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Jewish ‘Valentine’s Day’ Finds Ancient Roots in Biblical Shiloh

Tu B'Av

Photo Credit: Miriam Bunimovich/Tazpit News Agency

Over 3,000 years ago, an ancient Jewish holiday was celebrated by the maidens of Israel. Dressed in white, the daughters of Israel would dance in the vineyards where men would choose them as their wives on the Fifteenth of Av, known as Tu B’Av.  Soon-to-be brides would dance in the community of Shiloh in Samaria, the temporary capital of Israel before the first Temple was built in Jerusalem.

The holiday celebrates many happy events that happened during this time in the course of Jewish history, some which were associated with the Temple in Jerusalem.

“Tu B’Av , however, has a much deeper significance than just an Israeli Valentine’s Day,”  according to Tamar Asraf, the spokeswoman of the Binyamin Council.

“In the very beginning, this ancient holiday was more of a local custom than a national one,” Asraf told Tazpit News Agency.  “The holiday gained national significance when members of the Benjamin tribe, who were forbidden to marry outside the tribe following the Pilegesh B’Givah incident and the Civil War that ensued, were once again allowed to marry into the the nation on the fifteenth of Av during the period of Judges.”

“This is a holiday that signifies not only love, but marriage and the continuation of the Jewish home during times of crisis and challenge in the history of our people,” said Asraf.

The Mishnah explains that “there were no holidays so joyous for the Jewish People as the Fifteenth of Av and Yom HaKippurim, for on those days, daughters of Jerusalem would go out dressed in borrowed white clothing…so as not to embarrass those who didn’t have.” Tu B’Av was instituted in the Second Temple period to mark the beginning of the grape harvest which ended on Yom Kippur.

Following the establishment of the modern state of Israel, Tu B’Av was revived as a national holiday celebrated across the country. In the modern day community of Shiloh, located in the Binyamin region, about 30 minutes north of Jerusalem, Tu B’Av’s historical and traditional elements play a central role in celebrations.

For the past four years, the Regional Council and Binyamin Tourism have hosted an annual Tu B’Av “Dancing in the Vineyards Festival” which features Jewish dance and music for women. Live concerts, dance workshops and of course the traditional dancing in the vineyards of Shiloh are some of the main features of the evening set near the remnants of the biblical Shiloh city.

Avital Horesh, the festival’s artistic director said that organizers, who spent months preparing for the event, expect over 1,000 women from all over Israel to attend. “Last year we had 1,000 religious women attend from all sectors in Israel, both religious, non-religious. This year we expect even more—close to 1,500.”

There will be a number of different dance workshops available including hip hop, Oriental dance, and African dance. A concert will be held after featuring well known Israeli singers from religious and non-religious backgrounds.

“The underlying idea of the festival is to bring women together from all parts of Israeli society to celebrate an ancient tradition that brought our nation closer together thousands of years ago. It’s sharing an age-old national message of reconnecting to our roots and traditions–accessible to anyone no matter their religious background,” concludes Asraf.

About the Author: Anav Silverman is a regular contributor to Tazpit News Agency.


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