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Embracing Tu B'Av - a joyful new holiday with some important lessons

Last night marked the beginning of Tu B’Av, a cool Jewish holiday that I just found out about!  The more I read and discover about Tu B’Av and its possible feminist undertones, the more excited I get.  It seems the Jewish community has, in recent years, began a movement to turn the 15th of Av into a modern Jewish holiday – the Jewish Valentine’s Day. Creating a holiday that celebrates love and sexuality from a progressive, feminist, and Jewish prospective?  Now that is a movement I can get behind!

Tu B’Av celebrates an ancient festival in which women dressed in white and went to dance in the fields.  There are a few different perspectives on what happened next, but it definitely involved men and matchmaking.  Some sources say that the men followed the women, looking for a bride.  I have also heard it described as the biblical version of a Sadie Hawkins dance, in which women cast off traditional gender roles and picked their own dancing partners.

A My Jewish Learning article writes that the reason women all wore white was so that the men could not tell from their clothing who was rich and who was poor. We generally assume that, in those days, marriages were made as strategic, financial mergers.  But on the 15th of Av, it seems, matches were made based on love, or perhaps lust. Another great article on Tu B'Av can be found at The Jewish Standard.

Last year, Lily (one of our JWA Jewesses) wrote about Tu B’Av in the context of the 2008 “purity craze.”  This was (in my opinion) a terrifying out-growth of the abstinence movement in which young women attended “purity balls” with their fathers, suggesting that a woman’s sexuality (or virginity) is a commodity that should be controlled by men. Tu B’Av, on the other hand, celebrates a day in which women embraced their sexuality, actively expressed their desire, and perhaps most importantly, enjoyed themselves! Compared to Valentine’s Day - a “Hallmark holiday” loosely based on the story of St. Valentine (yawn) - Tu B’Av absolutely rocks!  

Judaism appears to recognize and validate women’s sexuality in a way that other religions do not. I am reminded of the incredible contributions of progressive Jewish women such as Emma Goldman, Eleanor Hatkin Freedman, Eve Ensler, and Ellen Willis, to name a few. The movement to frame Tu B’Av as a modern, empowering, Jewish celebration of love and women’s sexuality is a wonderful way to honor this progressive tradition.

The recent attack on GLBT youth in Tel Aviv, however, puts that tradition in sobering perspective. The biblical Tu B’Av celebration is described as a public festival of love and sexuality. This attack reminds me of the many Jewish, and non-Jewish, men and women who are not free to express their love publically. It is easy for the heterosexual community to take the freedom to hold hands or exchange a kiss for granted.  Tu B’Av helps to remind us that the freedom to love, and display affection, is a human right to which every person is entitled. If you feel as strongly about this issue as I do, you might be interested in the Great Nationwide Kiss-In happening August 15th.  In cities all across the country, people will gather to show their support - and at 2 p.m., they will demonstrate that everyone has the right to kiss in public. I cannot think of a better (or more fun) way to both celebrate Tu B’Av and honor the victims of the Tel Aviv attack.  


This may be my first time celebrating Tu B’Av, but it will certainly not be the last. Happy Tu B’Av everyone!

[Photo by Prole Ivan via Flickr.]

How to cite this page

Berkenwald, Leah. "Embracing Tu B'Av - a joyful new holiday with some important lessons." 5 August 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 24, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog/tubav>.

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