Tu b'Av when the Tribes Came Together (12 August, 2014, 16 Av, 5774)
1. Introduction. What Day is this?
2. The Civil War. When Israelite Tribes Almost ExterminatedÂ Benjamin
3. Tribal Intermarriage Had Been Disapproved of
4. A Day of Celebration and Reconciliation as well as Matchmaking
1. Introduction. What Day is this?
This year the 15th of Ab (usually pronounced as Av) in the Hebrew Calendar fell on 12th August, 2014. The Hebrew Letters used to represent the number 15 are Tet (9) and Vav (6). Putting these two letters together and we get a word pronounced as TU. Consequently this day is referred to as TU b'Av. The b' is short for ba and means in. [This is also where our English words "by" and 'be" come from]. The expression "Tu b'Av" therefore means 15th of Av.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Tu B'Av (Hebrew: " , the fifteenth of the month Av) is a minor Jewish holiday. In modern-day Israel, it is celebrated as a holiday of love... It has been said to be a "great day for weddings".
According to the Talmud, Tu B'Av was a joyous holiday in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, marking the beginning of the grape harvest. Yom Kippur marked the end of the grape harvest. On both dates, the unmarried girls of Jerusalem dressed in white garments, which they borrowed, and went out to dance in the vineyards (Babylonian Talmud, tractate Ta'anit 30b-31a). That same section in the Talmud states that there were no holy days as happy for the Jews as Tu B'Av and Yom Kippur. The holiday celebrated the wood-offering brought in the temple (see Nehemiah 10:35). Josephus refers to it as the Feast of Xylophory ("Wood-bearing").
Different reasons are given for celebrating this day. The main ones seem to be this is the day when:
(1) The Tribe of Benjamin was allowed to intermarry with the other Tribes after the incident of the Concubine of Gibeah (see Judges chapters 19-21); and
(2) The day on which it was announced that henceforth intermarriage between the Tribes would be permitted, i.e. "the day on which the Tribes were allowed to marry one another" (Talmud Baba Batra 121;a). The two events seem to have been conflated. Apparently there was an association between them, see below. The incident at Gibeah is also discussed below. It therefore involved not only Benjamin but all the Tribes.
First let us see what was the problem with Benjamin.
2. The Civil War. When Israelite Tribes Almost Exterminated Benjamin
In Judges chapter 19
we are told that in those days there was no king in Israel. A state of semi-anarchy existed. We hear how a Levite who sojourned in Mount Ephraim had a concubine from Beth-Lehem in Judah. She left him and returned to the house of her father. After four months he went after her and they were reconciled. The father in law prevented them from leaving for four days, every day finding a new excuse. On the fifth day he tried to do the same but the Levite insisted on setting out even though it was later in the day. They came to Gibeah in the territory of Benjamin and prepared to camp out in the town square. A resident of the place who originally had also come from Mount Ephraim and who was not a Benjaminite insisted that they lodge in his house. While they were eating and making merry men of the city surrounded the house. They demanded that the Levite come out so that they might sodomize him. The Levite thrust his concubine out. The men raped and abused her all night long until he morning. She died on the threshold of the house. The Levite cut her body into twelve pieces and sent one piece together with an account of the matter to each tribe.
In Judgers chapter 20
we are told that the Israelites gathered themselves together at Mizpeh in the Territory of Benjamin. They made inquiries about what had happened and then demanded that the culprits be turned over to them. The Tribe of Benjamin refused and came out to war. After initial setbacks the Israelites won. The Tribe of Benjamin was almost exterminated. Six hundred got away.
47 But six hundred turned and fled towards the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, and remained at the rock of Rimmon for four months. 48 Meanwhile, the Israelites turned back against the Benjaminites, and put them to the sword, the city, the people, the animals, and all that remained. Also the remaining towns they set on fire.
According to the simple meaning they wiped out all the women and children.
This seems difficult to comprehend and impossible to justify but we have to accept it as something that was done.
Judges chapter 21 continues the narrative.
After their defeat there remained of the Tribe of Benjamin only a few hundred males but no women or children.
1 Now the Israelites had sworn at Mizpah, 'No one of us shall give his daughter in marriage to Benjamin.'
Even though in the Book of Chronicles and elsewhere cases are mentioned of inter-marriage between the Tribes it was apparently rare even before the prohibition against intermarrying with Benjamin. This prohibition was annulled as we shall see. The date given for the annulment of the prohibition was the 15th of the Month of Av (Ab) which afterwards was regarded annually as a kind of holiday.
Yehudah Elitzur (Daat Mikra) points out that the other Tribes had sworn not to allow their daughters to marry someone from Benjamin because the Benjaminites had not surrendered the rapists of Gibeah. It was as if they had made themselves all accomplices to the crime. They therefore lacked respect for the rights of women and could not be entrusted with them.
Since only males were left from Benjamin and the other Tribes had prohibited themselves from allowing any of their women to marry Benjamin it looked like Benjamin was headed for extinction.
6 But the Israelites had compassion for Benjamin their kin, and said, 'One tribe is cut off from Israel this day.
7 What shall we do for wives for those who are left, since we have sworn by the Lord that we will not give them any of our daughters as wives?'
8 Then they said, 'Is there anyone from the tribes of Israel who did not come up to the Lord to Mizpah?' It turned out that no one from Jabesh-gilead had come to the camp, to the assembly.
Since Jabesh-Gilead had not participated as required it was attacked. All its inhabitants were slaughtered apart from 400 virgins. These were given to the Benjaminites.
12 And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead four hundred young virgins who had never laid with a man and brought them to the camp at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan.
There had been 600 Benjaminite men without women. After the 400 virgins from Jabesh Gilead had been found there remained 200 unmarried males.
13 Then the whole congregation sent word to the Benjaminites who were at the rock of Rimmon, and proclaimed peace to them.
The warriors of Benjamin who had not been killed escaped to the Rock Rimon and were holed up there.
14 Benjamin returned at that time; and they gave them the women whom they had saved alive of the women of Jabesh-gilead; but they did not suffice for them.
15 The people had compassion on Benjamin because the Lord had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.
16 So the elders of the congregation said, 'What shall we do for wives for those who are left, since there are no women left in Benjamin?'
17 And they said, 'There must be heirs for the survivors of Benjamin, in order that a tribe may not be blotted out from Israel.
18 Yet we cannot give any of our daughters to them as wives.' For the Israelites had sworn, 'Cursed be anyone who gives a wife to Benjamin.'
19 So they said, 'Look, the yearly festival of the Lord is taking place at Shiloh, which is north of Bethel, on the east of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah.'
20 And they instructed the Benjaminites, saying, 'Go and lie in wait in the vineyards,
21 and watch; when the young women of Shiloh come out to dance in the dances, then come out of the vineyards and each of you carry off a wife for himself from the young women of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin.
22 Then if their fathers or their brothers come to complain to us, we will say to them, 'Be generous and allow us to have them; because we did not capture in battle a wife for each man. But neither did you incur guilt by giving your daughters to them.' '
This is what they did.
It was probably as good a way of match-making as any other. This is all somewhat ironic. The girls apparently were all prepared to marry the men who had grabbed hold of them. All marriages are basically from heaven. The men had honorable intentions and the end result was evidently a happy one.
23 The Benjaminites did so; they took wives for each of them from the dancers whom they abducted. Then they went and returned to their territory, and rebuilt the towns, and lived in them.
abducted. In Hebrew "gazlu" i.e. took by force.
There were more girls dancing than were needed. They only took the required number. Each bachelor grabbed his own "mate." It may be that the girls who were "caught" were the ones who wanted to be. Who knows if they had not been warned in advance?
Traditionally these dances WERE for the sake of attracting husbands and similar public dances of young maidens wishing to marry are recalled in later Jewish tradition from the time of the Second Temple.
Shiloh was in the territory of Ephraim while Yabesh-Gilead was in that ofÂ Manasseh. The Benjaminites therefore took their women from Ephraim and Manasseh. Ephraim and Manasseh were the sons of Joseph. Joseph and Benjamin were full brothers the only sons of Jacob through Rachel his most beloved wife. In a larger sense it all stayed "in the family."
24 So the Israelites departed from there at that time by tribes and families, and they went out from there to their own territories.
The moral of this account is that family and respect for family values are very important.
25 Â In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.
3. Tribal Intermarriage Had Been Disapproved of
There is a tradition implying that up unto the day of the dance at Shiloh it had been the practice for the different tribes not to intermarry with each other.
The Bible, especially in Chronicles, does give instances of people from different tribes always having intermarried with each other but apparently these were exceptions.
The Radak quotes from Tosefat Targum Yehonatan that even though there was no outright prohibition before the incident with Benjamin the customs had been for each Tribe to keep to itself.
Rabbi Yaacov Ephstein has an article (in Hebrew) on this matter,
Tu B'Av therefore celebrates not only the day on which the Tribe of Benjamin was allowed to intermarry with the other Tribes BUT also all the Tribes allowed themselves to make matches outside of their own tribe. Before then, in a de facto sense, Â they had not.
The reason for this virtual prohibition had been prevent any of the Tribal Territory passing into the possession (through marriage) of another Tribe.
1 The heads of the ancestral houses of the clans of the descendants of Gilead son of Machir son of Manasseh, of the Josephite clans, came forward and spoke in the presence of Moses and the leaders, the heads of the ancestral houses of the Israelites;
2 they said, 'The LORD commanded my lord to give the land for inheritance by lot to the Israelites; and my lord was commanded by the LORD to give the inheritance of our brother Zelophehad to his daughters.
3 But if they are married into another Israelite tribe, then their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of our ancestors and added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry; so it will be taken away from the allotted portion of our inheritance.
4 And when the jubilee of the Israelites comes, then their inheritance will be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they have married; and their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of our ancestral tribe.'
5 Then Moses commanded the Israelites according to the word of the LORD, saying, 'The descendants of the tribe of Joseph are right in what they are saying.
6 This is what the LORD commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, 'Let them marry whom they think best; only it must be into a clan of their father's tribe that they are married,
7 so that no inheritance of the Israelites shall be transferred from one tribe to another; for all Israelites shall retain the inheritance of their ancestral tribes.
8 Every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the Israelites shall marry one from the clan of her father's tribe, so that all Israelites may continue to possess their ancestral inheritance. 9 No inheritance shall be transferred from one tribe to another; for each of the tribes of the Israelites shall retain its own inheritance.' '
10 The daughters of Zelophehad did as the LORD had commanded Moses.
11 Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, married sons of their father's brothers.
12 They were married into the clans of the descendants of Manasseh son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained in the tribe of their father's clan.
Zelophehad from the Tribe of Manasseh had begaten daughters and no sons. His kinfolk feared that if these ladies married men from other Tribes then the in heritance of Zelophehah would be lost to their own Tribe. Therefore God said they should marry within their Tribe. The case of the daughters of Zelophehad in principle had only applied to that generation. From the Commentaries however it appears that it was applied as the prevailing custom right up to the time of the incident with Benjamin. The other tribes had taken a vow not to give their daughters to Benjaminites. This was in addition to the common practice not to allow inter-tribal marriage. Once Benjamin was allowed to take women from other Tribes so were they all and the prevailing taboo was abolished.
Targum Yehonatan (as quoted by Radak) says that the custom had previously been in a de facto sense not to look with a favorable eye on marriages between tribes.
# It was the custom in Israel since ancient times to prevent Tribal Heritages passing from one tribe to another. Therefore a man who took a woman from another tribe, or a woman who fell in love with a man from another tribe, would go out from the House of their family without any inheritance. People would refer to such a woman as a wanton for falling in love with someone not from their own tribe. #
Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi, 1160-1235 CE) lived in Narbonne in southeast France. Targum Yehonatan is ascribed to Yehonatan ben Uzziel (ca. 100 BCE, Judea). The Radak doers not quote from the Targum as we know it but from a kind of Appendix. The Targum itself might contain later material but even if it does it is based on much more ancient sources. The Targum is revered but not necessarily accurate or authoritative. The above opinion of Targum Yehonatan does however correspond with the impression Â gained from reading other sources on the matter.
Perhaps it was the accepted practice.
4. A Day of Celebration and Reconciliation as well as Matchmaking
After the men of Benjamin grabbed their wives at the Shiloh dance, the practice was ended.
Henceforth one could marry another Israelite no matter what tribe they belonged to.
This is what the day celebrates.
In a sense it may be taken to symbolize the reunification of the tribes altogether.
It is a day of rectification and reconciliation.
The Transgression of Benjamin was forgiven.
Henceforth all the tribes took it upon themselves to be more accepting of each other.
Today in Israel both religious and secular celebrate the day on which this event took place, Tu b'av.
It is considered especially propitious for marriages and matchmaking etc.
Special prayers and ceremonies to help bachelors and spinster find a mate are also said in some synagogues on this day.
We are working to promote knowledge of the Lost Ten Tribes and their present-day ancestry as well as to effect an eventual reconciliation between Judah and Joseph. The message of Tu b'Av is significant in this regard.