who had none…The maidens of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vineyards. And what would they say? Young man, raise your eyes and see what you chose for yourself. Do not pay attention to beauty, pay attention to family. As it says in Eshet Chayil (Proverbs 31:30) “Grace is false and beauty is vain, a woman who fears God shall be praised, give her the fruits of her hands, and let her be praised in the cities with her deeds.”

The Talmud, Ta’anit 31a elaborates:

A Tanna taught:

Whoever lacked a wife would turn there to find one.

The rabbis taught in a Braita:

What did the beautiful maidens say? Pay attention to beauty.

What did the maidens of distinguished lineage say? Pay attention to family.

What did the unattractive maidens say? Acquire your purchase for the sake of heaven, but only on condition that after marriage you adorn us with gold jewelry and beautiful clothing.

Rav Steinsaltz comments: Once you buy us beautiful jewelry and clothing then we will also be beautiful.

In the Mishna, Masechet Nedarim 9:10, Rabbi Yishmael said: The daughters of Israel are beautiful but poverty makes them ugly. Once a woman who at first seems ugly is adorned, she becomes beautiful.

This reminds me of the before and after makeover pictures that you find in magazines. Once they put on tasteful makeup, a new hairstyle and fancy clothing and jewelry, the woman who at first may have looked plain now looks much more attractive.

We see from here that once you can afford a good makeover, the beauty issue is solved. It is better to focus on what is inside, her midot (good attributes).

When we sing Eshet Chayil each Friday night, we are really singing about a wonder woman (actually, the original Hebrew translation for Wonder Woman was Eshet Chayil). She works really hard both inside and outside of her home to provide for her family, she is dressed like royalty, gives Tzedaka (charity), does Chesed (acts of loving kindness), speaks words of Torah and is appreciated by her family. Although she may have grace and beauty, the end of the day, what is not important is that she is a God fearing person.

Tu B’Av is a serious Jewish holiday which originated way before Valentine’s Day. On Tu B’Av, the Tachnun prayer is not recited and brides and grooms do not fast. In order to ensure that there will be more weddings, when looking for a mate, singles should keep in mind that beauty is only skin deep, what really counts is inside.