Tu Be-Av and Finding One’s Match

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Ve-etchanan 5772 – translated by R. Blumberg]

Question: Is there any room for celebrating the 15th Day of the Hebrew Month of Av as some in Israel have called it, a “Love Day”?

Answer: Certainly not. This is importing neo-paganism into our country.

Whoever knows about the paganism of the ancient world knows that there were days on which all cultural restraints were removed and social licentiousness reigned. That characterizes the pagan approach to life: viewing a person’s own pleasure as central, leaving no room for anyone else.

In opposition to that culture and that approach, Abraham emerged with a new idea: just as there is a place for my legitimate pleasure, so is there room for bringing pleasure to others, and for finding enjoyment in his pleasure. This is an approach that validates the other and shows him consideration, unlike that same “Love Day”, which is nothing but an outburst of passions and pleasures. Today, when we talk about paganism, we don’t mean physical idols, but a cultural worldview and an egotistical spirit that places at center only the personal pleasure of the individual himself.

It is true that the Mishnah itself notes 15 Av as a sort of day on which Jewish girls would dance in the vineyards and Jewish boys would arrive to select a bride for themselves.

Yet this is diametrically opposed to the idea behind “Love Day”. To understand this, one has to take a look at the other day on which, according to several of our medieval Sages, this same type of event was held – Yom Kippur. It is obvious that on the day set aside for the purity and atonement of Israel, Jewish girls would not go out dancing if there was some problem with that. Rather, the point is that only unmarried boys and girls would go to that place, and only for one purpose – to establish a faithful Jewish home. And all in an atmosphere of gravity and seriousness. Proof of this is the fact that only the elders knew where these dances were held.

The elders and the great rabbis of the generation would instruct the young person in how to find the place only after they knew for sure that the young person’s objective was matrimony.

After the grievous incident of the concubine killed at Giva [Shoftim 19-21], the men of the tribe of Benjamin who had not yet found themselves a wife from among the women of

Gilead received detailed instructions from the elders. This shows that the place was not known to all, and they needed the elders’ instructions.

The contemporary alternative to 15 Av is singles’ weekends or singles’ evenings held under supervision, where the goal of every participant is to find a marriage partner.

Today there is no reason to celebrate 15 Av, because its modern replacement has to be held all year long. At one time there were few singles, so 15 Av and Yom Kippur were set aside for this purpose. Today, unfortunately, there are many more singles, so numerous evenings are needed throughout the year. The men and women who show up at these events don’t come for “fun” but to find their spouse. Therefore, a selection process is performed to reject men who are not really looking for a wife. As far as the women, no such selection process is needed, because it is assumed that a woman wants to get married.

This seemingly rash assessment is actually based on research that indicates that in male-female relationships, 60% of the males view their girlfriends as a source of pleasure, 30% view them as friends, and only 10% view them as potential  marriage partners. By contrast, females view things quite the opposite: 60% view their relationship as a means towards marriage, 30% view it as involving true friendship, and only 10% view the connection as solely a source of pleasure. Therefore, for in singles evenings, only the males have to be checked out for their serious intentions. The females are clearly there to get married. This filtering process resembles what our Sages did in the context of the incident at Shilo [Shoftim 21:16- 24]

The culture that stands behind the concept of a “Love Day” has led to a steep rise in the number of unmarried people in the world. It is an approach which places the individual’s pleasure at the center, without regard for the other. It has permeated both the Jewish world and the world at large, and has created a huge problem throughout the western world. In Europe, for example, there is already a concept of people remaining “single by choice” – a decision which leads to the diminishment of nations because there is no natural growth. In addition, this exclusive focus on the sensory pleasures has led to gargantuan divorce figures. In New York State the divorce rate during the first five years of marriage stands at 75%. On the American West Coast, the percentage is 110%. That is to say, people get divorced more than once during the first five years. Society is being destroyed. It is interesting to note that Victor Hugo in his “Les Misérables” already described such a reality, in which the number of pregnancies out of wedlock creates enormous wretchedness among women. Yet we needn’t rely on Victor Hugo to tell us this…

So, once again, there is no reason at all for marking 15 Av in our time, beyond the Jewish law of not reciting Tachanun on that day.  This was, in our ancestors’ time, a last chance for those who had not found themselves a bride. But even for those who do find their bride, we know this is not enough. It’s not enough to get married - you’ve got to stay married, and keep up your love.

Unfortunately, there is a sad phenomenon of romantic love wearing down.

The initial love is not enough. You have to invest a great deal all along the way. The substantive difference between a romantic attachment alone and a stable attachment is commitment. Statistics have shown that much more love exists between devoted, serious people, because the connection is not only a romantic attachment but also a moral commitment. If a couple wants to build up their romance so that it is not lost, they certainly cannot do so through plain partying, one-time acts or one-time days. Rather, there must be  daily investment and concern. In addition to saying, “You are betrothed to me by means of this ring”, the groom also signs the “Ketubah” at the wedding. There it states that he undertakes to support and honor and respect and love his wife. The Ketubah is the daily investment that preserves romantic love.

True, there is another side to 15 Av. It is the day on which the tribes were permitted to wed one another (and not just each other). The Jewish People must become stronger on this point as well. A further expression of our egoism is tribal provincialism: insisting on marriages only between two Ashkenazim, two Sephardim, etc. This lack of openness to the rest of the Jewish People and its various communities is just another side of the “Love Day” mentality: what is important to me is only me and those that are similar to me, with no true respect and space for my fellow man.

Thank G-d, our country has a strong antidote against this divisiveness, and that antidote is army service. The camaraderie, and resulting intimacy, between fighters breaks down the divisions and causes different factions within Israeli society to unite and become one. From this standpoint, army service, as well, is a continuation of the theme of 15 Av.