Tu B’Av is the final holiday on the Jewish calendar before the Fall Feasts commence. Festivities are lighthearted in contrast to Tisha B’Av seven days earlier when devastating tragedies in Israel’s history are remembered. It would be safe to say that the holiday is largely unknown in the Christian community. The biblical connection to Tu B’Av, however, explains the focus associated with the celebration.
WHAT IS TU B’AV?
Tu B’Av simply means the 15th of the month of Av. In Israel, Tu B’Av is more commonly called Chag Ha’Ahava, the holiday of love, because of the matchmaking, marriage proposals and weddings that are part of the festivities today.
The day a young generation celebrated
Rabbinic tradition teaches that the ten spies gave their negative reports on Tisha B’Av. You may remember that as a consequence of their unbelief, God announced only those too young to distinguish between good and evil would finally enter the Promised Land (Deut. 1:19-46).
Thereafter, during each year of the wilderness wanderings, the people of Israel would spend the night of Tisha B’Av sleeping in graves they had dug in anticipation of God’s judgement. Those who died during the night—sometimes as many as 15,000—were buried, while the survivors returned to the camp.
On the 40th year, no one died! Thinking they had miscalculated the date, the whole congregation slept in their graves another night and continued to do so until the full moon on the 15th of Av, a week later. Only then did the children of Israel grasp that God’s Word concerning the surviving young generation had been fulfilled (vv. 39-40). Hence, Tu B’Av became a day of great celebration as the youth of Israel prepared to enter the Promised Land.
The day Israel saved Benjamin
The book of Judges provides a complex historical connection that partially explains the festivities associated with Tu B’Av in modern times.
Admittedly, the account is shocking. How the nation of Israel responded to sin within the family of Benjamin provides not just the context for the near extinction of the tribe, but also presents Israel’s plan to save future generations of Benjamites. You can read the details in Judges 19 – 21.
Here’s a brief summary. In a situation reminiscent of Sodom and Gomorrah, men intent on satisfying perverse desires accosted a traveler from the tribe of Levi. The Levite was under the protection of his host in the Benjamite town Gibeah, but the men of the city none-the-less abused his concubine so that she died (19:27-28).
News quickly spread throughout the land in an equally shocking announcement. The tribes of Israel gathered at Mizpah on the plateau northeast of Gibeah in response (20:1). The tribe of Benjamin unwisely chose solidarity with their kinsmen who were involved in the incident. In the 3-day battle and judgement that followed, most Benjamite males lost their lives (v. 46-48).
The tribes of Israel also vowed that their daughters would not be permitted to marry the men of Benjamin. Their oath put any remaining of the tribe at further risk. While Israel’s commitment to the oath remained firm, a compassionate plan emerged securing the future of the Benjamites.
In Shiloh at the beginning of the grape harvest on the 15th of Av, the men of Benjamin were encouraged to choose a wife from among the young virgins who danced during the festivities (Jud. 21:20-23). If the young woman consented, her parents would grant permission. Through the new arrangement, Israel saved the tribe of Benjamin.
The day to stop collecting wood offerings
Tu B’Av also marks the completion of the annual cycle of wood offerings for the altar. The record of Nehemiah highlights that the year’s wood allotment was gathered by the exiles who had returned from Babylon (Neh. 10:34). The inclusion of Nehemiah’s orders to gather wood for the altar is significant because Israel’s enemies had destroyed the forests around Jerusalem during the Babylonian captivity.
Nehemiah developed a schedule so the families of Judah could cooperate in acquiring wood offerings that would be used for sacrifices (Neh. 10:34-35).
Bringing wood for the altar became a joyful occasion similar to the offerings of first fruits. During the Second Temple period, Tu B’Av was a time of great rejoicing because the cycle of wood offerings were completed for the year.
HOW ISRAELIS CELEBRATE TU B’AV TODAY
Matchmaking, proposals and weddings are popular in modern observances. Gifts, parties and concerts are not uncommon.
Today as in ancient times, the beginning of the grape harvest is celebrated on the 15th of Av. Young Israeli women dressed in white still honor the custom of singing and dancing in Shiloh as in biblical days. The dramatic increase in the number of vineyards in proximity to Shiloh in the biblical heartland of Israel over the last 52 years is the fulfillment of yet another prophecy (Jer. 31:5-10).
With that reality in view, it seems reasonable that Christians should be willing to invest time in understanding and even enjoying Tu B’Av. The associated history is demonstrably woven into the heart and soul of the nation of Israel. Sharing what you learn can help others recognize Israel’s unbreakable connection to their ancient homeland.
There are at least six historical connections. In the three I’ve chosen to highlight, Tu B’Av memorializes events that can help Christians grasp how Scripture documents the integrity of the Jewish people in their interactions with each other.
Some see similarities to Valentine’s Day. Once you grasp the historical background, however, it’s obvious that Tu B’Av—that begins at sundown on the 15th of August in 2019—has more to offer than candy, flowers and sentimentality. (1)
1) Did you know that the iconic “LOVE” sculpture by the late Robert Indiana has a Hebrew counterpart in Jerusalem? The American artist created his Cor-ten steel sculpture called “AHAVA” as a gift for the Israel Museum in 1977. Check it out the next time you’re in Jerusalem!
1) Wedding Day. (Details used for illustrative purposes) (Photo credit: Pixabay/[Public domain]/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
2) Ahava “LOVE” sculpture by Robert Indiana, Israel Museum, Jerusalem. (Photo credit: David Reshef/ Pikiwiki Israel/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
3) Detail: Wedding at Sunrise on Mount Scopus in front of the Temple Mount. (Photo credit: Jaelle Chouraqui/Pikiwiki Israel/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
4) David Broza performs at Masada in celebration of Tu B’Av. (Photo credit: Avinoam Michaeli/PikiWiki Israel/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
Copyright © 2019 Charles E. McCracken, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.