Tu B'Av is not the most well-known holiday, putting it lightly. The Shulchan Aruch doesn't even mention its history or customs except for the adjustments to the daily prayers for a holiday. On the other hand, the Talmud considers this the most important festival of the year, along with Yom Kippur! You might have heard it called "Jewish Valentine's Day."
Historically, people say this was a date when the single women would borrow white dresses from each other and go dance in the fields to catch a husband. The women borrowed clothing so that each could be equal. (On the other hand, if a girl cared about that, she'd just trade with someone of a similar station in life, no?)
There are several reasons given for celebrating on Tu B'Av:
- The dying of the generation in the desert stopped.
- The restrictions on inter-tribal marriage were lifted. This refers to the rule created because of the daughters of Tzelafchad: that daughters who inherited land in Israel should only marry men from their own tribe. Keep it in the family, you understand?
- The restriction on intermarrying with the tribe of Benjamin was lifted. This resulted from the Battle of Gibeah.
- The king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel lifted the roadblocks that prevented its citizens from making the pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. (However, the Book of Our Heritage has an interesting claim that this was actually a terrible thing.)
- This was the day of the year when no more wood was cut for use in the Temple for scarifies. After this date, the sun didn't shine strongly enough to dry out the wood properly.
- The Romans allowed the bodies of those massacred at Beitar to be buried.
However, since Av is the saddest month of the Jewish year, Tu B'Av will one day be the festival of our redemption when our tears are turned to joy in the days of Moshiach.
So what does Tu B'Av mean for you today? Starting tonight, we should increase our Torah study each night. The nights are getting longer, and "the night was created for study."