Sep 21, 2021
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On Shabbat, Israel will be celebrating Tu B’Av, the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Av, a Biblically-based holiday celebrating love and marriage.

The holiday, beginning on Friday evening, is described in the Talmud (Taanit 26b) as the most joyous of the entire year. Marking the beginning of the grape harvest, the unmarried maidens of Jerusalem would go out to the vineyards at night on Tu B’Av to dance together in front of eligible bachelors. The girls would wear white clothing borrowed from neighbors so that those who came from wealthy families would not stand out and none would be embarrassed.

Commetaries explain that in the desert, the tribes did not intermarry. After the conquest and division of Canaan under Joshua, this ban was lifted on the fifteenth of Av and inter-tribal marriage was allowed.

As they danced, the ladies would call out:

“Young man, lift your eyes and choose wisely. Don’t look only at physical beauty–look rather at the family [values], ‘For charm is false, and beauty is deceitful. A God-fearing woman is the one to be praised…” (Proverbs 31:30).

Ahead of Tu B’Av, Israel’s version of Valentine’s Day, which begins on Friday night, the Central Bureau of Statistics released data on the relationship status of Israelis from 2019. Some 48,056 couples married through authorized religious institutions in Israel in 2019. Among those couples, 33,354 were Jewish, 12,900 Muslim, 973 Druze and 803 Christian. The average Israeli man married at the age of 27.3, while the average woman was wed at the age of 24.9. Among women who married in Israel in 2019, 2,745, or 5.7 percent, were under 19 at the time. Among Muslim women, 13.7 percent were under 19 at marriage, while 4 percent of Druze women, 2.8 percent of Jewish women, and 0.7 percent of Christian women were under 19 when they wed.

Love by the numbers

For the vast majority of Jewish couples, 87.8 percent that wed in 2019, this was their only marriage. Among 5.5 percent, both the bride and groom had been in previous marriages. Marriages in which a divorced man wed a single woman constituted 3.6 percent of weddings in 2019, while marriages between a single man and divorced woman comprised 2.4 percent of all weddings that year. Since 2009, Israel has seen a decrease in first-time marriages among Israelis aged 30 to 34. Although just 3 percent of Jewish men aged 45 to 49 were single in 1970, that number increased to 13 percent in 2019. Among Jewish women in that same age group, the number increased from 2 percent to 11 percent over the same time period. Between 1970 and 2019, the percentage of single Jewish men aged 25 to 29 also increased from 28 percent to 63 percent, while the percentage of single Jewish women increased from 13 percent to 48 percent. According to the CBS, the number of Israeli couples living together began to increase in 2008. Between 2000 and 2019, the number of Israelis aged 18 to 34 who were cohabitating increased from 2 percent to 6 percent. Jewish couples made up 2,189 of the 9,550 overseas weddings registered with the country’s Population Registry Office that year. Forty percent of Jewish couples who wed overseas in 2019 exchanged vows in Cyprus, while 25 percent did so in the United States and 9 percent in the Czech Republic. In at least 566 of these instances, one or both of the partners had made aliyah from the former Soviet Union.

Non-romantic Tu B’Av

In a non-romance-related source, Tu B’av marked the end of the time for the annual cutting of the wood for the main altar in the Temple.

In addition, the Midrash notes that after the sin of the spies, all of Israel from that generation was destined to die in the desert. Every year, the Jews would prepare graves before Tisha B’Av and lie in them. Each year on Tisha B’Av, they would lie in their graves and in the evening, they would stand up with many remaining in the grave. On the final fortieth year, everyone stood up, signaling the end of the judgment. The Children of Israel waited until the fifteenth of the month to witness the full moon to declare that the punishment had indeed ended.

It is also the day on which King Hoshea of the northern kingdom removed the sentries on the road leading to Jerusalem, allowing the ten tribes to once again have access to the Temple. It is also reputed to be the day on which the Roman occupiers permitted the burial of the victims of the massacre at Betar during the Bar Kochba rebellion. Miraculously, the bodies had not decomposed, despite exposure to the elements for over a year.