Class 7: Tisha b'Av and Tu b'Av - From Weeping to Dancing
In this class, we'll learn about the late summer sacred days: the fast of Tisha b'Av and the rejoicing of Tu b'Av.
lease read the following readings in preparation for our class together:
- Arthur Waskow, Seasons of Our Joy, p. 207-218.
- Jill Hammer, Jewish Book of Days, p. 320-322, 353-387.
- Jill Hammer, “The Fruit of Tu b’Av"
INTRODUCTION: TISHA B'AV
The Hebrew month of Av is the height of summer in the Jewish calendar. The first nine days of Av are a time of mourning. On the ninth of Av, in 586 BCE, the First Temple was destroyed, the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem, and the Jews went into exile. On the ninth of Av, in 70 CE, the Second Temple was also destroyed and Jerusalem sacked, this time by the Romans. Traditional Jews still fast on that day and read the book of Lamentations to mourn the loss of the sacred shrine.
The Talmud claims that the Jews themselves caused the Temple to be destroyed because of sinat chinam, causeless hatred. How so? While the Temple burned, bands of religious zealots, incensed by each others’ religious differences, fought one another instead of the Romans who had come to burn their holy sanctuary.
uring Tisha b’Av, Jews fast, pray, sit on the floor as if in mourning, and recall the loss of Jerusalem and Jewish sovereignty to the Babylonians and the Romans, as well as other tragedies throughout history. The Book of Lamentations is read, and those who wish to study Torah only study Job, Jeremiah (the sad parts), Lamentations and other sorrowful books. There is a custom of not greeting people, to maintain an atmosphere of mourning. In a way, Tisha b’Av is a “sitting shiva” for all losses the Jewish people has experienced.
In the mystical tradition, Tisha b'Av is the day when Shekhinah goes into exile. The Divine Presence leaves the Temple and wanders the world with the Jewish people. For the kabbalists, Tisha b'Av becomes a day to be aware of the Divine exile and of the brokenness of the world. Every good act that we perform is a small healing of that great brokenness.
TEXTS FOR TU B'AV
“The annual feast of the Eternal is being held in Shiloh… the girls of Shiloh come out to join the dances…” (Judges 21:19, 21)
“R. Shimon ben Gamliel said: The Israelites had no greater holidays than the fifteenth of Av and the Day of Atonement, on which occasions the maidens of Israel used to go out in white garments, borrowed so as not to put to shame one who didn’t have a white garment. These garments were dipped in a ritual bath to purify them, and in them the maidens of Israel would go out and dance in the vineyards. The men would go there, and the maidens would say: ‘Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you will choose...’” ( Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 31a)
“Rabbi Eliezer the Elder says: from the fifteenth of Av onward the sun’s strength wanes, and everyone stopped felling trees for the altar then, because the wood would not dry. Rabbi Menashya says: They called it the Day of the Breaking of the Axe. From this day forward L who add to study will add to life, but those who take away from study will take away from life.” (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 30b)
“Remember the way God has made you walk in the wilderness these forty years, that God might test you by trials to know what is in your heart.” ( Deut. 8:2)
R. Levi said: On every eve of the 9th of Av Moses used to send a herald through the camp and announce: ‘Go out to dig graves.’ They would go out and dig graves and sleep in them. In the morning he would send a herald and say: ‘Separate the dead from the living.’ They would arise and find their number diminished. In the last of the forty years, they did this but found themselves undiminished. They said: ‘We must have made a mistake in counting.’ They did the same thing on the tenth, eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth, but still no one died. When the moon was full, they said: ‘The Holy One has annulled the decree from all of us.’ So they made the fifteenth a holiday.
(Lamentations Rabbah, Prologue 13)
LECTURE: Tisha B'Av & Tu B'Av
Rituals to end Tisha b'Av
One possible way to end Tisha b’Av, based on the tradition that the Messiah will one day be born on Tisha b’Av: go out when it begins to get dark and look for the Messiah. Assume the first person or being you greet might be the Messiah. Imagine what kind of redemption this person/creature might be bringing. Greet at least three people this way. Then write about what you learned.
Another possible way: go out to a body of water as three stars appear in the sky, and end Tisha b’Av by immersing. Feel the water lifting and carrying you. Allow the water to be your first taste of comfort as the day ends. Then break your fast with watery foods: watermelon, blueberry, coconut milk, or whatever’s local. Or go to your local synagogue bearing cups of cool water for anyone who needs.
Finally: end Tisha b’Av by reversing the theme of destruction. Pick an act of building: planting a tree, fixing something broken, donating to an organization that provides homes for others. Let this act of making reverse the unmaking. Be the Messiah yourself.
Rituals for Tu b'Av
Fruit of the Vine Ritua
Open with a song. Then, lift and bless a goblet of wine: Masculine: Baruch ata adonai, eloheinu melekh ha’olam, borei peri hagafen. And/or Feminine: Beruchah at shekhinah, eloteinu ruach ha’olam, boreit peri hagafen. Pass around the goblet and ask each person to name the abundance they want to see in the coming year, before sipping the wine.
Clothing Exchange Ritual
Make a pile of white clothing on the floor (or, if you are observing the custom where men wear black and women wear white, have a pile of white and black clothing.) Invite everyone to choose a borrowed garment. As they do so, have them say one new blessing they hope will come into their lives. Or, ask them to take on a new name that they will keep for the year.
Grape Harvest Ritual
Place a bunch of grapes at the center of the circle as a sign of the abundant future. Hand each person a grape. Ask them to imagine that they are children of the Israelites, who have wandered in the desert their whole lives. This grape was brought back by scouts who entered the promised land. It is the first grape they have ever eaten. It represents a future they do not know. Ask each person who wants to speak to say what the grape tastes like. Bless the grapes: Masculine: Baruch ata adonai, eloheinu melekh ha’olam, borei peri ha'etz. And/or Feminine: Beruchah at shekhinah, eloteinu ruach ha’olam, boreit peri ha'etz. 4. To drum and/or other music, ask the group to dance their hoped-for entry into the land—what the land of goodness looks, feels, and tastes like to them.
A Tu b’Av Ritual for Couples
In the Talmudic Tu B’Av dance ritual, the exchanging of white clothes is a way to equalize women’s economic status, so that poor women are not embarrassed in front of rich ones. Thus, everyone has an equal chance to attract a partner. But in the Bible, exchanging clothes is also a way of acknowledging love and intimacy. In the story of David and Jonathan, we are told that “Jonathan and David made a pact, because Jonathan loved David as himself. Jonathan took off the cloak and tunic he was wearing and gave them to David…” (I Sam. 18:3-4). Exchanging clothes might be one way for two women or two men, or a man and a woman, to make a covenant with one another. Although the Talmudic Tu B’Av was a day when heterosexual marriages were arranged, its message of love is universal.