When Americans think of Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14, images of flowers, chocolate and love pop into their heads. What most Americans do not know, however, is that Israelis have a similar holiday, but it’s celebrated at a different time of the year.
Tu B’Av, or the 15th of the Jewish calendar month of Av, is the Israeli equivalent of Valentine’s Day. Tu B’Av will begin at sundown Aug. 10 this year. Many Israelis choose to have weddings and other celebrations on this festive day.
“In Israel, Tu B’Av became the day of love,” Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose of Congregation B’nai Amoona says. “That’s how it became akin to Valentine’s Day. It’s becoming more and more popular, I think, in part because of Valentine’s Day. It’s similar, and people love a day for love.”
Tu B’Av stems from the beginning of the grape harvest, which was very exciting for the Jewish people in the time of the Temple in Jerusalem. Yom Kippur acted as the holiday to mark the end of the grape harvest.
“Tu B’av is the day that God forgave the Jewish people for the transgressions committed by the 10 spies who went into Israel,” Rose says. “We explain that the combination between … Yom Kippur and the festive nature of Tu B’av is that they’re both days when God’s love for the people of Israel overcomes God’s strict sense of justice.”
Another reason Tu B’Av is such a joyous day in Israel is because it arrives less than a week after Tish B’Av, one of the saddest days on the Jewish calendar. On Tish B’Av, both of the temples were destroyed and, as a result, Jews are not supposed to have big celebration three weeks before the 9th of Av.
“The 17th of Tammuz to the 9th of Av, there are no weddings permitted [by Jewish law]. It’s a sad, sorrowful time,” Rose says. “And less than a week later, you have a great day of celebration. It starts to become a time when you get married as quickly as you can.”
While Tu B’Av is very centered around religious background, the American Valentine’s Day is a different story. Many Jewish teens do not think about the religious aspect of the holiday.
“[Valentine’s Day] is very secular now,” says Julia Zigman, a Marquette High School junior and Shaare Emeth congregant. “I couldn’t say that [being Jewish] would affect my celebration at all. I do not know if Valentine’s Day is, or was, a religious holiday, but if it is, I just like the culture part.”
In addition to not knowing the history and religious background of Valentine’s Day – originally a Catholic holiday named after St. Valentine – many teenagers are not aware of the Israeli day of celebration. A common belief is that only America has this unique day dedicated to love.
“I didn’t even know there was such thing as an Israeli Valentine’s Day,” says Rebecca Fink, a Parkway North High School junior and Shaare Emeth congregant. “I guess I just assumed it was American, an American cultural holiday. I didn’t really think that another country would have Valentine’s Day.”
The reason so few American Jewish teenagers know about the holiday is because religious school classes are not teaching about Tu B’Av. Classes focus on more celebrated holidays that have been around for longer.
“We’ve learned about other Jewish holidays, but this one wasn’t really taught,” Rose says. “I think the reason it wasn’t taught was because it really hasn’t become so popular as it’s starting to become now in modern Israel.”