A fascinating text we read describes something quite fascinating for this time of year:
אָמַר רַבָּן שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל, לֹא הָיוּ יָמִים טוֹבִים לְיִשְׂרָאֵל כַּחֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר בְּאָב וּכְיוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים, שֶׁבָּהֶן בְּנוֹת יְרוּשָׁלַיִם יוֹצְאוֹת בִּכְלֵי לָבָן שְׁאוּלִין, שֶׁלֹּא לְבַיֵּשׁ אֶת מִי שֶׁאֵין לוֹ. כָּל הַכֵּלִים טְעוּנִין טְבִילָה. וּבְנוֹת יְרוּשָׁלַיִם יוֹצְאוֹת וְחוֹלוֹת בַּכְּרָמִים
Rabban Shimon, son of Gamaliel (2nd century CE), 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 borrowed white clothes, so as not to embarrass one who did not have such garments, all of which required immersion. And the daughters of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vineyards…” (mTa’anit 4:8).
As recorded in the Mishnah, his depiction of these dates continues on with what the young Jewesses would say to the young men present.
As we seldom encounter texts in the Mishnah concerning mating/paring/dating or anywhere else in rabbinic literature really, this description certainly stands out. Surely, one aspect that is apparent is the wistful view of Rabban Shimon, son of Gamaliel, who shares that this took place long ago, prior to the destruction of the Temple, which he may not have experienced, but his father did. It is not clear if his father met his mother this way or not, but it was likely something his father shared with him that he, in turn, is sharing in the second century of the common era about how good life was – even mating life – prior to the sad destruction of the Temple, thus serving as a fitting literary juxtaposition to the previous descriptions concerning Tisha b’Av before it in the Mishnah (mTa’anit 4:6-7).
There are many questions that emerge from this text: Why was it only the daughters of Jerusalem? Why did they dance? Why on these two specific dates? Why did this activity take place in vineyards? One question we need not ask is why was this activity done in the first place? That should be quite obvious: concern about young Jews and young Jewesses finding each other is an incredibly important one.
As to why it was only the daughters of Jerusalem, it may have been that they had a critical mass, bigger than any other town or village throughout Israel pre-destruction of the Temple. As to why they danced, perhaps that is not only something the males of our species appreciate, but maybe also it was a great way to have fun with their friends. As to why it took place in the vineyards, perhaps it provided a semblance of privacy, but also importantly shade amidst the heat.
But why these two dates? These are two strikingly different dates, with Yom Kippur being filled not only with a variety of ways of withholding physical pleasure, including fasting, but also a prohibition against labor, while Tu b’Av has none of these restrictions. The rabbis of the Talmud are similarly perplexed, as they can easily figure out what is special about Yom Kippur, but what is special about the 15th of Av, numerous amoraic sages assert different possibilities (Ta’anit 30b-31a). Yet, who is to say that they are two separate reasons? Perhaps these two dates are connected.
One way of connecting these two dates is to specifically to do with the vineyards, themselves. As discussed on episode 71 of The Jewish Drinking Show, “The Wine Festival in the Dead Sea Scrolls”, the late summer and early fall was the time of year for harvesting grapes in Israel in the Second Temple period (and to this day). It very may well have been despite the exact opposite normative nature of these two dates, they are connected as the beginning and the concluding of the grape harvest season.
Indeed, perceived in this way, these Jerusalem mating dances then become a way of formally kicking off grape harvest season, as well as celebratorily concluding the season. What, then, is the connection between wine and love? Well, for that, one need not read far into the book of Song of Songs to yield that wine and love are two of the most delightful experiences in life (SOS 1:2). L’chaim to love!