OzTorah – Ask the Rabbi on “Tu B’Av”





Question.    I hear there is a minor festival this Friday called Tu B’Av. What is it all about?

Answer.       Tu B’Av (the 15th of the month of Av) has a double significance. Josephus called it the Feast of Wood-Bearing as it was customary for people to bring wood for the altar on that day. It is also a day of midsummer matchmaking.

Credit: www.templeinstitute.org

Rabban Shimon ben Gamli’el said,

“Israel had no such happy days as 15 Av and Yom Kippur, when the daughters of Jerusalem went out in borrowed white garments so as not to shame anyone who did not possess them. The daughters of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vineyards. What did they say? ‘Young man, lift up your eyes: see what you choose. Set not your eyes upon appearance but upon family’” (Mishnah Ta’anit 4:8).

The girls took the lead, not waiting for boys to propose or for a shadchan to arrange the deal. The boys looked for beauty, the girls thought of lineage. No-one mentioned matchmakers or chaperones: the couples found one another.  The venue was the vineyards because it was the beginning of the grape harvest.

The Siddur is aware of Tu B’Av, since it omits the Tachanun supplications that day, and no funeral eulogies are given. Some kibbutzim tried to develop “chagigat hak’ramim”, a vineyard festival, with music, dancing and poetry, but the event did not catch on. So the orthodox and the secular both remember 15 Av, each for their own reason; others are unaware that the date exists. I think we should rediscover Tu B’Av and use it to focus on marriage education.


Question.    Does the Talmud discuss contraceptives?

Answer.       The Talmud discusses a contraceptive known as “kos ikkarim”, a cup of roots, though this may be an incorrect reading of the Hebrew. Possibly the phrase should be “kos akkarim”, cup of sterility. It might still be made of roots, since natural ingredients are certainly used in medical practice.

Any form of contraceptive practised in a marriage must halachically be used by the woman and not the man as this is a less direct interference with the sex act. Grounds for contraception are widely discussed. If there is a health threat to the woman, her life takes priority. An economic downturn does not in itself justify contraception; Resh Lakish advised people to refrain from intercourse in time of famine (Ta’anit 11a).

The Jewish doctrine is “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28) and a couple should welcome the possibility of a large family, especially at a stage of Jewish history when we have demographic problems. Eliezer ben Hyrcanus even said,“He who brings no children into the world is like a murderer” (Yev. 63b) since such a person denies children the chance to be born and to enrich the world.


Question.    What is the Chassidic view of the way women should be treated?

Answer.       Chassidism honours the kabbalistic doctrine that there is a feminine side to God. The Baal Shem Tov also taught that women’s beauty was an emanation of the Divine, and he and countless Chassidic leaders paid great honour to mothers, wives and daughters.

Some Chassidic women were scholars in their own right, known for their wisdom, piety and Torah knowledge. The fact that they could not conduct synagogue services was part of normative Judaism, but some were honoured leaders of women’s prayer gatherings where they fostered spirituality and Jewish knowledge.


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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