Just six days after the Jewish people commemorate Tisha B'Av, the saddest date on our calendar, comes the holiday that the Talmud pairs with Yom Kippur as the most "joyous" festival (Ta'anit 4:8).
Tu B'Av, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av, doesn't receive much fanfare in contemporary Jewish life. We make a small change in the prayer service (omitting Tachnun), but by and large we seem to have collectively forgotten that Tu B'Av had traditionally been an auspicious date to help singles find marriage partners.
You might have heard Tu B'Av referred to as the "Jewish Valentine's Day" (as if there actually could be a parallel between the two). Yet historically, Tu B'Av's "romantic" connection relates as much to Jewish unity as it is to marriage.
The first connection occurred when the Jewish people wandered in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. A man named Tzlafchad passed away and was survived by four daughters, who approached Moses with concern that inheritance laws would prevent them from receiving a familial estate in the Land of Israel. They in fact did inherit their father's estate, but married within their own tribe so the land would stay within it. Many years later, this restriction was cancelled by a proclamation made on Tu B'Av.
Generations later, another marriage-related act of Jewish unity took place. The tribe of Benjamin had been decimated by a civil war (Judges ch. 21). In the aftermath of the war, the other tribes refused to allow their daughters to marry the 600 Benjaminite men who survived, and the tribe faced extinction. People thought of different ways to get around the ban so that each of the surviving Benjaminites would marry a Jewish wife. These unions produced children, and over the course of time the Benjaminite men who were the subject of the ban died out. On Tu B'Av of a particular year, it was determined that this generation was no longer alive, and a proclamation told Jewish women they were free to marry Benjaminite men.
On Tu B'Av, young women would dance in the vineyards, where the bachelors would find a marriage partner.
Over the course of time, the relationship between Tu B'Av and marriage was incorporated into a custom that involved the wider Jewish population. The Talmud tells us that on Tu B'Av (as well as on Yom Kippur), the young women of Jerusalem would go to the vineyards on the outskirts of the city, dressed in white dresses that they all borrowed from each other, so as not to put the poor to shame. They would dance in the vineyards, and all the bachelors would go there to find a marriage partner.
The men would be advised to choose their spouses wisely. "Lift up your eyes and see who you will choose as a wife. Don't look only at physical beauty, but look at family." Quoting from Proverbs, the Mishnah continues, "Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a God fearing woman is the one to be praised."
HELPING ONE FRIEND
Today, these traditions are a relic of the past. Getting a Jewish man and woman together for a date, much less seeing them make it to the chuppah, is much more complicated. Given the large numbers of Jewish men and women who can't seem to attain their goals of meeting and marrying a Jewish partner, and the negative affect this phenomenon has on Jewish continuity, it seems like an appropriate time to revive the relationship between the Tu B'Av and Jewish marriage.
This Tu B'Av marks the kick-off of "The Great Tu B'Av Project," which aims to involve increasing numbers of men and women from throughout the Jewish community in an act of neighborly love and unity.
The idea is simple. Beginning on Tu B'Av, each happily married Jew should devote themselves to helping one unmarried Jewish man or woman they know, to achieve the goal of meeting and marrying a Jewish spouse sometime during the coming year. Those who join in this project will not only help thousands of single Jewish men and women find a life partner with whom they can build a loving, happy and enduring life together, but this will also help stem the tide of intermarriage, and reduce the phenomenon of long-term single-hood that threatens the future demographics of our people.
IT CAN'T HURT!
Contemporary Jewish singles face a number of challenges that didn't seem to be a significant problem in earlier generations, when early marriage was a goal that general society, as well as the Jewish world, enthusiastically embraced. Today, many unmarried men and women have to overcome unrealistic expectations, fear of commitment, difficulty making a transition from casual dating to dating for marriage, and inability to work through issues that keep them from moving forward in a relationship.
Often, third parties who have experience working with these issues, such as dating advisors, matchmakers, and therapists, can help singles successfully deal with these challenges. Yet it doesn't take any particular expertise to help an unmarried friend, family member, co-worker or neighbor deal with the biggest challenge many singles face -- meeting dating partners who have "good spouse potential."
We belatedly realize that our mistake has hurt the self esteem of a single who had to endure another bad blind date.
Those who may have tried their hand in matchmaking in the past may have made their share of gaffes based on the "it can't hurt" principle -- "since he's tall/musical/athletic and she's tall/musical/athletic, it can't hurt to introduce them." After the blind date, when we hear, "What on earth were you thinking when you matched me up?!" we belatedly realize that our mistake has hurt -- both the self esteem of a single who had to endure another bad blind date, and the fact that they may no longer regard our judgment as worth listening to the next time a potential date comes along.
The good news is that even those of us who have made our share of mismatches can acquire the know-how to make introductions that can lead to marriage. Not every match will be perfect, but in many cases the worst reaction to our efforts will be, "Thank you for setting me up with such a nice person. We weren't right for each other, but I hope you'll keep me in mind in the future."
How do we get to this point? First, decide which man or woman you would like to help, and talk to them about this project and what you'd like to do. If they're open to the idea, and even if you know the single well, it's important to discuss the following topics: his or her values, goals, essential qualities, and what they are looking for in a future spouse.
The time of life that most of us sort through our goals and values (if we do so at all) occurs in our late teens or early 20s, when we try to figure out what we want to do with our lives. From then on, many of us run on autopilot, even though most of us go through a number of changes as we mature.
The cornerstone of all successful relationships is similar goals and values.
Someone who wants to choose a good marriage partner should have a clear idea of the values that are important to them and the direction they'd like their life to take over the next six months, one year, and five years. That's because the cornerstone of all successful and enduring relationships is two people with similar values and compatible goals.
For your matchmaking efforts to succeed, the single you work should think these ideas through and then discuss them with you. A man or woman who has trouble thinking this far ahead may continually have trouble with relationships. Someone who doesn't know what they want for themselves can't really know what they want in a life partner.
Many people think that the next step in helping a single is learning about their interests, talents, passions, and strengths. Believe it or not, this information isn't going to make you a better matchmaker, since most couples who marry do not share many of these points.
It is much more productive to ask your single friend to describe the four positive qualities that define them as a unique individual. You will be focusing on these four character traits when you describe your friend to other people.
Next, ask your friend to select the four most important qualities they would like their future spouse to possess. It will probably take a while to narrow the "list" down to four, but working from a short list of essential qualities is much more productive that using a gargantuan wish-list that keeps growing from year to year and can never be filled.
Encourage your friend to accept an introduction to anyone with compatible values and goals who has these four qualities, and to think in terms of going out two or three times before deciding whether they would like to continue to date and build a relationship.
The next step after this groundwork is networking. Each of us has a network -- family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, rabbis, former teachers, people in our synagogue, and even acquaintances whom we respect. It's important to talk to all of the people in your network about the special person you would like to help get married. You've got all of the information you need to "promote" your friend and describe the type of person they are looking for. Yes, you might be embarrassed to make those first telephone calls, but after you approach the first few members of your network, these calls become much easier to make.
It's also a good idea to talk with a reputable matchmaker, and to get in touch with the people in your community who get together periodically to try to set up people they know. If you touch base with all these people every few months, together you will probably come up with a number of very suitable suggestions for your single.
Act as a sounding board, hand-holder, coach, and source of encouragement for your single friend.
If you're feeling very ambitious (you don't have to -- you're doing a wonderful thing by networking), why not think about becoming a dating "mentor," or finding someone else who can act as a sounding board, hand-holder, coach, and source of encouragement for your single friend? Many singles, particularly men and women who have been dating for a long time without finding their match, genuinely benefit from the input of a dating mentor.
How successful will your efforts be in the long run? Ultimately, everyone who participates in the Great Tu B'Av project will succeed! As more Jews throughout the world join in this effort, thousands will meet their future spouses and this will influence even greater numbers to "adopt" singles of their own to help.
Moreover, the fact that people throughout the world endeavor toward the common goal of helping their fellow Jews find lifetime partners and build Jewish homes, this will increase the level of achdut (unity) among us and hasten the redemption of our people. What could be more successful than that?
The author thanks Yael Unterman for the initial idea of such a Tu B'Av project.