The Jewish month of Av is home to two holidays that, due to their proximity to each other and their similar names, are sometimes confused.
But Tisha B’Av and Tu B’Av could not be more different, with the former being a somber day of mourning and the latter being a celebration of love.
Tisha B’Av occurs on the ninth of Av. The name says it all — Tisha is the Hebrew word for nine or ninth. (This year it begins at sundown on Aug. 6.)
Six days later comes Tu B’Av — the 15th of the month of Av — beginning this year at sundown on Aug. 12.
The mood of Tisha B’av is mournful as the day is a reminder of the disasters the Jewish people have faced. The destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem are said to have occurred on the 9th of Av. Other events observed on Tisha B’Av include the exile of Jews from England, the killing of the Jews in York and modern-day events like the Holocaust.
“You sit on the floor and mourn as if a loved one just passed away,” said Rabbi Hyim Shafner, of Kesher Israel in Georgetown. “It’s a profound experience, the idea of exile. … It reminds you that something is amiss, things are not really the way they’re supposed to be.”
Jews observing the holiday read the Book of Lamentations while sitting on the floor. They fast, do not wear leather and refrain from sexual encounters. Swimming and bathing for pleasure are also discouraged, Shafner said.
“We have a tradition to not make new [holidays] to commemorate tragedy,” Shafner said. “We wrapped them all into one big day.”
On the other hand, there’s Tu B’Av, often referred to as Jewish Valentine’s Day” due to its associations with romance. It is said to be a lucky day for weddings. Like other Jewish holidays, it started as a harvest festival, one meant to celebrate the beginning of the grape harvest, with Yom Kippur marking its end. But the date still had romantic significance even outside of the harvest, according to sefaria.org’s text on the two holidays.
The 15th of Av is also noted as the day when the Israelites were allowed able to marry outside of their tribe, according to My Jewish Learning. Previously, romantic prospects were limited to those within one’s tribe, but Tu B’Av marked the lifting of these restrictions.
Because of that, the holiday was a popular matchmaking day for young women. In accordance with this and the grape harvest, it was traditional for them to dress in white and dance in the vineyards to celebrate. Tu B’Av’s first mention in the Mishnah (Jewish collection of oral tradition) by Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel makes reference to this custom.
“It’s a celebration of rebirth, renewal and reconciliation,” said Rabbi Levi Druk, director of Chabad of Downtown in Baltimore.
In modern times, there are no particular rituals associated with Tu B’Av, but it is a popular marketing opportunity for the entertainment and beauty industries in Israel.
Tu B’Av’s religious significance is minimal — it has no formal status as a holiday, and the only religious change made for it is that Tachanun, the confessional prayer, is not mandatory on Tu B’Av. Couples getting married also do not have to fast if their wedding takes place that day, according to chabad.org.
And how does Tu equal 15? In Hebrew, letters stand in for numerals. Tet has the value of 9. Vav equals 6. Add them together and you have 15. Pronounce tet-vav and you have Tu.
So if the two holidays are so different from each other, why are they so close together?
According to tradition, the stark difference in tone between Tu B’Av and Tisha B’Av may actually be the reason.
“The Talmud lists six historic events that occur on [Tu B’Av] as reasons why we celebrate,” Druk noted. “A common denominator among these events is their being salvation and reconciliation that followed great pain and sorrow. Good which comes after evil.”
Shafner elaborated on this idea. “Whenever the prophets talk about destruction, they also talk about rebuilding. It’s no coincidence that we have one of the happiest days of the year less than a week after Tisha B’Av.
“You start from an exile of sadness. And then you go through a process of joy, a process of repentance,” Shafner continued. “And then, ultimately, you end up with much greater joy.”