Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 72

July 16, 2021

J-Date in the Mishna

Dear Holy Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you well, in good health, and enjoying the summer. We look forward to seeing you back at the synagogue, hopefully very soon!

These last few weeks have represented a subdued period of time on the Jewish calendar. The three weeks mark the period between the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz and the Fast of the 9th of Av, which we will commemorate at the conclusion of this Shabbat. For those of you who have joined us for the weekday morning minyan, you will know that we have been reviewing many of the laws and customs for this day of mourning.

While many people may be familiar with the Fast of the Ninth of Av, few tend to be familiar with a Mishnaic-based holiday celebrated on the fifteenth of Av, which is sometimes referred to as Jewish Matchmaking Day.

Mishna Taanit 4 shares the following, “Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: There were no days as joyous for the Jewish people as the fifteenth of Av and as Yom Kippur, as on them, the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in white clothes, which each woman borrowed from another.” Why were they borrowed? They did this so as not to embarrass the ones who did not have their own white garments.

The daughters of Jerusalem would go out in their white outfits and dance in the vineyards for all of the young men to see. And what would they say? They would say, “Young man, please, lift-up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself for a wife. Do not set your eyes toward beauty, but set your eyes toward a good family, as the verse states: ‘Grace is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.’” (Proverbs 31:30).

The Mishna leaves the reader with a couple of questions. Why is there a day designated for matchmaking? (Didn’t folks “go-out” all the time?) And, in what manner is this practice related to the theme of the month, which focuses on the Temple?

To answer the first question, the Gemara (the later interpretive layer of the Talmud) attempts to find the origin of this date as a special joyous day and offers several explanations. One of them is that on the 15th of Av, the Bible says, “Tribes of Israel were permitted to mingle with each other,” namely, to marry women from other tribes (Talmud, Ta’anit30b). This explanation is somewhat surprising because nowhere in the Bible is there a prohibition against “intermarriage” among the 12 tribes of Israel. This Talmudic source, however, is probably alluding to a story in the Book of Judges (chapter 21), which tells that after a civil war between the tribe of Benjamin and other Israelite tribes, the tribes vowed not to intermarry with men of the tribe of Benjamin. On this calendar day, however, the prohibition was lifted and the entire community was encouraged to celebrate together and participate fully in the pre-computer concept of J-Date, the Jewish matchmaking website!

To answer the second question, we note that this Mishna was composed during the first century, when the Second Temple was, in fact, still standing. While lamenting the destruction of the First Temple, this generation of Jews was actually celebrating the miracle of the Second Beit HaMikdash and acknowledging the hope for continued Jewish communal happiness. Additionally, in Jewish tradition, the building of a Jewish home is comparable to the building a miniature Temple. Just as the original Beit HaMikdash was a gathering place for community and a center of spiritual strength, our Jewish homes should be filled with love, holiness, godliness, and laughter.

So, while I don’t anticipate that many of us will jump onto J-Date a week from Saturday (the 15th of Av), let us hope that this Shabbat presents us the opportunity to continue to strive to make our Jewish homes centers of love, dancing, music, and holiness.

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD

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