Rethinking Purity on Tu B'Av
With the exception of Tisha B'Av, the day of fasting and mourning in commemoration of the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, not much happens on the Jewish calendar between Shavuot in May/June and Rosh HaShanah in September/October. Or so we thought...
A little known fact of August is Tu B'Av, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av, which was in ancient times a holiday when "the young women of Israel used to dress in white and go out to the fields and the young men would follow after them." Pretty risqué, as my father would say, especially considering the expectations put on women's sexuality in ancient times and today.
Let's say Tu B'Av is the antithesis of the purity ball/chastity ring/"I'm my father's until I'm my husband's" virginity craze that seems to be sweeping certain parts of the country these days, fueled by the teenaged celebrities who have sworn off sex until marriage. Don't be fooled that the virginity thing is external to the Jewish community, either. Wendy Shalit's books on reclaiming modesty have sold very well, and NCSY, the Orthodox youth group, recently put out a website, negiah.org, which is sold as "The First Abstinence Website for Jewish Teens."
Now the issue as I see it is that all the modesty/virginity/purity proponents care a little bit about boys' virginity, but they care A LOT about girls'. Purity balls are a case in point unless I've just missed the news on moms taking their sons dancing in white suits and giving them chastity rings. Also, this quote from negiah.org: "teens - especially girls - may need many things, emotionally. They can use love, approval, validation, commitment and intimacy. " Because boys don't need any of those things, and if they did, they certainly wouldn't confuse them with sex...
But I don't want to dwell on such things. Let's take this year's Tu B'Av celebration as an opportunity to think about the ways that Judaism can be and in many cases has become a more sex-positive and welcoming place for girls and women. Kolot, the Center for Jewish Women's and Gender Studies recommends that "women and girls can use the occasion of Tu B'Av to celebrate our agency in expressing our own sexuality." And offers this ritual to help.
Happy Tu B'Av!