We don’t always associate August with the season of love. However, there is a little-known Jewish holiday which usually falls early to mid-August. This is the holiday Tu B’Av, translated to the not so inventive name of the 15th of the month of Av (occurring on August 16th this year). Like many other holidays, this one does fall on the full moon. It goes back to Second Temple times where, according to the Talmud, people were matched together for marriage. Other than a small liturgical change on the day, not much was done to celebrate the holiday for 1500 years. After the establishment of the modern state of Israel, the holiday has become more celebrated. It’s become a day of love.
Love is an interesting idea in Judaism. We hear it a lot; it begins our V’ahavta prayer, “and you shall love.” It’s part of, perhaps the most important commandment, V’Ahavtah l’racha Camocha, or “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18) Where we don’t see any mention of love is in the traditional text of the Ketubah, the Jewish marriage contract. In some ways this makes sense. The Ketubah is a contract and it is more concerned with the two parties coming to the partnership freely and the parameters of the partnership. There is a promise to honor and to support, but nothing about love, or the Hebrew word Ahavah.
I believe this is because love, in Judaism, is different than how we understand it today. This doesn’t mean the feelings spouses feel for each other, or the feelings between a parent and child are not there; those relationships were just described using other words (see any verse in the Song of Solomon). What we translate as love in Hebrew texts is more a public emotion. Going back to that famous commandment, love is an understanding that our neighbor is their own person with their own hopes, dreams, and challenges. To love our neighbor means to never discriminate against them, to understand them as equals.
In our modern culture, Tu B’Av is now called the day of love, and is very fitting because what the holiday celebrated initially were those feelings between two souls who have found one another. However, it’s important to know the Hebrew meaning of love, and to truly celebrate a day of love is to fight against discrimination in all its forms.