In 586 B.C.E., King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian armies set the Holy Temple and every significant building in Jerusalem on fire on the ninth of Av. Seven decades later the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem, where the Temple was rebuilt. However, after approximately six hundred years of residence on the Land, Jerusalem was once again destroyed, and the people exiled, this time orchestrated by the Roman Empire. After four years of armed combat in Israel, on the ninth of Av, the Romans set the rebuilt Temple, and much of the city ablaze.
On Tisha b'Av, many succeeding generations of Jews have added to the chronicles of suffering. On this day, communities were destroyed during the Crusades. In 1492, they were expelled from Spain on Av 9 and in 1555 forced into a Roman ghetto.
A few factors in particular seem to work against Tisha b'Av’s modern observance. It falls in the summertime when religious schools are closed, leaving the decision to observe this holy day up to families or individuals. The establishment of Holocaust Memorial Day and the rebirth of modern Israel also may have lessened the American observance of Tisha b'Av.
Yet, Tisha B’Av is vital particularly because we are so fortunate to live while Israel has been restored. We need to appreciate what was lost, remember what it was like for our people for so many generations to be without Israel, internalize why we fought so hard for a homeland. If we really want to dance with spirit on Israel Independence Day, we need to cry and mourn on Tisha B’Av.
The rabbis created a string of mourning rituals for Tisha b'Av, borrowed from the customs and rituals we follow to express grief when we lose members of our immediate families during a shiva period. We read the book of Lamentations, which sounds long, but is actually only five chapters. We also fast on Tisha B’Av. This is especially hard during the summer, but it makes a great trial run for YK.
However, the Jewish response to catastrophe is also to renew life. Every major tragedy in our history has also led to revival, as we strove harder to match tragedy with hope.
And that is where the holiday of Tu B'Av comes in. Tu b'Av?? If few Jews celebrate Tisha B’Av, even fewer have even heard of Tu B’Av. This year it falls on Friday, August 19, but you won't find even it on some Jewish calendars, so what is it?
The Talmud says, "There are no days as festive to Israel as those of Yom Kippur and the fifteenth of Av (Tu b'Av). The daughters of Israel used to dress in white and go out to the fields to dance and young men would follow after them". This strange statement has been interpreted in various ways. One opinion is that the afternoons of Yom Kippur and Tu b'Av are periods of forgiveness, and therefore cause for rejoicing. Coming seven days after Tisha b'Av, Tu b'Av also symbolically serves as the end of the shiv'ah--the seven days of mourning for the dead. Just as the mourner ends shiv'ah on the morning of the seventh day, so we cast off the blackness of despair and emerge to a sense of love and life.
Some would argue that Judaism doesn’t need more holidays, it needs less. However, for contemporary Jews Tu b'Av is a necessary reminder that Judaism is a religion of love, an eternal reminder of hope after loss, of light after the darkness.
So how does one celebrate this long abandoned holiday? It’s easy, and uncomplicated by prohibitions or requirements. Simply do things you love on Tu B’Av. This day can be personalized in so many ways, with an emphasis on spending time with our loved ones in activities that enhance and excite our lives. Going on picnics, hiking, swimming and enjoying the summer season are all great ways to celebrate Tu b'Av.
Beginning with Tu b'Av, you can also begin to end letters and emails with "May you be inscribed for a good year!" Starting at Tu b'Av we are ready to open our hearts to the abounding and eternal Source of Love and Life. We prepare to enter the High Holiday season with its themes of renewal and return. This theme of courtship is captured in the traditional belief that the Hebrew letters of the last moth before Rosh Hashanah, ELUL, are an abbreviation for the phrase Ani le-dodi ve-dodi li--"I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine." A tribute to the longest lasting romance...the love between God and humanity.
COME CELEBRATE TU B’AV, OUR HOLIDAY OF LOVE--TEMPLE BETH AMI’S SPECIAL FRIDAY NIGHT SERVICE, AUGUST 19, 8:00 PM.