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August 7, 2017 by

Why Tu B’Av Is Much More Than Just “Jewish Valentine’s Day”

grapes-1659118_1920When I was in elementary school, our Australian Jewish private school had a strict uniform, down to accessories: only navy blue knee-high socks or tights, and navy or royal blue hair bows or scrunchies. (It was 1993). Once a year, though, I remember that my sister and I whipped out the white frou frou barrettes we’d worn at our aunt’s wedding, and donned the white knee-high socks we wore on weekends. We’d get to school and there’d be Israeli dancing in the assembly area, following the steps announced by a heavily accented teacher. It was Tu B’Av, the date on the Hebrew calendar worth remembering and celebrating zestfully. With our white clothing and our dancing, we were almost, if not quite, imitating the traditions of our ancestors.

Ancestors—aka the ladies of Shiloh. The maidens of ancient Israel and Judea who each year at the grape harvest would celebrate ecstatically with dances through the vineyards and onto the wine press. As they squeezed the grapes with their bare feet, they drew the glances of young men who came to the annual festival to find their chosen wives. And with it, the most unusual mating ritual until The Bachelorette. Maidens garbed themselves in white dresses, perhaps imagining themselves as Anne Shirley’s “heroine in a white muslin dress,” looking their best for their gentlemen suitors––but with a catch. No woman wore clothing that was her own. The poorest maiden wore elaborate dresses from her rich neighbors, while the daughter of the mayor borrowed a simple shift from an acquaintance. The maidens would call out across the fields at the gentlemen spectators, shouting out their traits as if in a cattle market.

“Look not to riches, for a woman with pious deeds is worth more than rubies!” The daughter of the baker would shout.

“Worry not about the beauty of your wife, for far more important is her family and illustrious ancestors!” The daughter of the Torah scholar who did not meet conventional beauty standards might announce.

Each woman would find ways to showcase the value of her particular brand of beauty—while, the Talmud tells us, criticizing the conventional modes of beauty that might be priorities for others.

Tu B’Av is the full-moon holiday, a moment when all is illuminated in the fullest expression of the divine feminine symbolized by the moon. On this day, historical events that commemorate triumph for the continuity of the Jewish people are celebrated, from the end of a ban against the tribal intermarriage which threatened the end of the tribe of Benjamin (punishment for a sanctioned gang-rape that had happened years earlier…) to the survival of the last remaining generation who wandered the wilderness following the Egyptian exodus, after a mandated annual death ritual that was miraculously cut short in the final year of desert wanderings. The dance, the full moon, the courtship, the grapes turning to wine and the white-clad maidens of Shiloh—each are essential symbols of redeeming the feminine and bringing her fullest expression, to ensure continuity not just of the Jewish people, but of humanity as a whole.

This year, Tu B’Av takes place on Monday August 7th, the day of a partial lunar eclipse which is followed two weeks later by a complete solar eclipse. Eclipses bring change and transformation, and with the lunar eclipse we are able to reevaluate our relationship with the moon, and all that is represented by the feminine.

According to legend, recounted in the Midrash and analyzed and extrapolated on in Kabbalistic literature, the moon was diminished following her creation on the fourth day in Genesis, bringing with it a world of hierarchy, linear expression and abstraction––and brought all that the feminine represented into second-class status. From the physical earth to emotions and intuition, all were maligned for their sacred essence and turned secondary in favor of a hierarchical, masculine presence. The sacred act of dancing, of transforming fruit into wine and using the human body as a tool for creation and connection are all celebrated on Tu B’Av, while taking secondary status most of the year.

It’s in the act of dancing that we birth ourselves into completion. It’s by returning to the fields that we plug ourselves back into the essence of our being, feeling the sacred earth under our feet, as the dancing maidens crushed the grapes under their feet. It’s in wearing white that we come to terms with our own innate purity, letting go of that which doesn’t serve to be free, dancing in the fields with wild abandon. It’s under the full moon that we come into full expression of our femininity—not just for women, but for all beings who suffer from the trapped nature of the Shechinah, the embodied, Divine feminine presence. It’s through the sanctity of the grape, a fruit that represents potential as it evolves from vine to fruit to juice to wine, bringing with it the potential of internal growth and new perspectives through the hallucinogenic properties of the wine. And it’s in the dance that the integration takes place, embodying these new horizons with a physical act that is the harbinger of the new life to come.

To embody the Divine nature of love, to truly prepare the body for connection with another being, the dance is necessary for becoming a complete container for the Divine. And it’s the women who lead the dance, the maidens who epitomize that freedom as they run through the vineyards, tossing their tresses and laughing off their wine-stained garments. It’s in removing hierarchy and stripping away the lines that divine us that the Divine feminine truly comes back into her fullest power of expression. And it’s in the dance of Tu B’Av that we finally begin to come back to ourselves in a state of ultimate Divine—and human—love.


Rishe Groner is a writer and strategist living in Brooklyn. She is the founder of TheGene-Sis.com, a post-Hasidic embodied approach to self-transformation.

 


The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.