It would be safe to say that Tu B’Av is largely unknown in the Christian community. The Bible, however, holds the key to understanding why this holiday is on the Hebrew calendar.
WHAT IS TU B’AV?
Festivities are lighthearted in contrast to the mourning of Tisha B’Av seven days earlier when devastating tragedies in Israel’s history are remembered. Tu B’Av is also the final holiday before the new cycle of Fall Feasts commence.
There are ancient and modern connections to the holiday called Tu B’Av that simply means “the 15th of the month of Av.” Today in Israel, Tu B’Av is called Chag Ha’Ahava, “the holiday of love,” because matchmaking, marriage proposals and weddings are typical of festivities.
The Bible passages associated with the celebration may surprise you. We’ll look at three foundational texts in relation to the 15th of the month of Av.
Tu B’Av Is the Day the Survivor Generation Celebrated
Rabbinic tradition teaches that the ten spies gave their shocking reports of giants in the land of Canaan on the day of Tisha B’Av. You may remember that as a consequence of their unbelief, God announced that only those too young to distinguish between good and evil would finally enter the Promised Land (Deut. 1:19-46).
As a grim reminder of their unbelief during each subsequent year of the wilderness wanderings, the people of Israel spent the night of Tisha B’Av sleeping in graves they had dug for themselves in anticipation of God’s judgement. Survivors buried as many as 15,000 who had died during the night according to Jewish scholars.
On the 40th year from the day of God’s pronouncement of judgement, no one died! Thinking they had somehow 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 surviving generation of the children of Israel grasp that God’s Word 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.
Tu B’Av Is the Day Israel Saved the Tribe of Benjamin
The book of Judges provides another historical connection Tu B’Av. Admittedly, the account is scandalous. 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 full read the account in Judges 19-21.
Here’s a brief summary. In a situation reminiscent of Sodom and Gomorrah, Benjamite 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 a gruesome announcement. At that point, the tribes of Israel gathered at Mizpah on the plateau northeast of Gibeah to deal with the situation (20:1).
The tribe of Benjamin unwisely chose solidarity with their kinsmen who were involved in the incident. Most Benjamite males lost their lives in the 3-day battle and judgement that followed, (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.
Here is where the story gets interesting. Israel’s commitment to the oath was resolute; but, a plan emerged to preserve the lineage of Benjamin.
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 of the grape harvest in Shiloh (Jud. 21:20-23). If a young woman consented to the suitor, her parents could grant permission. Through the new arrangement, Israel compassionately saved the tribe of Benjamin from extinction.
Tu B’Av Is the Day to Stop Collecting Wood Offerings for Temple Service
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 to be gathered by the exiles who had returned from Babylon (Neh. 10:34).
The inclusion of Nehemiah’s orders to gather wood for the altar in Scripture is noteworthy because—not unlike environmental arsonists who are bent on destruction in modern times— Israel’s ancient enemies 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).
Contributing wood for the altar became a joyful occasion on the 15th of Av 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 had been completed for the year.
HOW DO ISRAELIS CELEBRATE TU B’AV TODAY?
Matchmaking, proposals and weddings are popular in modern observances. Like the Western celebration of Valentine’s Day, gifts and parties are popular. Concerts have become a fun way to celebrate with friends.
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. And by the way, the dramatic increase in the number of vineyards in proximity to Shiloh in the biblical heartland of Israel is the fulfillment of yet another prophecy (Jer. 31:5-10).
That reality alone should motivate Christians to invest time in understanding Tu B’Av. Biblical history is 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.
IS TU B’AV JUST A JEWISH TWIST ON VALENTINE’S DAY?
No way. 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. (1)
Once you understand the history, it’s obvious that Tu B’Av has more to offer than the pagan customs associated with Valentine’s Day. Tu B’Av is a reminder that the people of Israel reached out to their errant brethren with tangible forgiveness that is a witness to this day. And, that is an example Christians would do well to model.
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.